What Does Sweden Know That We Don't? [The Swedish Welfare State]

After just reading this article (and yes, I am still a little excited about it, so bear with me), I have to wonder. What does Sweden know that we don’t?

My question is not a rhetorical one. I am serious. What do they know over there that we don’t?

Thank you in advance for your replies:).


Just a couple of suggestions as to the differences:

  • the US gives large tax cuts to the rich
  • the US medical system is run for profit

That aquavit and lingonberries will get you through the longest winter?

As a variant on the above, “trickle down” and hoping for private philanthropy doesn’t work as well, in terms of overall wellbeing, as designedly and deliberately collecting and spreading money around on the basis of transparent and openly debated criteria and objectives.

People who don’t have to struggle to find child care or support for other dependant relatives, or to find affordable medical care without being tied to their employer, or to risk losing their home and family because of financial catastrophe, actually tend to contribute more to the economy and the overall wellbeing of the community, in the long run (and not so long either).

Sell steel to Hitler and he’ll leave you alone?

They know, “We’ll ALL do better if we stick together and look out for EVERYONE’s interests EQUALLY.”

It means giving up:

Better schools for wealthy neighbourhoods, no waiting for medical care if you have deep pockets, guns in every hand that wants one, people and environment before corporate profit, expensive lawyers buy you better outcomes in court, as does celebrity, etc, etc.

Those are pretty impossible cultural asks, I should think! Almost anti American!

How to make good looking, decent quality, assemblable furniture at Impossible Prices?

When did this happen in the U.S.? When I was young teenage baby-sitters got a fraction of the minimum wage.

I have family in Sweden, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time there, even though I’ve never lived there.

First, let’s not pretend that everything is awesome in Sweden. The country certainly has challenges, but at the same time, they have smartly tackled quite a few problems that the United States doesn’t dare to acknowledge. So when the U.N. says that Sweden consistently ranks higher on the Human Development index than the U.S., I don’t question that at all.

But to the point: I’ve sometimes thought that Americans in general have this perception that the only time it is appropriate to get everyone to work together on a serious problem is when there’s a war. Otherwise, its often “Fuck off, I’ve got mine, you’re on your own.”

Fundamentally, I think Sweden has seen fit to say that it doesn’t take a war for the country can pull together on societal issues like education, healthcare, and so on.

  1. The importance of government competence. If people feel like their money is being well spent they are more willing to be taxed. The US government has a well earned reputation for incompetence. Part of the reason is government union rules that make it nearly impossible to be fired for incompetence.

  2. The importance of honesty. Nordic countries rate the best in the world in perception of corruption. If people know that their money is not going for the personal benefit of the politicians they feel better about higher taxes. In the US the perception is that Trump can be bought by booking rooms in his hotels, that Clinton could be bought by a donation to the foundation, and that Obama’s wife got a well paying job at a hospital because of his position as Senator.

  3. The importance of admitting mistakes. Many Americans’ perceptions of Sweden are stuck in the 1970s. In the early 90s Sweden underwent an economic crisis. They reformed their economy by cutting regulations, privatizing certain functions, cutting spending, and cutting taxes. Since then their economy has been doing much better. In the US there is a saying that the closest thing to immortality is a government program. The mohair subsidy program was designed to make sure the military could make uniforms in case of war. It survives four decades after the military switched uniform materials. Head Start was founded to help prepare young poor kids for school. It has been found to be totally ineffective at that and yet has more funding then ever after 55 years of failure.

  4. The government doesn’t make the people, the people make the government. Swedes are hard working, honest, law abiding people who make good civil servants and are easy to govern. Swedish Americans are generally like that too. Swedish American’s per capita GDP is $10K more per year than the average American and $20K above Swedens. This despite that the immigrants to the US from Sweden were generally poorer than those who stayed in Sweden.

What Sweden has that the US doesn’t, is a relatively small country, with a very homogenous population in terms of ethnicity and cultural background.

In terms of political decisions, this means that everyone has pretty much the same cultural baggage and outlook on things. Not that they’re totally homogenous, but chances are that Swedes from opposite ends of the country are still very similar, and face a lot of the same issues, and share most of the same history.

By contrast, the US is HUGE, in both land and population, and we have quite a few ethnicities and geographic divisions. It’s not unusual for say… a white person of French descent in Maine to have a very different outlook from a person of Cuban descent in Miami. And both of them might feel very different from a black person from Southern California. And a Native American guy in Oregon might feel different about things than any of the other three. And all four are going to carry different ethnic, geographic and cultural baggage.

So it’s probably a lot easier and faster for the 10 million homogenous Swedes to agree to do something than it would be for 300 million Americans.

Please use descriptive thread titles. I’ve edited this one.


Look at the kind of people you will encounter on an average day in New York City
An old polish lady on the subway who doesn’t speak a word of English and probably never has

A cop who doesn’t know how to use an iPhone or computer

A group of street hustlers aggressively asking you to give them “donations” for a CD you didn’t ask for.

People who have never even been inside a car and rely on bicycles/buses/the subway as their sole form of transportation

The construction workers who curse too much and love to eat deli sandwiches

The Indian cab driver who talks too much but has a suprising amount of knowledge about international politics.
The poor people on food stamps who demand food stamps/freebies/bennies/welfare for everything. Even so much that they make liberals angry.

The stereotypical rich millionaires/billionaires/high-income people who believe everyone should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sweden is a small, relatively homogeneous nation. America is a vast, diverse nation.

It’s much harder to get the latter on the same page than the former, and harder to implement welfare/UHC in a way that will make everyone happy.
Edit: looks like **bump **ninja’d me

Pretty much came in to say this. They have a small, homogeneous population that is concentrated into a few large (for Sweden) cities, they have a population that has been in that area and working towards common goals for, literally, centuries if not longer, and the majority of their citizens are in agreement as to the direction they are going in and what they should broadly be doing. If Sweden were a US state it would rank by GDP between Washington state and Virginia…IOW, not even in the top 10 states. In terms of population, it ranks between Oregon and Oklahoma…IOW, not even in the top 20…barely in the top 30. It’s ridiculous to try and compare and contrast Sweden to the US…and this was just handwaved in the article without giving even the minimal context I just did. But those are the things Sweden knows that we don’t wrt how they can make their system work while we can’t duplicate it here in the US in any meaningful way.

This isn’t to say that we couldn’t use some of what they have tried here…just that it’s silly to compare them to us and wonder why we can’t be just like them. It’s as silly as Americans wondering why other countries can’t be just like us.

First of all, I strongly object to this being boiled down to an issue of disagreement among race or ethnicity.

Which group of people, exactly, is causing the discord in the United States on improving our child care situation? Please tell me. I’d really like to have a sit-down with their tribal chairman.

It’s not so much that any one racial group is mucking things up as it is that people of every race have an inward bias towards their own race. If a nation/state consists of 99% people of one ethnicity, they don’t mind looking out for their own (well…in theory.) But if it’s a mishmash of many different races, then you have people thinking, “So my tax dollars are going over there to support THAT family of THAT color of skin?”

I’d go with humans as the group of people causing the problem. Sweden is composed of humans who have associated themselves with Sweden for hundreds or even thousands of years, and so have formed a consensus, with a shared history, outlook and commonality of world view, by and large (obviously there are small variations). In the US, we are composed of humans who have, by and large, come here from other places and have wildly different outlooks and world views (since they have come here from Sweden as well as all the rest of Europe, Africa, Asia, and pretty much the rest of the world…oh, not to mention the ones who were here already), and have done so relatively recently. The humans who have been here for the longest were basically wiped out by those humans who came here from other places…and even the humans who were here originally were so widely dispersed compared to those who were in Sweden for centuries or millennium that there is really no comparison, since they also had wildly different outlooks and world views. Again, to try and put this into context, there are undoubtedly more US citizens who have Swedish ancestry than there are Swedes living in Sweden…and the US citizens with Swedish ancestry make up a small fraction of the US population.

Also, Sweden, as a whole, leans much more to the left than America. It’s much easier to get all that UHC/democratic-socialism stuff going on in a nation that is more liberal than Massachusetts than in an America that is kind of like a big Ohio.

This. It’s easier to maintain support for government services if you don’t have the problem of some people whining and grousing about paying taxes to pay for benefits used by those people. (No doubt some of that goes on even in a homogeneous population, but there it’s more easily recognized and called out as pure “I’ve got mine, Jack” anti-social attitude.)