Sweden: as good as it gets?

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A cool and cold northern paradise to which other European countries are looking in envy, but with which Swedes are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. That’s Newsweek’s verdict on the Swedish model, in an article which says that Sweden “looks about as good as it gets.”


The international news magazine praises Sweden’s cradle to grave welfare system, its “armies of internet explorers and early adapters” and its high ranking universities. It also notes that a country of nine million people is home to some of the world’s biggest brands, and that Sweden has the world’s highest rate of second home and pleasure boat ownership.

But while foreigners are impressed (it quotes Britain’s left-wing Guardian newspaper calling Sweden “the most successful society the world has ever known.”), journalist Stryker McGuire detects disappointment in Sweden itself.

Among the genuine problems Swedes are grappling with are the lack of incentive to work – real unemployment, the article says, is three times the official 6.3 percent. Swedes are also least likely in Europe to consider starting a company. It quotes Klas Eklund, chief economist of SEB bank, saying that the particularly high unemployment in immigrant communities reflects “ a total inability to handle the integration of immigrants.”

An interview with another economist, Stockholm University’s Lennart Erixon, reveals that only in Turkey has workforce participation declined more since 1990. but it also cites Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt’s criticism of the subsidies given to the unemployed, which it says exceed the pay for cleaners, handymen and casual labourers.

As for the famous Swedish tax burden, Newsweek points out that while corporate taxes are quite low, income tax is the highest in the world.

But, argues McGuire, the internal criticisms of the Swedish model will not put off the interest of other countries “struggling to keep pace with mounting international competition and keep hold of the good life.”

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