Sweden and the Future of Social Democracy

This week’s Economist magazine celebrates in advance the widely expected defeat of the Swedish social democrats in imminent national elections. Actually, a close reading of the data in the piece underlines the fact that Sweden’s economic performance has been well above average over the past decade, precisely the period in which one would have expected competitive downward pressures from the dominant neo liberal model to have intensified and worsened performance IF it was (as the Economist believes) necessary to move in that direction. The article also pushes the Lindbeck et al line that Swedish employment performance is weak if we subtract “disguised ” unemployment in active labour market programs. If we do this, why not adjust US and Canadian employment rates for poverty jobs of the kind which do not exist in Sweden?

The fact of the matter is that Sweden has – with the other Nordic countries – managed to achieve an elusive combination of economic success and good performance with respect to the key social goals of inclusion and equality.

For a useful advance corrective to the celebration which will greet Social Democratic Party defeat (if this happens), see Robert Taylor’s “Sweden’s Social Democratic Model” published by the UK left think tank, Compass.

Taylor is the former Swedish correspondent for the Financial Post and recent corresponent on labour issues for the FP. He makes a strong case that Swedish social democracy remains intellectually solid and vibrant, and stands for much more than the vapid third way of UK Labour and, for that matter, social democracy in much of continental Europe.

Last but not least – even the Economist concedes that the Social Democrats may lose only because social democracy is so hegemonic in Sweden that the right must steer left to win.

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