tisdag, november 01, 2005

The most successful society the world has ever known

Polly Toynbee's article on Sweden in Guardian is an ode to the Nordic model. It's almost like poetry, in formulations like
Stockholm gleams in the autumn sunshine with that pride in beautiful streets, public transport, fine buildings and open spaces that proclaim the value of citizenship from every paving stone.

The usually quite federalist Toynbee even describes what makes us to anti-EU at the same time as she highlights the flexibility in the Swedish system:
How does the Nordic model work? It supports open markets and job flexibility, with all the restructuring employers need to shake out their workforce to match changing demands. But that only wins the backing of strong unions because of the generosity of the benefits safety-net to cushion frequent, unsettling change. This pact between state, employers and workforce is the magic ingredient. Lavish public services and benefits are no add-on: they are the secret to economic success. Cut back the social provision and the edifice totters, which is why the Swedish left is so anti-EU, wary of any supposedly Anglo-Saxon move to interfere.

But the best part of Toynbee's article is yet to come. It's about the current situation:
The Swedes seem to lack self-confidence, intimidated by global neocon warnings. Despite their strong economy, they worry. Will globalisation strike? Can it be navigated if it does? Where Sweden and other Nordics should boast of an economic model far more successful than the rest of the EU, they seem to be losing their nerve in these the most successful societies the world has ever known. If the Swedes vote the right in they will be like people with vertigo who so fear falling they decide to jump and be done with it. The right has no particular answer to future forebodings, but it is always good at spreading alarm. When the left loses its optimism, it risks losing office.

It's time for the now congressing Social Democrats to realise at least three things:

- We are winners! Many have spoken about our soon-coming parting, but they have been wrong. We have survived and prospered while others have failed. Today, we see the news that the German SPD just appointed one of Schröder's hardest critics to party secretary, caousing party chair Müntefering to resign. The Brownites in the UK are looking north for inspiration. Swedish Social Democrats are loved all over the world, as a beacon of solidarity and equality.

- The Swedish right doesn't like our country. The neo-liberal ideologist Johnny Munkhammar writes in a reply to Toynbee that she's wrong about Sweden's condition. This "black-painting" of Sweden has been described by the TCO international secretary Kjell Rautio in an op ed in SVD recently. He asks who Swedish Enterprise want to serve by arguing internationally against what even The Economist and Financial Times are realising - that the Nordic model is working? And what can be added here - who are Swedish Enterprise serving when they are paying the European court costs for Laval i Partneri who tried to build a school in Vaxholm to stavation wages? How do they help Swedish companies by out-competing them through social dumping?

- The only big threat is ourselves. The threat is that we don't realise ourselves how strong we are if we connect to the core values of the Nordic model. I think a big reason for the Social Democratic understatement of themselves is that so few who are doing the thinking for the leadership really understand what the Swedish model is all about. Swedish universities - especially the economics departments but also many politics departments - have been Sweden-bashing for decades. The people who have graduated from the big universities without having a good vaccine in terms of working class origin and/or a background in the labour movement have had the false instinct that Europe and the US is better than our backwards and obsolete corner of the world. Therefore, the government have got bad advise for years. Hopefuylly, this is now getting better, but I hope it's not too late.

8 kommentarer:

McGregor sa...

You are totally right about the German situation Peter. Munterfering has complained that the party is not backing his stand by electing one of the Left’s leaders to be General Secretary, but he, and Schroeder and the others on the right are the ones who have made the mistake. Imagine if Tony Blair decided to form a grand coalition with John Major in 1997, or Persson decides to serve as deputy to Reinfeldt – its crazy. I have no idea why the SPD’s leaders thought they could ever get away with it.

I think you are also right about the attitudes to the right in Sweden. Labour ran a very successful campaign in 2001 and 2005 based all around the idea of “Britain is working, don’t let the Tories wreck it”. People have to be confronted with the choice they make at the ballot box – they are deciding between something that is working and something that didn’t work last time. If you have the confidence to believe it yourselves then you can make the people think on it too.

Here is a question though – what do people actually think about the Moderates? Do they actually think they are “new” or do they think that under the gloss they are still the same? How well is the Moderate’s PR machine working?

Peter sa...

Hur ser du på (S)veriges demokrati?

FN:s konvention mot korruption, godkänd den 15 september, ålägger i artikel sju de undertecknande staterna att rekrytera höga tjänstemän i enlighet med principerna om ”transparens och objektiva kriterier”. Så fungerar det inte i Sverige. När en ledamot av riksdagens konstitutionsutskott, KU, bad Göran Persson redogöra för skälen bakom regeringens utnämningar av generaldirektörer blev svaret: ”Det har jag ingen som helst anledning att göra.”


Är det demokrati att 6 av 10 ledamöter i våra universitets- och högskolestyrelser är socialdemokrater?

Vore det inte rimligt med lite "transparens och objektivitet" vid tillsättandet av generaldirektörer efter alla skandaler om korruption inom socialdemokratin?

Eller är strategin att fortsätta fylla så många maktpositioner i samhället som möjligt med partilojala socialdemokrater?

Peter sa...

Länken till källan för citatet blev fel ovan, den skall vara:

Allians i gyngning

Anonym sa...

Excellent column. Like Toynbee, I am a great admirer of Swedish social democracy - indeed, only six months ago I told a fellow teacher at my school in no uncertain terms that Sweden was the most successful country the world has ever known, so when I saw Toynbee's headline I thought she had somehow stolen it from me - but, like Toynbee, I am very worried that Swedes are inclined to depreciate their own achievements.

The reason Swedes often concede so much to their critics is because their country has been the target of so much unfair and often ignorant criticism. Why's this? Because Sweden represents an alternative socio-economic model to the U.S. and the powers that be would like us to think that no alternative model to so-called 'golden straitjacket' neoliberalism could be viable.

However, Sweden, as well as the other Nordic countries, is ample proof that there are types of capitalism that work better than the U.S. model. It may not be the last word in social organization - and probably no form of capitalism ever could be - but all the rest of the world can do realistically is seek to emulate the best available model.

Please spare a thought for those of us forced to live in the money-grubby, corporate-controlled English-speaking countries, where little has changed since the Dickens novels. I find myself marooned in Australia, where we have some of the lowest minimum wages in the OECD, one of the stingiest welfare states and consequently one of the highest poverty rates. If I lost my job, I would probably have to commit suicide, because I strongly doubt that I could ever find another and our welfare system pays rates that are well below poverty. (You can basically pay your rent and not much more.) I refuse to ever go down that road again.

When I get depressed, as I often do, I like to read about the Nordic countries and the inspiring story of how, on Europe's northern periphery, a relatively small number of people got it basically right (which, of course, is not to imply that I think Sweden's a utopia or anything). I often think the only thing worth living for is the prospect that a powerful shift against neoliberalism will come soon and we in the English-speaking countries like Australia will be looking to Swedish social democracy rather than American 'free market' capitalism for our models.

I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to my next visit to Sweden this summer - although I will actually be spending more time in Finland, a country I have never been to before. Until then, I have to endure the demoralizing life of a part-time worker in a low-welfare state. So Swedes who read this, remember to count yourself lucky; whatever faults your country possesses, they are few compared to those of Australia and I tell you the sunshine really doesn't make up for them.

Until I see Sweden again, all power to Swedes who are struggling to keep the flames of social democracy alive there.

Social Democracy Now

Anonym sa...

Britain was only 'working' because of a credit-card based economic boom whose time is fast running out.

Social Democracy Now

Anonym sa...

There was a time when communities would seek counsel from the elders. More experience usually translated into lessons learned. Having picked up a pearl of wisdom here and there over the years, I am now able to share a thought or two. The main lesson is to never stop learning. Seeking other points of view and new ideas like visiting your blog are steps in the right direction. Finding what is ultimately important leads one to appreciate actuality, efficiency and mindfulness. Helping others to see some of the forest through the trees is its own reward. Happy Thoughts

DadalusReloaded sa...

Wonderful Blog. I personally congratulate Mr Gustavsson for this great blog. too bad I don't speak Swedish (for now) to understand the other entries. But this one is marvelous. Thank you for the deep analysis you made about the guardian's article. You Scandinavians are an example for the rest of Humanity Long Live Scandinavia !!!

"When I get depressed, as I often do, I like to read about the Nordic countries and the inspiring story of how, on Europe's northern periphery, a relatively small number of people got it basically right"

The same happens to me. I live in Colombia, the "53rd star in the US flag" and things could not be worse here because it is impossible. We definitively should look deeper into the Scandinavian model and learn their legacy!!

Thank you and a very big hug from Colombia :)

Peter Gustavsson sa...


I am convinced that all countries can move towards a welfare state - including both Colombia and the USA. It's a matter of organising, popular education and a lot of patience.

Good luck!