A Short History of Sweden’s Entitlement Society

During his long reign, Tage Erlander, Swedish prime minister between 1946 and 1969, spoke grudgingly of the impending “discontent of growing expectations.” He was referring to how the Swedish labor movement, after decades of expansive welfare reforms, rather than being gratified, seemed incessantly focused on what it had not yet received from the perennial Social Democratic government.
Erlander’s misgivings turned out to be accurate. The entitlement society is indeed a beast that feeds on itself. From 1959 to 1977 the total tax burden in Sweden grew from a moderate 25.2 percent to a staggering 47.5 percent, topping out in 1990 at 52.3 percent. During the same time, the public sector share of GDP doubled, while private payrolls fell, predictably causing a decline in economic growth. In 1970 Sweden’s growth was second in the world only to Japan’s; in 1990 it was second-lowest in the OECD, even as entitlements and the public sector kept growing. Hence, a familiar choice: Either stop spending, or keep borrowing on the backs of future generations.
But making such a choice is no simple thing. A universal welfare state has consequences that run deeper than the economy, and are more difficult to reverse even than a two-decade-long economic disaster. Fundamental structures of civil society wilt when human responsibilities—including those towards future generations—are subsumed under government entitlements (in Sweden, giving to charity, absurdly, came to be considered a lack of solidarity, since it undermined the need for the welfare state); a sense of passivity spreads when people feel that personal happiness or despondency is independent of their own actions. The bureaucratic framework of the welfare state also locks in electoral support as a growing share of the voters move from private to public payrolls—why vote yourself out of a job? All of these factors made the prospects for Sweden to break the vicious spiral bleak indeed.
Sweden is a country that only 30 years ago was on the brink of socializing corporate profits so as to continue down the road to ruin.
Against all odds, voters defied political expectations. In 1991 they removed the Social Democratic government, and put in place a center-right government that promised to attack the fundamental problems of the welfare state. When the Social Democratic party was voted back in three years later—as a consequence not of the reforms, but because the economic recovery was not coming soon enough—it continued on the road to reform, keeping in place the essential transformations.
Sweden is a country that only 30 years ago was on the brink of socializing corporate profits so as to continue down the road to ruin.
Excerpts from: weeklystandard.com
Ed comment: The article gives the illusion that it’s “better” in Sweden now. Sweden is still very much an entitlement society. There has been a very clever program of privatizations that gives outsiders the illusion that Sweden is much more “liberal” economically speaking. In other words less “left” and more “free market.” This is indeed only an illusion. Government regulates like a monolithic monster it has become and there are not many alternate paths for those who want to go above and beyond the playpen that the government has drawn for the tightly regulated business world. Government, together with the few mega monopoly companies regulate to a point where the smaller companies can’t keep up and fulfill the ridiculous jumping of hoop to attain licenses, inspections, approvals, paper work and not to mention the sky high taxes. The “competition” is effectively eroded away pretty early in the game. There is also, more worryingly, no incentive to work hard in Sweden. To “over-achieve” is furthermore a cultural taboo. From the article: “Folkhemmet” – Sweden’s Fascism in slow motion we can read:

After their big economic meltdown in the early 90′s (huge unemployment and welfare benefits that could no longer be paid for) they undertook an exemplary program of privatizations and made big cuts to both taxes and welfare benefits but there are still huge disincentives to work in Sweden. Incomes are kept pretty uniform regardless of what you do — meaning that there is little incentive either to improve one’s skills or to work hard — and the sickness benefit side of the welfare system is still a huge racket. People on sickness benefits no longer get a higher income than they would by working but the benefits are still close to wages and access to the system is very easy. So huge numbers of Swedes have declared themselves too ill to work.

As a consequence, average Swedish incomes have fallen well behind American standards — as indexed by the most objective criterion we have: GDP per capita. When purchasing power is taken into account, the picture is even worse. A cup of coffee, for instance, is likely to cost you three times as much in Sweden as in the USA.
There is much more behind the “transition” from the seemingly endless reign of Tage Erlander, Olof Palme and the social democrats, then the article suggests. When the question was raised to potentially socialize corporate profits, at some point around 1985, it must have been “decided” at a higher level to simply remove Palme from his position of power. Palme was assassinated in February 1986.
But the tyranny remains and slowly.. SLOWLY Sweden is moving in a direction of centralization, control and totalitarian social planning.