The Sweden canard resurfaces in a National Review essay entitled “Against Swedenization”:
If Americans in general continue to become more like Californians, and if Californians are becoming more like Swedes in their desire for activist government and their willingness to pay for it, then 2012 will be remembered as the beginning of the national tax capitulation.
Such a development argues that we are becoming Swedenized in a deeper sense: not just adopting social-democratic policies but acquiring a sociological character that will leave us resembling present-day Europe more than the America Tocqueville discovered, in which families, communities, and churches turned individualism from a social solvent into a social adhesive.
Voegli is making an argument that might have made sense in the 1970s and 1980s, when Sweden was nationalizing industries and hiking taxes. But the country has generally been moving in the direction of free-market reforms for more than 20 years now. He rightly notes that America “differs from Scandinavia in degree rather than in kind” but the more important difference is that Sweden has been heading in the right direction and we’ve been heading in the wrong one.
Yes, Sweden has a large welfare state, and it’s largely successful. But there’s also no federally-mandated minimum wage, and the government cut the corporate tax rate to 22 percent this year. In the 1990s the country became a pioneer in pension reform and school choice. Voegli points out the “comparative austerity” in spending-to-GDP ratios between Sweden and countries like France, Denmark, and Finland, but what’s more telling is that between 2001 and 2011 its tax-to-GDP ratio fell by five points to 44.9 percent.
“It is also possible that Swedenization won’t work indefinitely, even in Sweden,” writes Voegli, responding to Ross Douthat’s recent article about the somewhat surprising resilience of its welfare state. But as a practical matter we’ll never know–he’s apparently blissfully unaware of the country’s rather significant moves away from just that so-called “Swedenization.”
And Voegli’s cute portmanteau really doesn’t work, because social-democratic policymaking has reigned for only a small part of Swedish history. Between 1870 and 1936 Sweden enjoyed the highest growth rate in the industrialized world, largely due to its free-market policies. So rather than perpetuating an outdated, utterly inaccurate stereotype, perhaps we should redefine the term more accurately as a program undertaken to prudently unwind unsustainable statist economies.