"So Why Is the Swedish Welfare State So Successful?"


For those of us who place more trust in free markets than state-directed economies, we must inevitably (and repeatedly) confront the skeptical interlocutor who details the "successes" of Swedish social democracy. "If state intervention into the economy is so bad, high taxes so destructive, then why is Sweden such a success?" It's an irritatingly simple question with a incredibly complicated answer, though I do recommend pointing out, when the conversation turns to health care and secondary education, that nothing, in a state the confiscates a massive portion of your income, is "free." But as many have pointed out, during its boom years, Sweden was a pretty free market place; from the 1970s through the 1990s—when taxes and regulation dramatically increased—the economy slowed until it spun out in the early 1990s.

There isn't enough time in the day to respond to the ceaseless stream of Sweden hagiographers, though I took a crack at it a few years back, when a liberal blogger at The American Prospect, in an error-laden piece of Google scholarship, told readers that "everything they knew about Sweden was wrong." But this video, while certainly not Avatar-like in its production values (and with an unfortunate reference to peeing one's pants), does a pretty good job explaining the country's free market past and the reforms enacted in the past few decades.

My favorite Sweden-know-it-all, incidentally, is lefty blogger Matthew Yglesias, who never misses an opportunity to correct American "misconceptions" about the land of Ace of Base and early retirement (you see, he went on a junket to Stockholm last year). "Americans often find this a bit confusing but Scandinavia," he recently wrote, "strictly speaking, only refers to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway." Or this classic bit of pompous pedantry, correcting the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on whether, when he served as prime minister, he was technically the "head of state": "I don't necessarily expect Americans to grasp the distinction, since our President is both head of state and head of government, but Sweden's prime minister is not a head of state." 

Elsewhere, Yglesias claims that former conservative party leader Bo Lundgren is the "architect" of the Swedish model. As Lundgren, author of the 1989 book Sänk skatten för alla (Lower Taxes for All), recently explained to the Telegraph, "I am a market liberal. I was even called the nearest Sweden had every (sic) come to having a party one could call libertarian." Picayune details, I suppose. 

But the nitpicky often segues into the bizarre generalization: "My bottom line: Visit the Nordic countries and you'll be impressed that their civilian public agencies are much more effective than ours." Well. How one determines that Sweden's "civilian public agencies" are better functioning than those in the United States during a few days in Stockholm (Did he try to post a letter? Start a business?), is left unsaid. But I have dealt with all manner of public agencies in Sweden and the results were, at best, mixed (try changing doctors in Stockholm).

So here is my bottom line: When some American pundit, with expertise is everything, explains why some European welfare state "works," or how everything you know is wrong about taxing income at 75 percent, do a little digging, make use of Google Translate, and don't trust that, because Swedes and Danes tell researchers that they are happy, the United States should introduce "daddy leave" and provide subsidies to syndicalist newspapers.

The best English-language explication of the Swedish model comes from my pal Johan Norberg, who wrote this brilliant piece for The National Interest a few years back. And watch my interview with Norberg on Swedish welfare politics here and on Naomi Klein here.

NEXT: Astroturf Russian Youth Movement Not Lovin' McDonald's

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  1. Well this is a whole lot of nothing.

    Scandinavia has a slightly bigger social welfare state than the US. What we do have are weekends, vacations, no child labor, subsidized healthcare for the poor and elderly. Which of these would you like to do away with in the name of a system that has never been shown to work anywhere, again?

    1. Public sector unions.

      Oops, you didn’t mention those. Sorry.

      1. You only say public sector unions because you know you can’t be against private sector ones and be a libertarian. Why do government workers not have the right to associate and collectively bargain, again?

        1. Because there is no feedback loop with public sector unions. If a private company’s workers pay gets too far out of line compared to their value, the company goes out of business. Not so with the government.

          1. No, government can just wipe away your department with the stroke of a pen because the president wants to make a symbolic budget cut.

            Still, what’s the difference, other than you get to bash unions while thinking you’re not a total hypocrite?

            1. Majority rule! Majority rule!

            2. Right, because the President personally controls the budget of federal, state and local governments. The big bad meanie is going to meaninglessly cut budgets by firing some downtrodden unionized public employees. Are you limited in your parallel universes, or can you go on ad infinitum?

            3. Competition

              1. Still waiting for an explanation of why libertarians want to restrict the right of government employees to associate and collectively bargain.

                1. Personally, I have nothing against government employee unions. I am opposed to government workers. It goes with opposition to monopolies.

                2. No one said they wanted to restrict the workers’ rights to associate and collectively bargain, Tony. That is what you would call a straw-man.

                  The issue is whether unions have the right to impose a ‘closed shop’ which restricts non-union members from working. That doesn’t belong in the private or public sector, but it exists nonetheless.

                3. Two reasons come to mind immediately:

                  * There’s no adversarial relationship between management and labor. Quite the contrary, the relationship is frequently symbiotic, with elected officials working with the unions to produce compensation very much at odds with the public interest in exchange for votes from union members

                  * High transaction and ongoing costs for those who do not agree to the union/office-holder conspiracy to fleece him. It’s difficult to flee a jurisdiction without significant additional loss, and costly to remain.

                  We see this in CA, NJ, MI and other union redoubts, where the unions have plundered the populace, often clandestinely in the form of accumulated sick pay, gold-plated pensions and benefits for life, things that the public only becomes concretely aware of when it’s too late.

                  1. Aaaaannnnnddd, back to you Tony.



                4. I fully support government workers’ right to associate and attempt to collectively bargain. I also fully support the government’s right to fire them for doing so.

                5. No libertarian wants to restrict the right of government employees to associate or collectively bargain. Unions are okay when there is competition and no exclusion of non-union members, creating unemployment, and that is where the problem comes for libertarians. When the government sanctions some unions, it necessarily destroys competition, and the unions end up becoming monopolies with the full backing of a local democrat representative. You’re confusing the conservative opposition to unions, which simply labels them as socialist without any real analysis, with the libertarian opposition, which is, like I said, related to their monopoly status and the fact that they create unemployment.

                  Some day you will get it that libertarians are not really the conservatives you are fighting against.

                6. Because we want our country to hold off bancrupcy longer than California will?

                7. Heck, I love unions! My dad was in the first “lockout” in Flint in the early 30. Look at their tremendous benefit to our industries:

                  Textile Manufacturing: Gone
                  Shoe Manufacturing: Gone
                  Steel: Gone
                  Auto Industry: Destroyed those they unionized
                  Teaching: In the process of destroying
                  Local, State, Federal workers: Salaries are bankrupting city, states and our government as well as school districts.

                  Unions – they do a workforce good!!

                  Yep, God Bless those unions.

                8. There’s nothing wrong with unions existing. There is something wrong with government rules requiring companies to confiscate employees’ pay to subsidize them, and with rules preventing companies from saying “the hell with you, you’re all fired”. Is that libertarian enough for you?

                9. @Tony

                  Government employees are working for a violently enforced monopoly. Taxation is extortion. You pay or you get severely punished. I pay off government employees for the same reason I would pay off Mafia Henchmen. They will send men with guns to my door to punish me or take me away, if i choose not to pay.

                  All individuals should be able to freely associate, but they should not have the right to come and take your property by force, or use threats to manipulate your behavior.

                  Wal-mart employees can’t randomly send you shit in the mail, and use men with guns in uniforms to force you to pay. Government employees do. See the difference?

                10. I oppose public sector employee unions because they use their dues to elect their paymasters. Quid pro quo, the politicians favor the unions that keeps them in power. The result is the inverse of “government for the people.”

            4. A union’s power only comes from the government granting it the special coercive power of preventing the employer from hiring replacement workers. There’s nothing “libertarian” about labor unions, not in the sense the Wagner Act defines them.

            5. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the government to wipe away a department with the stroke of a pen. Unless its a shell game where the jobs turn up somewhere else. And when was the last time a government worker lost a job because his company was bought by the Japanese, was outsourced to India, merged with a competitor and downsized?

            6. Are you innocent or ignorant? The president, at least the current one, relies on union bosses’ “contributions” confiscated from the union members who depend on the president and his minions for their annual raises. Wipe them out with a stroke of a pen! Are you really that stupid?

            7. Please cite the abolition of any government office with that “stroke of the pen”.

          2. There is a feedback loop, its just an unstable one. Like when you point your microphone into your speaker.

        2. Keep the unions, remove their monopoly exemption.

        3. As a public employee myself, I think government workers should have the same influence over their employer as their employer’s financiers do — via the ballot box.

          In the private sector, there’s a check on union greed: if they win too much in concessions, they might drive the employer into bankruptcy. In the public sector, only a complete fiscal collapse of the society can invalidate excessively generous labor contracts.

          1. In the public sector, only a complete fiscal collapse of the society can invalidate excessively generous labor contracts.

            The system works after all!

        4. I am, unhappily, a “member” of a public employee union. I am forced to pay the fees as my fair share. The right to associate implies a right not to associate, and I don’t have that right. I pay $1 less in mandatory fees each month to the union than an actual member. Most of us hate the union and see it for what it is–a money spigot for Dem campaigns.

    2. I’d like to do away with looming debt burden and burgeoning deficits…or is it the other way around.

      Oh, you didn’t mention those either.

      1. A good way to do that is to shore up the tax base by getting people employed and not going bankrupt from healthcare costs.

        Still waiting for the private sector to get around to that…

        1. Tony,I think you lit the fuse;-)

        2. Why should the private sector fix problems it didn’t create?

        3. How can the private sector get around to it when the government won’t let it?

          Healthcare costs are high because of a lack of competition. Do you support the AMA monopoly, which drives up costs by preventing entry? Do you support barring interstate competition between insurance companies, which only drives up the cost? Do you support FDA regulation, which only increase the costs? If costs are you main concern, break up the government hold on the industry, and costs will drop overnight.

          We aren’t going bankrupt merely because of healthcare costs. We are going bankrupt because of the whole system, including social security, military, and medicaid/medicare. Also, when you add to that the nefarious activities of the FED, which devalues the currency, lowering Americans purchasing power and inflating prices, then you have a recipe for disaster.

    3. Oscar show! famous stars! I saw many sexy big and beautiful…I think car is the most dangerous place for them. Photos of under wear is taken..

      please log in to see.
      __s u g a r b a b y m e e t___ d o t com.. free for register.
      Avator is the best.

    4. “… a system that has never been shown to work anywhere …”?

      Before Medicaid and Medicare were created in 1965, Americans spent just 6% of their incomes on healthcare. Today, we spend over 16%. The free system worked a whole lot better than the “subsidized” system is working.

      Before the “war on poverty” was launched, the percentage of Americans below the poverty level steadily declined from about 30% at the end of WWII to about 11% in the early 1970s. However, as federal “anti-poverty” spending swelled throughout the 70s and into the 80s and 90s, the decline in poverty rates stopped and the rate began to climb again to its present level of 13%. The free market was eliminating poverty — the welfare state has stabilized and preserved it. The free market was working better.

      One could go on. But the facts are clear. Capitalism produces wealth and economic growth — the regulatory/welfare state impedes both and leads to economic stagnation and endless economic crises such as we have today.

  2. Wow she didn’t have an accent at all pretty much, Sweden is basically like America 2.0, they also pretty much all speak English there also.

    1. In Scandinavia we all learn English in school. Its like our second language. And no Sweden is not America 2.0 nor is Scandinavia that..

      1. No, you most definitely are NOT America 2.0. However, you are quickly becoming Iran 2.0. Honor killings, rape by Muslim immigrants, some areas (cough, Malm?, cough) are majority Muslim and have a defacto enactment of Sharia law.

        Not to mention the fact that your welfare state, far from being “so successful” is teetering on collapse. Hate crime laws forbid speaking out against Muslim atrocities in your country, while there is no prohibition against hate speech against ethnic Swedes:


        English may be your second language now, but you had better start learning Arabic, because it won’t be long before that is your FIRST language.

  3. My sample size is relatively small, but all of the Norwegians and Swedes I ever met:

    1. Had a fanatical work ethic.
    2. Believed that the state ought to ensure a minimum standard of living.
    3. Were honest to the point of annoyance.
    4. Had no desire for wealth.
    5. Believed ostentatious displays of wealth were either seriously tacky or outright immoral.

    Mix this culture with nearly immeasurably low crime and easy access to world markets for import and export, and you’ve probably got a successful society, 66% tax rate or no.

    But for the love of God, don’t let them cook for you.

    1. #4 & #5 are really a desire for simplicity.

    2. Mix this culture with nearly immeasurably low crime and easy access to world markets for import and export, and you’ve probably got a successful society Minnesota.

      FTFY, and yes, Im stealing from Friedman.

    3. Are you saying that Swedish Chef was an oxymoron?

      1. More of an in-joke.

        There’s only so much you can do with herring and potatoes.

    4. Its to bad this will be destroyed by immigrants who not only takes the much as they can from the welfare system, they are altso redusing our freedom of speech by harrasing people on the streets and demostrates every time we try to mention the problem in media. If we had no welfare system this would not have happend. If everyone who could work worked we would have a good society, to bad that isnt reality.

    5. #5: they do still have a King and Queen no?

      1. @Dan
        Yes, Norway, Sweden and Denmark (where I live and come from), are still monarchies, but of the constitutional sort where the king and/or Queen have no real power.

    6. And don’t forget a tremendously homogeneous culture.

      Introduce 3 or 4 other cultures (including ones with slightly different perspectives on work and leisure) and see what happens.

    7. Yes, I think it’s inborn. Plus we all look alike, too. 😉

  4. One aspect of the Nordic welfare states is that of physical scale. Sweden has a population of around nine million people and the majority of the population lives in the southern half of the country. Smaller than most states in the USA. This is seldom analyzed or discussed by those that hold up Sweden, Norway, or Denmark as models of the social welfare state. Until the 1990s, the Scandinavian countries were also largely culturally homogeneous Yes, local cultural divergences exist, but the historical and traditional happenstances of the countries affected most of the Swedes equally. These factors certainly contributed to the appearance that the Scandinavian countries were socialist paradises, even as the economies were being driven down during the 1980s.

    1. Sweden’s population of ~9.2 million is larger than 80% of the states. It is not “smaller than most states in the US.”


      1. could it be he meant area wise?

        1. That was what I thought he meant too. The CIA says Sweden is “slightly larger than California”. Population-wise, 9.2 million would put it in between New Jersey and North Carolina. (Talk about terrible places to be…) The southern half of Sweden would be about the size of Minnesota, which probably explains why they feel so at home there.

          1. Um, North Carolina is a pretty cool place to live you friggin’ snob…I do agree with the NJ crack though

            1. Shhhh! If the snowbirds knew of the paradise we have here, especially compared to Florida, we would be more swamped than we already are —

            2. South and Western parts of Jersey are not so bad at all either. Some juicy real estate, actually. I wonder if the code is not so strict as the development I saw did not have that ‘cramped’ government issued quality of areas I avoid like the plague in any state.

            3. The People’s Republic of North Carolina? Speaking as an escapee who crossed the border south, he’s absolutely right.

      2. New York city has a population of ten million people. I could probably find a high income, high tax, high service area in the US consisting of 9 million people. The problem is that the US is country of 300 million people, so any statistical comparison will be hard to understand.

  5. Anyone else notice that Tony has been phoning it in lately?

  6. Maybe it’s a misperception on my part, but the first thing I think of when I think of Sweden isn’t diversity.

    It’s hard to imagine a Swedish version of some of the anti-immigrant retards who post here sometimes, I think the lame-wackos might have an aneurysm if they thought Mexican nationals were getting all the benefits Swedes supposedly do.

    I suppose I care more about freedom than outcomes too. Even if I thought I’d get a better outcome for giving up some freedom, I wouldn’t give up much for a better outcome anyway, for me or for everyone else. I suspect that’s a cultural thing too.

    1. Sweden has got a lot of immigration these last years. In the big cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malm?, about a third of the population are immigrants.

      Granted, a part of those are Danes and Finns, but there is a lot of Middle Easterners too.

      And believe you me, many Swedes don’t like it a bit when people who aren’t quite as blond-and-blue-eyed as they are get to have welfare too.

  7. Sweden is crumbling. Low crime rate, as some of the comments have said, is a thing of the past. Have you been to Malmo? It is becoming the most anti-semitic, anti-western civilization city in Europe. I traveled the Oresund Bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo, when it first opened, but would not think of doing it know given crime ridden city called Malmo. The homogeneous population that characterized Sweden and Scandanavia, in the past, is eroding under the noses of Sweden’s politicians. Plus with a less educated less employed youth workforce, where will the salary and wages come from to support such a tax burden and social network? besides allowing non-productive immigrants into their country Sweden, like the rest of Scandanavia and Europe is aging and slowly dieing. Top heavy with retirees, insufficient younger workers to support the social systems burden, sluggish, if any business/job growth and citizens and politicans with their heads in the sand. It is not a system to emulate despite the uniformed cliches espoused by the US liberal left.

    1. This was very interessting to read. Its so truth its depressing to read. This is happening in Norway. I honestly cant speak for the rest of europe but scandinavia has failed and we will eventuly pay the price for it.

    2. But Occam, are these swedes committing crime and antisemitism, or the new colonizers of Sweden?

      1. The new colonizers

  8. I have points two:

    Point the first: the population of Sweden is less than that of Los Angeles County; in fact the combined populations of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway are still less than that of Los Angeles County. These simple demographic facts alone renders comparisons between the entire United States and “the Swedish model” absurd on their face. It’s like going to Disneyland and thinking good old Walt was really onto something with that monorail thing for mass transit and trying to use it as a model for Los Angeles.

    Point B: Swedes worship Donald Duck on Christmas, thereby rendering them utterly ridiculous, lacking in moral fiber, and unworthy as role models for any self-respecting human being. The guy doesn’t even wear pants.

    Yes, both points involve Disney references. I don’t know why.

    1. Anonymous Backstabber,”Yes, both points involve Disney references. I don’t know why..” It’s because most libertarian ideas are based on childhood fantasies and I also noticed you hate your mother

    2. Yet, Donald Duck always wore a towel when coming out of the shower. Strange, not only because ducks have hydrophobic feathers and thus no need for towels to get dry, but also because he was so immodest about his lower half when he was walking around in public.

      1. Tulpa, you just took the joy out of ever watching that cartoon again. I bet you’re the type who watches a movie and says the moon is on the wrong side or that bug would only be present on the cadaver after 24 hours.

      2. “Yet, Donald Duck always wore a towel when coming out of the shower.”

        Unlike Rahm Emanuel?

        1. Maybe , he has a nice set of jewels. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

    3. These “simple demographic facts” aren’t even true. LA County, ~10 million. Sweden: ~9.2 million, Norway ~4.8 million, Denmark ~5.5million. It’s not that hard to look this stuff up. (Numbers are all from Wikipedia; Reason won’t let me link to all the examples).

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_County; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden#cite_note-117

      1. Still, LA county is larger than their entire country population wise.

      2. DAMN! You’re right. I misread my notes.

        LA County 9.8
        Sweden 9.3

        Sweden 9.3
        Denmark 5.5
        Norway 4.8
        Total 19.6
        Southern California 22.4

        I meant the second comparison to be between Sweden+Denmark+Norway and Southern California, not LA County.

        I’m terribly sorry. Sign me up for commie healthcare.

        The point about the duck still stands though.

  9. All I know about Sweden:

    They make good axes

    They used to design cool stuff
    They make underwear for fat women but use hot chicks for models

    Oh and they eat canned fish so rotten you have to open it outside.

  10. Well myself am a Norwegian, and i must say that the so called welfare states are a joke. The only ones who earn on it is the immigrants who refuses to work and still get enough to live and more. Its pure exploitation of the welfare system where everyone who actully needs help dont get any and those who exploit the system get all they want. Try to send a letter to the public services and you will most likely never hear anything from them because they “didnt get it” or such. Many Norwegians are now asking our government “What will we live with after the oil dissapears?”. And we dont get any answers. Where is the Norwegian Industri? Its not there at all, they have been chased out of the country because Sosialistisk Venstreparti(Socialist Left Party) have declared a open war against those who are rich. Today UN and other will write Norway is “World greatest country” in 40 years we will not even get mentioned because we wont have anything more to live with. Because of our Welfare system and because we are a socialist anti cooperation country.

    Im sorry if my English isnt to good but i am a Norwegian so bare with me.

    1. That was well-written and very interesting, Kri. Thanks for sharing. It’s great to hear about how life actually is for the typical citizen in a country–it really informs the debate.

      I hope that you will keep talking about what’s going on in Norway. Trust me when I say that a lot of people in the United States need to hear it!

      1. Its interesting to see how other countries are debating the Scandinavian welfare system without the knowlege of other sides to it, like immigration and welfare exploiters wich there are alot of. The welfare system worked partly before they had a “reform” and made it into the worst system we ever had. If you google NAV wich is our welfare provider and you can proberly google translate it into english you can see for yourself all the problems we had because of this new reform. NAV altso used 1/3 of the state budget. 1/3!! Its alot of money. And to top it, it didnt get accepted because we dont know where the money went. Popular/Normal newspapers in norway are: Aftenposten.no Vg.no Dagbladet.no these are the 3 big ones. All newspapers in Norway are leftist so dont expect to get both sides of the story all the time. Espessialy if its about the government(since its socialistic). Please read and google translate and you will have alot more to debate on.

        1. Kri,

          Refusing to learn lessons learned by others is the American Way. It’s one of the great faults of this country, although also made its existence possible: nobody else would have thought of standing up to the British Army in 1776.

          But look at the healthcare debate – it’s all all hype and hyperbole from both sides. Utopia on one hand, and a cesspool of misery on the other. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. In Canada and Germany (places I have lived more than 10 years) there are people who know how to game the systems – some of them work and only do it when they need it, and others do it for a living.

          Where problems appear in countries with little history of immigration (okay, I mean Scandinavian countries and Germany), there are two players: one one hand, the native population, which will make it pretty hard for someone who looks different and comes from a place where everything works differently to get a job and start moving up. And then the immigrant, who, rather than “going native” to the best of his ability, cocoons himself and his family in many of the things from his home country in response. When that gets pointed out, he screams ‘racism.’

          And then there are the economics of it all.

    2. I’ll second that: thanks for sharing your perspective. We Yanks need to hear it.

    3. “…so bare with me.”

      Tell that to Rahm.

  11. The economic system is not the whole culture, only part of it. If we didn’t have racial minorities, huge immigration issues, lots of crime, etc. we would be as well off or better than the Swedes. The question is whether less welfare state and more free markets will make Sweden even better, and the answer is yes.
    Compared to Sweden, we bare many more evils.

    1. Wait, what? Are you saying that racial minorities make American society worse? I mean, I’m not a multiculturalist, but I don’t think that racial minorities in and of themselves are a problem in any sense, and I think that’s a very backwards thing to say.

      1. Give it time, sonny. If there’s one thing you learn in a long life, it’s that your Ignorant, Regressive Prejudices will serve you much better than your Modern, Enlightened Understanding ever will.

      2. The tension and tribalism that develops when you have multiracial societies is a problem. Unfortunately, it’s written into our DNA to favor people who look like us.

        Note also that, regardless of the fantasies of Euro intellectuals, among countries in the world that have significant racial minority populations, the US has done by far the best job of “getting along”.

        1. The score is:

          2 overt racists
          1 apologist
          1 libertarian who substitutes racist with “very backwards”

          1. Tulpa,”Unfortunately, it’s written into our DNA to favor people who look like us.” I am certain this applies only to familial relationships. It would make perfect sense that our biology would conspire for the parent (Even more so for a father) to favor their own child.

            1. Don’t be so certain. Humans have lived in superfamilial groups (such as clans or tribes) for millions of years, and indeed several other primate species do this too. The members of these groups have usually been genetically related, though more distantly than family members would be, so it’s plausible that we evolved to favor those who look like us even absent a direct familial bond.

              And if you take about 30 seconds to look at human history, you’ll see that plausible assertion confirmed.

              1. “usually been genetically related?” They would have been absolutely related and easily in mixed-age groups. Meaning you could have had one father produce children in several age groups.

                1. I realize you are also the “Donald Duck always wore a towel” poster.

              2. And if you take about 30 seconds to look at human history, you’ll see that plausible assertion confirmed.

                Um, no. You asserted that it was a genetically determined bias that we favor people who “look like us.” Quite a feat, considering we didn’t evolve with mirrors. I think it’s more likely that we simply favor people who look like those we grew up around. That’s hardly an insurmountable obstacle to race relations.

                1. “You asserted that it was a genetically determined bias that we favor people who “look like us.” Quite a feat, considering we didn’t evolve with mirrors.” I guess you have never heard “you look exactly like your …” I read a study that concluded women recognized their children by smell. New mothers were given clothing and diapers (that their babies had worn) and they were able to determine which set belonged to their offspring

              3. One of my favorite stories relates to this. Once when interviewed about making the “Planet of the Apes” movies Roddy McDowell remarked that the ape makeup was so time consuming to apply, that all the actors had to leave it on for breaks, meals, etc. When the actors would gather together, the self associated into groups of Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Orangutans, regardless of their real backrounds. While not important in and of itself, I always thought it was a nice illustration of how humans, absent other factors, will self segregate.

                1. There is actually lots of evidence that human beings favor members of their own “tribe”, or “in-group”. That’s not *necessarily* racial in nature, though.

                  In particular, human beings are more generous towards members of their in-group, and less likely to exploit generosity if they are on the receiving end. The Norwegian poster above has it right. A large immigrant population in an otherwise ethnically homogenous society is more likely to exploit a generous social-welfare system, and it’s mroe likely to be resented.

                  This is one of the reasons why identity politics is so destructive. By encouraging people to identify themselves as members of exclusive social groups, you’re actually encouraging in-group/out-group psychology. It undercuts the likelihood of someone giving you voluntary charity and makes it less likely to be reciprocated. Basically, conservatives are right on this issue.

        2. Not so much “people who look like that”. But people who are identified as “one of us”. Often racially determined, but not necessarily so.

    2. All of which some people seem to have a real problem wrapping their heads around….

  12. A M??se once bit my sister … No realli!

    1. Post of the year so far.

  13. The best English-language explication of the Swedish model comes from my pal Johan Norberg

    I explicated a Swedish model once. Best Tuesday night of my life, man.

  14. Norberg rocks!

  15. One thing that’s awesome is that Michael C. Moynihan is the only Washington journalist who isn’t too much of a pussy to tell Yglesias that he’s a phony, glib, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual who lacks the deep level of background knowledge that would be necessary to justify his sweeping pronouncements on the way the world works.

    Coddled little rich boy thinks that he gets cred by being snotty/snarky when he pretends to peddle a “muscular” progressivism. The dude just masturbates (intellectually) for a living.

    He’s even fake when it comes to understanding indy-rock. What a retard.

    Transparent. Empty. Second-rate. Hack.

  16. I have to say, for a post that’s all about why I’m an idiot (or something) this item doesn’t seem to identify any things I’ve said wrong. Indeed, it barely seems to identify any points of disagreement with me.

    My view is that Sweden is a nice place that captures a lot of the benefits of a market economy while also having much higher taxes than the USA and a significantly more generous welfare state. Does Moynihan actually disagree with any of that?

    1. I havent read your views but do you think that the welfare system in Scandinavia actully helps anyone? Or does it help those who seek to exploit it? Honestly its a big problem with exploitation. And immigrants never learn the language and still can get money from the state by never working or learning the language and spreading their will upon others..

    2. Moynihan :
      Yglesias claims that former conservative party leader Bo Lundgren is the “architect” of the Swedish model. As Lundgren, author of the 1989 book S?nk skatten f?r alla (Lower Taxes for All), recently explained to the Telegraph, “I am a market liberal. I was even called the nearest Sweden had every (sic) come to having a party one could call libertarian.”

      I have to say, for a post that’s all about why I’m an idiot (or something) this item doesn’t seem to identify any things I’ve said wrong. Indeed, it barely seems to identify any points of disagreement with me.

      Does that count? At least it’s *something*

      It seems the thrust of his point is that you (M.Y.) seem to practice super-shallow analysis, then jump to pre-established conclusions.

      Anyone can say a lot of things that arent on the face of them baldly “false” without ever actually making an argument that actually supports broader conclusions.

      Hope that helps.

      1. e.g. “because Swedes and Danes tell researchers that they are happy —> the United States should introduce “daddy leave” and provide subsidies to syndicalist newspapers””

        That seems to be the nut of the thing….that A does not validate the case for B

        1. Okay, but I don’t believe I’ve ever written that the United States should provide subsidies to syndicalist newspapers.

          What I said about “daddy leave” is that daddy leave time has been successful in promoting more equitable sharing of child-rearing burdens between men and women. Maybe Moynihan and other Reason readers don’t think that’s a goal worth promoting. Almost certainly whether or not Moynihan or Reason readers think it’s a goal worth promoting they wouldn’t accept state action on its behalf. That, after all, is what it means to be a libertarian.

          But I simply never made the childish argument that’s being attributed to me.

          1. Fair enough.

            The broader point though, that there are more people other than you flogging the meme that a Scandinavian social welfare state (despite limited experience or awareness of the realities of the same) should somehow be idealized, is at least food for thought.

      2. I don’t understand what the disagreement between Moynihan and myself on this point is supposed to be. Bo Lundgren is, as he says, a libertarian by Swedish standards. He’s also a key architect of the policy status quo in Sweden today: It’s a nice place with many of the advantage of market capitalism that also features much higher taxes and a much more generous welfare state than we have in the USA.

        1. Matthew, another aspect of the discussion that you MIGHT have overlooked is this:

          If Sweden felt obligated to raise a standing army capable of policing large segments of the world at any one time, and projecting force over the globe; they would by necessity exist as a communist rather than a socialist state, as taxation would be 100% in order to achieve funding. The conversation would be moot.

          Now, give me one example of a totally state-owned economy that ever enjoyed any of the “advantages of market capitalism”. Many Western European countries can afford to offer more largesse to their citizens because they are NOT paying for their own defense.

          The discussion as to whether our accepted role of “world-Daddy” is proper for the U.S. can be tabled for another time.

        2. And Gorbachev was a freakin’ libertarian by Soviet standards. So what?

      3. GILMORE:

        “It seems the thrust of his point is that you (M.Y.) seem to practice super-shallow analysis, then jump to pre-established conclusions.”

        Just like everyone else who writes and comments on this blog. Welcome to modern politics, and you sanctimonious “libertarians” are just about the worst of all when it comes to this type of behaviour.

        1. there’s a sayin’ that goes round here:

          Hey buddy, why don’t you iron my shit!

        2. Is this known as the “i know you are but what am I” retort?

          1. oh. also = DRINK

          2. And thank you kindly for the drink invite. I believe I will.

        3. No, this is what is known as the “but, reality isn’t FAIR!!!” retort.

          You libertarian’s are mean, mean, mean!Why can’t I have cake? I know I already ate mine, so what?!?! Gimme!

    3. Mr. Yglesias, I have read many of your columns and I think part of the problem is that pundits like yourself comment on everything under the sun. yet, even if you are correct in every case (which you aren’t), you have few qualifications for the job.

      Meanwhile, pundits who do have experience in war, travelling to the Middle East, or living in Europe (such as myself) get very little site traffic, even when discussing just these things. However, I do acknowledge that unlike writers like Andrew Sullivan or Ezra Klein, at least you are humble enough to admit to it, as I pointed out here (shamelesss plug). No one is an expert on everything, with the sole exception of the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island”.

  17. “Americans often find this a bit confusing but Scandinavia,” he recently wrote, “strictly speaking, only refers to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.”

    Damn, and i thought it was its own country. Whoops. I also had to wiki up Ecuador the other day, because i couldn’t place it on my mental globe.

    Americans are teh suck @ geometry. errrr, geology. (at least that 2nd one is closer to geography.)

  18. why is Sweden such a success?

    Bzzt! The question assumes its answer, and is therefore void for being a logical fallacy.

    The all-encompassing Swedish state was never a success, it was always a ticking time bomb. Sweden, moreover, is a pretty totalitarian place. Unapproved political views (i.e. not lefist) bring official harassment or prison. Unofficial harassment comes in the form of “anti-fascists”, the unofficial enforcement arm of leftist orthodoxy, who regularly harass, vandalize, and assault the persons and property of anybody the mainstream media (near 100% government owned) deems “right wing” or “extremist” (code for “right wing”). Despite their publicly violent ways, the police always look the other way when they act. They never arrest “antifas”, preferring instead to arrest and harass their victims. This strongly suggests they act with covert approval, or even under orders, of the government.

    1. This is complete fantasy. Name one person who has been imprisoned for having “unapproved political views”. Go ahead.

  19. “I don’t necessarily expect Americans to grasp the distinction, since our President is both head of state and head of government, but Sweden’s prime minister is not a head of state.”

    Well, to get pedantic myself: the President is the head of state; the head of government includes the President, but he or she is not the head of government by themselves – that position is also held by the Supreme Court and the Congress.

  20. One other major benefit of the Swedish model in particular is the active realization that their politics are irrelevant on the world stage. This has lead to them being the only country in the world where a party, the Pirate Party, whose major platform initiatives are based upon citizens’ privacy can have reasonably major electoral success. Contrast this with American libertarian electoral success. Many of these same politicians openly identify as libertarian.

    1. If privacy means to secure and the control your own property, the Privacy party is the opposite of private.

      1. nevermind. that was the “pirate” party.

        1. The politics of the “Pirate party” is more about privacy than of pirating goods and software, so “Privacy party” is actually a good explanatory name.

          1. From the Wikipedia:

            Regarding patents on pharmaceuticals, the Pirate Party proposes increasing government support for R&D to make up for loss of private R&D if there were no patent protection for innovation.

            That sucks donkey dick.

            1. Regarding patents on pharmaceuticals, the Pirate Party proposes increasing government support for R&D to make up for loss of private R&D if there were no patent protection for innovation.

              LOL, I love it. Problem SOLVED! Next!

            2. Subsidies are bad, but the capricious and vague state-sponsored monopolies we call patents are even worse.

              And I wish we would stop pretending that patents are anything other than that, or have some sort of real objective existence. They don’t.

  21. What’s the gal in the video’s name, Latta Moeberg?

    Anyway, Latta’s making the point that Sweden is cashing in on the investments it made in years past, without making matching deposits. That seems to be about the same as what the US is doing.

  22. I am from Sweden, and interested in politics from a standpoint very close to Johan Norberg.

    I would like to point out that the problem with immigration in our country isn’t so much about the immigrants per se, but about the high unenmployment rate among groups that aren’t established on the job market yet.

    Such as youth and immigrants.

    There are mainly three reasons for this, and all are consequenses of the welfare state in combination with the enormous power the labor organisations (both worker’s unions and employer’s organisations) have over the conditions on the job market:

    The high taxation creates an effective barrier. If you want to earn 100 bucks from a customer, you must provide a value to the customer of about 250, and then pay about 150 to state and local government in different taxes.

    The high de facto minimum wages (result of the organisations grip on the job market) makes that treshold even higher.

    The rigid “job security” laws makes it risky for an employer to employ people, a risk that naturally means a cost.

    So if you are a person that cannot deliver so much value from day one (if you for instance are young, uneducated, or an immigrant) you won’t get a job.

    There ain’t no reasonable entry level in Sweden.

    Which means that the young and immigrants end up being receivers of the welfare instead of providers, and so are held outside of the society.

    1. You’ve been drinking too much of teh egalitarian cool-aid.

      Here in Southern California we had a problem with young Vietnamese immigrants after the war. Many of the boys joined street gangs and committed crimes. But overall, Asian immigrants to Southern California, including Vietnamese, are taking most of the slots in the best UC schools and/or running successful businesses. They are generally disinterested in politics.

      Immigrant groups are not all alike.

      1. And you must have smoked to much Californian pot my friend!

        You cant seriosly compare US immigration with Scandinavian immigration. We have totaly different system from yours and your welfare system proberly not the same as in Sweden or Scandinavia at all. Its true not all immigrants are alike. Polaks often come to work, so does the rest of western europeans. But Somalians in scandinavia are often seen on the welfare offices speaking bad english and maybe not even english but having a translater paid by the state by his/hers side. Somalians are not in our universities, or schools at all. They often do crimes or just live on the welfare system. You have proberly not heard about the muslim ghettos in Scandinavia who is trying to force their way of living on our society. Demostrating, using violince, harrasing, manipulating moremoremore. Few Arabs and Somalians intrigate in Scandinavia. Maybe its different in the US but then its maybe because you dont have a welfare system to exploit. Therefore you have to work to survive, unlike in Scandinavia.

        1. It is different in the US because immigrants become part of the fabric of this country. They are able to work as soon as they get here legally. In fact, most illegals find work immediately in day labor jobs.

          1. Exactly. The US is from the ground and up made by immigrants.

      2. Yes, but most of your immigrants are not Asians, and they sure as hell aren’t taking up any space in your universities, except as affirmative action recipients. Not to mention their consumption of public services is one big, big reason your state is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Guess who?

        1. I’ll take “The Penis Mightier” for 200.

  23. Mr. Yglesias, you ask what the disagreement is. Well, here’s one you seemed to have missed:

    “My bottom line: Visit the Nordic countries and you’ll be impressed that their civilian public agencies are much more effective than ours.” Well. How one determines that Sweden’s “civilian public agencies” are better functioning than those in the United States during a few days in Stockholm (Did he try to post a letter? Start a business?), is left unsaid. But I have dealt with all manner of public agencies in Sweden and the results were, at best, mixed (try changing doctors in Stockholm).

    So, how much experience did you have with Swedish civil servants, and how did you quantify your conclusion that they are more efficient? Hell, forget the quantifiable, we would settle for the anecdotal at this point.

    1. Exactly on point. This is Yglesias’ m.o. for most of the articles he’s ever written. I haven’t read his drivel in about 3 years because the model was too obvious; I half expected he might change over time but it appears that he has not. I ended my Atlantic subscription because of his half-baked articles and it appears I made the intellectually correct decision. I’ll skim it at the newsstand from time to time and skip over 90% of it in case there happens to be a worthwhile article in there, but sadly the new ownership seems hell-bent on pushing bad researchers like Yglesias in its pages.

  24. Mr. Yglesias, you also wrote this at one point, a point that Mr. Moynihan obliquely addressed in the linked “Google scholarship” takedown of another blogger:

    Nordic countries are often said to be highly homogeneous, which is true of Finland, but Sweden has more immigrants than the United States though of course much less poverty and inequality.

    First of all…”of course”? What makes that conclusion so obvious?

    Second of all, as addressed in the above referenced piece by Moynihan, it is a true statement to say that Sweden has more immigrants, but it is explicitly untrue to state or even imply that that level of immigration affects homogeniety, because most of Sweden’s immigrants are Finnish, so shame on you for that. Like I said, that quoted statement from you is highly misleading.

  25. Jeez, 94 comments and no drooling over the girl in the video? Am I on the right blog here?

    1. I haven’t been able to get Kristin Davis


      out of my head after seeing that blog earlier today. There was a woman in that video?

  26. Devalue the currency, raise taxes to curb inflation, provide for the “less fortunate” (welfare state), regulate and subsidize industries, create monopolistic labor unions and businesses…

    What’s the difference between the US and Sweden, again? One of degrees? The only difference I see, is the constant state of war that is present in the US, but even that is really just another subsidy to industry.

  27. Matt’s biggest faux pax is mixing the terms “Scandinavian” and “Nordic” countries.

    Also the splitting of household and child-rearing duties has little to do with daddy leave and more to do with daycare, or as I’ve heard a few Swedish women would say, the welfare state is about the State paying your neighbor to watch your kids while the State pays you to watch someone else’s. This creates a lot of “economic activity” and bloats the reported size of the state sector relative to countries that handle child-rearing in the informal economy. It is great at producing two-earner families and indoctrinated children, though.

    Also, because a boondoggle visit to Sweden would not allow time for history,Matt misses the biggest lesson we can learn from Sweden- how to dig out from a huge fiscal hole caused by a banking crisis (as Sweden faced in the early 90s: they cut spending and the welfare state and cut taxes- they turned deficits into primary surpluses). Obama should meet with Persson to learn how a responsible welfare state is run. Hint: it is not paid for by the “rich”.

  28. Several comments (such as Ola’s) and Moynihan’s own post complain about barriers to new business and new work entry. These are assumed to be goods in themselves. But if a state system seems to work well without these, then maybe they are not so essential after all. The test ought to be ‘Does this lead to high and sustainable general welfare?’, not ‘Does this make it easy to start small businesses?’ because the latter is only a means to the former.

    1. The test ought to be ‘Does this lead to high and sustainable general welfare?’, not ‘Does this make it easy to start small businesses?’ because the latter is only a means to the former.

      Is that what the Queen of the Hive told you? Funny, when ever utilitarianism is taking to its logical extreme it sounds not only inhuman but not worthy of a mammal.

      1. ‘taken’

        Correcting with one hand, submitting with the other == pratfalls.

    2. Also, if you are going to base whether or not entrepreneurs are allowed to start businesses based on some notion of ‘general welfare’ don’t stop with just businesses. Every liberal arts department in America would have to close shop. Unless of course those majors are filling up the ranks of the bureaucracy that decides what is and is not of social utility.

  29. There was a famous American economist who had a conversation with a Swedish economist. The Swede indicated they didn’t have trouble with poverty in Sweden. The American countered that, among the Swedes in America, we didn’t have problems with poverty. Sweden was pretty culturally homogeneous. But immigration does make a difference.

    Now in Norway, when a woman has a baby she is given a one year leave from work, at full pay. The problem is that college girls aren’t really working, or getting paid, so they abort their babies. They hope to have a baby when they are making more money. What sort of culture is that?

    And yes, antisemitism is on the rise in Scandinavia, and the Muslim immigrants are growing in number and political power. The outlook isn’t pleasant.

  30. And do does Sweden call when their house is being burglarized? Nice gig not having to pay for your own defense, wonder how we can make that happen here.

  31. “Things pass for what they seem, not for what they are.” – Balthasar Gracian

    The European welfare states have been living off of the inheritance of knowledge, wealth and security bequethed to them by their ancestors…gained through centuries of blood, toil, and ingenuity.

    They’ve just about drained that inheritence dry.

    To those who praise their societal models, two-points:

    1) From the time that these countries adopt these welfare models, an ever-increasing percentage of their populations become wholly dependent upon the dole. In fact, that dependence is actually incentivized by the govts, because generally speaking, the more children one has while on the dole, the more money one receives in benefits.

    All the while, an ever-dwindling population of producers are stuck funding the dole. And unlike the non-producers, the producer class actutally find themselves disincentivized to having children due to the ever-tightening monetary pressures they find themselves experiencing as they toil to provide for themselves, their families and the welfare state.

    2) The average birth rate for native European women is 1.3 children, woefully short of the replacement rate.

    Here’s the order of healthiest fertility rates for Western European countries:

    1) France
    2) Netherlands
    3) Belgium
    4) Switzerland
    5) Austria
    6) Germany
    7) Italy
    8) Spain

    And here’s the order with the highest proportion of Muslims:

    1) France
    2) Netherlands
    3) Belgium
    4) Switzerland
    5) Austria
    6) Germany
    7) Italy
    8) Spain

    In 50 years, Europe is going to be filled with two demographic groups: elderly Europeans and Muslims.

    So, in summation, what does the end game look like for European welfare states? An ever-increasing population of consumers living off the work of an ever-decreasing population of producers, all within the locus of an ever-dwindling native European population.

    So when the Leftists say “just look at Sweden”, I say, “yeah…just keep looking”.

  32. Sweden also doesn’t spend a gazillion dollars defending the western world from communism, terrorism, and every other threat that comes along.

    If the US didn’t spend any money on defense, we could probably afford to provide gov’t run health care.

    But you can’t do both.

  33. +1 @Joshua “Keep the unions, remove their monopoly exemption.”

  34. We already have daddy leave… It’s called FMLA.

  35. As an American living in Norway perhaps I can offer a unique perspective on the abstract question of “does the welfare system work vis-?-vis the free-market?” The simple answer is that it depends on how you define “work.” Being a libertarian (and consequently something of a novelty here) I am prejudiced towards saying the free market works better but that’s due in large part to what I see as being a working system. Having lived here, though, I am forced to conclude that the system does work for the people here in most respects.

    This is because your typical Norwegian doesn’t expect as much out of life as your typical American. Now one could go on and on about why this is the case or if one is better than the other but the simple truth remains: Norwegians don’t need much to be happy.

    Norwegians more than anything long for predictability. The market is volatile, unsure. They are more than willing to give up what they could have to be assured that they will have at least something. The assurance of a little of something is safe and so long as the little of something is good enough, then you’re happy.

    The difference is that Americans wouldn’t tolerate crappy service as being good enough. Health care is crappy compared to the states. But it’s health care. The bureaucracy is slow and inept and considering everything in this country is run through a bureaucracy it is unavoidable. The Norwegian response? Yes, it’s annoying, but that’s life. It’s almost depressing what people put up with. But there isn’t any fire or passion for change. They are content so long as they get to go skiing on the weekends.

    That being said, there are dark clouds ahead. As many have already commented on, the immigration issue is huge in Norway. One of the fastest growing parties in Norway is the “conservative” FRP who speaks out against unsustainable immigration. Compile that with a welfare system that is clearly being abused (I think near about a third of the country is on some sort of government paid leave for sickness. In what country are there that many people sick?) and the colossus that is the Norwegian nanny-state is beginning to rot from inside.

    So does it work? Yes, for now. But the times are changing and if it’s one thing that a welfare system is notorious for being poor at, it’s change. On top of that the Norwegian economy is heavily reliant on oil and natural gas. This will run out/be irrelevant within my lifetime. The answer? “We’ve got a lot of money in our oil fund.” While this is true, it doesn’t replace the huge industry that is oil. Eventually things have to change here. If Norwegians are smart they will start now. But the people here have become so dependent on the life they have built for themselves and so scared of the prospect of risk that it wouldn’t surprise me that by inaction, they would ironically risk it all and loose the little something they have left.

  36. She’s making me experience some growth.

  37. Has anybody even mentioned Swedish defense spending? …. Why no. ….Why do I ask? …because Countries like Sweden who are in NATO, the EU, and even the UN have spent the last half century mooching off the US for such things while they worry about “free insurance for all” and “worker’s rights.”
    Well guess what! …what??? The gravy train that the world has mooched off of for the last 50 years is about to run off the tracks. Enjoy the ride folks as Americans let this happen, and the rest of the world just wanted a free handouts. So, we all get to go off the cliff together, and I hope you know, it a long way down. Before it’s all said and done, history says nations like Sweden will need national defense.

    1. Countries like Sweden who are in NATO

      I guess that would be the null set, given that Sweden is not in NATO.

  38. Just wanted to post here saying this has been the most informative post I’ve seen in a long time, even if it got snarky. Thanks guys and gals.

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  41. Maybe the Scandinavians have a sweet postal system, I don’t know. But Norway always conjures up hilarious images, described to me by my Norwegian husband, of a seriously bitter and resentful elderly population: sweaty grannies in bras competitively elbowing kids in strawberry patches in summer, smuggling meats back into Norway in their clothes, and cursing at shop clerks when stores had run out of butter during the Great Butter Shortage! He nostalgically refers to it as “the worst place on earth”.

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