• Sweden edition
 
Opinion
Echoes of Clinton in Social Democrats' welfare reform bid
Are the Social Democrats trying to emulate US President Bill Clinton, who signed sweeping welfare reform legislation in 1996? File photo: AP

Echoes of Clinton in Social Democrats' welfare reform bid

Published: 04 Feb 2014 08:16 GMT+01:00
Updated: 04 Feb 2014 08:16 GMT+01:00

In my last column, I discussed the difficulties of distinguishing between right and left in Sweden’s election politics, at least when it comes to the Social Democrats. The example I used is how the party recently promised to cut the scope of the Swedish central government by 10 billion kronor ($1.5 billion). But it doesn’t stop there. The Social Democrats have gone from challenging the scope of government bureaucracy to criticizing overutilization of the social safety net.

The Social Democrats in the capital region of Stockholm recently published a "Contract for the future – for the Stockholm region". The first of four points is entitled: "No one who can work should be on social security". The Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper reported that, on the national level, the party has gone even further. A new goal is to sign an “education contract” with those under 25-years-old who have not completed their studies. According to DN, "Those who are not ready to fulfill their studies according to an individual study plan will not be granted social security".

This idea, put forth by former Social Democratic school minister Ibrahim Baylan, was rapidly attacked by the left. Daniel Suhonen, president for the left-leaning think tank Katalys and himself a Social Democrat, criticized the proposal as being "very right-wing".

Of course, the Social Democrats do not simply want to put pressure on youth who depend on social security; they also want to direct various forms of aid to help these individuals succeed to attain their upper-secondary school degrees. The idea seems to be to connect public handouts to a requirement that young people participate in education programmes. And presumably, exceptions will be made for those who, for various reasons, cannot be expected to participate.

We shouldn’t be surprised if the Social Democrats eventually retract their proposal, or at least clarify it, in the wake of initial criticism. And many question if the party really wants to introduce such a welfare reform, as it goes against the idea that basic safety nets be granted to all, regardless of their individual behavior.

But should we really be surprised? In the United States, the  “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act”, which marked a fundamental shift in both the methods and goals of federal cash assistance to the poor in the US, was supported by the Republicans but signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996.

Changing the fundamentals of social security might, if implemented correctly, retain basic safety nets while reducing the risk of long-term welfare dependency. Most likely, the Social Democrats are striving towards this goal. And like Bill Clinton, they might have a better chance of actually implementing such a change than a center-right government. As the famous saying goes, “only Nixon could go to China”.

It might seem as a shock that Swedish Social Democrats would go so far in challenging generous public benefits. But then again, in neighboring Denmark, which has an ever bigger welfare state, this has been a common practice during the latest few years. Social Democrat Finance Minister Bjarne Corydon last year explained: “If we are to ensure support for the welfare state, we must focus on the quality of public services rather than transfer payments”.

Of course, these ideas can be seen as a way of winning over centrist voters during the election campaign. And they likely have limited support within the party ranks. But they are, nevertheless, put forth by leading Social Democrats. This shift seems very similar to the move towards the center by the Moderates, as they begun morphing into the “New Moderates” in 2005.

An important issue in the upcoming election, of course, is how this new line in Social Democrat policy sits with the left-wing of the labour movement. And for that matter, if the left parties win the election, how will the Social Democrats co-operate with the Left Party, where radical left ideas are still prominent and welfare reform isn't even on the agenda? The only thing that is clear is that Social Democrat party leader Stefan Löfven really wants to make the distinction between right and left in Swedish politics even more difficult. 

Dr. Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish writer of Kurdish origin, has written numerous books and reports about policy issues in Sweden. He is a regular contributor to The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Science
Swedes discover rare Antarctic fossils

Swedes discover rare Antarctic fossils

Researchers from Sweden have been speaking about a rare discovery of mammal fossils in the Antarctic. READ  

Ukraine conflict
Sweden Democrats reject EU-Ukraine pact
The Sweden Democrats have two MEPs, seen here with the party's leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: TT

Sweden Democrats reject EU-Ukraine pact

BREAKING: The European Parliament has backed an 'historic' agreement to allow closer trade between the EU and Ukraine, but the nationalist Sweden Democrats were among those trying to block the deal on Tuesday. READ  

Elections 2014
Löfven to get no help from Sweden's Liberals
Liberal party leader Jan Björklund. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Löfven to get no help from Sweden's Liberals

UPDATED: Liberal Party leader Jan Björklund says he has no plans to join a government with the election-winning Social Democrats, as Sweden's political future remains uncertain. READ  

Analysis
'Evolution' for Sweden's crowd-funding scene
Photo: Victor1558/Flickr

'Evolution' for Sweden's crowd-funding scene

The Local checks out crowd-funding in Sweden as US giant Kickstarter announces plans to launch in Scandinavia. READ  

Opinion
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Brit Kester Gibson (left) thinks Scotland should split from the UK but Swede Mimi Coglianos disagrees. Photos: private

Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?

Scotland votes on whether to become independent this week and the Scottish National Party has suggested closer ties with Scandinavia if the 'yes' camp wins. The Local asked two readers if they agreed with Scotland splitting from the UK. READ  

Sport
Malmö gear up for Champions League
Sweden's biggest club Malmö face Juventus on Tuesday. Photo:TT

Malmö gear up for Champions League

Malmö are the first Swedish club in the Champion's League for more than a decade but they face a tough debut fixture against Italian champions Juventus in their Group A opener. READ  

Sweden earthquake 'was strongest in 100 years'
The town of Mora, near where the earthquake hit. Photo: Shutterstock

Sweden earthquake 'was strongest in 100 years'

An earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale shook parts of central Sweden on Monday and experts have revealed it was the strongest in a century. READ  

Elections 2014
Löfven rules out making government with the Left
Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt. Photo: TT

Löfven rules out making government with the Left

Election winner Stefan Löfven announced on Monday that he would not form a government with the Left Party, a move that party's leader called a "huge mistake". READ  

Elections 2014
Six big headaches for Stefan Löfven
Stefan Löfven: a man with a lot on his plate. Photo: Sören Andersson/TT

Six big headaches for Stefan Löfven

Stefan Löfven has started talks to form a new government, but the former welder faces huge challenges in bringing together an administration that will work. The Local explains why. READ  

Business
Microsoft to buy Swedish Minecraft makers

Microsoft to buy Swedish Minecraft makers

UPDATED: Microsoft announced on Monday that it was buying Swedish company Mojang, which was behind the hit game Minecraft, for $2.5 billion (17.9 billion kronor). READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Blog updates

15 September

Liten, litet, små & lilla (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej igen! Have you ever been confused about when to use “liten”, “litet”, “små” and “lilla”? Today I’m going to sort out how use the adjective “liten” (small) and the different forms of it. Liten or litet? “Liten” is the form we will use when referring to a noun with the gender “en”. For example: Min pappa har en..." READ »

 

12 September

EU sanctions: necessary, effective and timely (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Regular readers of this blog know I’ve written about the Russia-Ukraine crisis here. Today I’ve chosen to share an article by the UK Minister for Europe, David Lidington, with my readers: This week the European Union imposed further sanctions on Russia. This decision followed months of destabilisation of Ukraine by Russia, and months of political..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Politics
Green Party wants 'better world' for kids
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
National
Huge clear up underway after Skåne floods
Politics
Sweden's Alliance reveals full manifesto
Tech
Sweden's highest peak to lose title next year
Politics
How immigration became a key election issue
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

857
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN