by Esther Eriksson von Allmen '19
Whether it be at Government Club or during my fourth period Microeconomics class— whenever the issue of socialism is brought up, we tend to reference Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. And it is during these discussions that I hear an onslaught of fallacies projected about Sweden to the larger Close community. Let me be clear: by slandering Sweden as socialist, one reveals their own incorrect understanding of socialism.
So let’s define socialism, shall we? According to Merriam Webster, socialism is, “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”
So, does Sweden have high tax rates? Yes. Does the Swedish government offer its citizens welfare benefits that cost the state billions of dollars? Yes. Do either of these two facts qualify Sweden as a socialist country? Absolutely not. To be perfectly clear, Sweden’s status as a welfare state does not make it socialist. Economist Johan Norberg states it best,
“I don't think the American Left knows that Sweden is the country of pension reform, school vouchers, free trade, low corporate taxes and no taxes on property, gifts and inheritance. Sweden affords its big welfare state because it is more free-market and free trade than other countries. So if they want to redistribute wealth they also have to deregulate the economy drastically to create that wealth”
Contrary to what many of my classmates may think, Sweden follows free-market economic principles. Sweden does not have minimum wage laws. Stockholm, the capital, produces the second-highest number of billion-dollar tech companies per capita, after Silicon Valley, and in Sweden overall, there are 20 startups per 1,000 employees, compared to just five in the United States, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Sweden’s corporate tax rate today, at twenty-two percent, is much lower than the thirty-nine percent collected in the United States. If Sweden is truly a socialist country, then why did Forbes ranked Sweden as the second best country for business? (Keep in mind that the United States ranked 17th on the same list.) Ironically, by calling Sweden “socialist,” you are in many ways advocating for socialism as an effective economic system.
Uninformed Americans—predominantly from the political right— will argue that Sweden’s “socialist” policies stifle economic growth and entrepreneurship. In reality, Sweden’s generous government benefits have the opposite effect. Its social safety net, for instance, helps entrepreneurs feel safe to take risks. In Sweden, university is free, and students can get loans for living expenses, which allows anyone to pursue higher education. Health care is also free, and childcare is heavily subsidized. In Sweden, citizens know that they can take entrepreneurial risks because their necessities will be covered.
You might ask: why do you care so much about the vocabulary we use when talking about Scandinavian countries? The answer is straightforward: Because socialism is terrible. Affiliating modern-day Sweden with Venezuela or Soviet-era Russia, unfairly attempts to tarnish the reputation of what is one of the most successful governments in the world.
I’m not saying you have to like Sweden. I’m not saying you need to accept Swedish government policies. I’m not asking you to abandon your libertarian, don’t-tread-on-me, good old-fashioned ‘murican principles. I’m just asking you to recognize reality and to refrain from spreading falsehoods.