In her final column for the New Zealand Herald, Dita De Boni lamented that New Zealand is becoming an uncaring nation whose compassion compares badly to the world’s “best-run countries”. She didn’t specify which countries these were in the column but, acting on a hunch, I queried whether she was referring to the “Nordic countries” (being Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland).
So Liam looks at Sweden:
Sweden, in particular, is often held out as an exemplar of social democratic excellence. The radical British journalist Polly Toynbee once declared the country to be “the most successful society the world has ever known”.
These hosannas to Nordic virtues are often made as a reproach to those countries that are considered to have a more “neoliberal” disposition. This sometimes includes countries like New Zealand and Britain which have moved from largely state-directed to free enterprise economies. More commonly, however, the example of countries like Sweden is held out as standing rebuke to the supposedly corporate-dominated, compassionless and backwards United States.
But the reality:
It’s certainly true that Sweden pays for its generous welfare state through stiff levels of taxation. The burden of these taxes, however, does not fall on the wealthy to anything like the extent Left-wingers normally like to see.
According to 2014 figures, Sweden only has the 25th most progressive income tax in the OECD. New Zealand is not far behind at 26th. You might be surprised to learn, however, that the supposedly plutocratic US actually has the eighth most progressive income tax in the developed world. So in spite of the prevailing media framing of things, high-earning Americans contribute a much higher proportion of their country’s tax revenues than high-earning Swedes do.
What about corporate profits? We are constantly told that the American government is in the pocket of big business. If that is true to the extent that the media makes out, then it’s hard to see why the US government taxes corporate profits at a rate of 40 per cent, the highest such rate in the free world (and much of the un-free world to boot). New Zealand’s rate is 28 per cent. Sweden’s in 22 per cent.
Defenders of the one-size-fits-all model of education often attack the introduction of “American-style” charter schools in New Zealand. It is true that the charter school movement has attracted a lot of support from politicians across the political spectrum in the US and that this has played a large part in putting the issue on the political radar. However, it is also true that charter schools are very common in Sweden and that the country was an important pioneer in their development as an alternative to more bureaucratic, traditional forms of schooling. In fact, a cursory review of the Swedish education system shows that it offers levels of choice and consumer freedom that the ACT Party can only dream about.
Not quite the socialist paradise.
Finally, we come to issues of racial politics. New Zealanders like to roll their eyes and snigger at the rise of Donald Trump as a potential nominee for next year’s presidential election on the back of strident, anti-immigration media statements. This is taken to be proof of the notion that Americans are a uniquely bigoted and prejudiced people.
But did you know that an anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, was the top-polling political party in Sweden this month?
Yep, in one poll they got 25.2%, beating the Social Democrats and Moderates. Their policies are:
- cultural assimilation rather than integaration
- Pay immigrants to leave Sweden
- Lower tax rates for the elderly
- Against special privileges for the Sami ethnic minority
The point Liam makes is that people like Dita write columns about how awful life is in NZ, because they don’t like the Government or neo-liberalism. But if you look around the world, there are not a lot of countries that have wonderful socialist societies where people want to live.
In the supposedly racist US, for example, the unemployment rate is about the same for immigrants and the native born. New Zealand does slightly worse than America on that score. In Sweden, however, immigrants are almost three times as likely to be unemployed than the native born adults. The only OECD country that does worse is Norway.
I could go on to talk about things like the Swedish penchant for privatisation, its lack of a national minimum wage and its slashing of public spending in years gone by. By now, however, the point should be well made. There might be many things the Left finds attractive about the Nordic model, but it is not the socialist utopia of their imaginings.