‘Don’t mention the E-word’

Europe is still an infected issue in Swedish politics - particularly on the left. The anti-European stance of the Left and Green parties poses a problem for Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin, argues Jonas Morian of the Social Democratic Press Association.

The recently appointed leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mona Sahlin, has declared that she is negotiating with the leaders of the Left Party and the Green Party on a common platform in order to challenge the ruling liberal-conservative Alliance the 2010 general election.

In the election of 2006, the Alliance stood united and presented a common political platform. The Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party, however, did not seem very united or even well-coordinated. This was a mistake they obviously don’t plan to repeat.

There are, of course, many issues that the three parties disagree on. Some can probably can be overcome by negotiations. But others could prove to be more complicated.

Ever since Sweden held a referendum whether or not to join the European Union in 1994, the ”E-word” – Europe – has been somewhat infected in Swedish politics. All the major political parties agree on that Sweden should stay a member (in accordance to the outcome of the referendum), save for the Left Party and the Green Party.

But being pro-European is no election winning position in Sweden. The EU is still a popular scape-goat for un-popular political decisions, no matter how domestic. ”The EU made me do it”, is a used as an excuse for everything from raising taxes, to allowing TV commercials aimed at children and shipping conscripts overseas.

For the Left Party and the Green Party, insisting on Sweden leaving the EU has proved to be their unique selling point in a political landscape where all the major parties are virtually identical.

And herein lies the problem for Mona Sahlin. Because if a red-green coalition wins the election in 2010, how could a Social Democratic prime minister have Left and Green cabinet ministers who openly oppose the EU and wish Sweden to leave?

One could argue that this has already been the case, since there have been several anti-EU ministers in former Social Democratic governments. But there is a difference between a government made up by one single party, and a coalition. In the latter case, tensions are un-avoidable and tend to come to public attention. In the former, ministers are expected to stay loyal.

A recent survey shows that the current Swedish support for staying a member of the EU is at a all time high; 43 percent. This should give the leaders of the Left Party and the Green Party something to think about.

Jonas Morian is chairman of Socialdemokratiska pressföreningen (the Social Democratic Press Association). He also runs his own Swedish-language blog, PromeMorian


‘Swedish feminists should embrace free markets’

Swedish feminists could well secure more support if they decided to embrace free markets rather than left wing ideologies, argues Nima Sanandaji of the Captus think tank.

The modern feminist movement has clear left wing tendencies, with many feminists assuming that market economies are built upon structures that oppress women.

But is this necessarily true? One could make the argument that market economies actually create opportunities for women, while public monopolies within welfare systems limit women’s careers.

Feminist intellectuals in Sweden have become rather influential. Their ideas are supported by the state and incorporated within all levels of public education and research. However, although suggestions such as a “man tax” have been brought forward, feminist ideas have in many cases not been translated into public policy.

The feminist party, Feminist Initiative, was given ample opportunities to reach out to the Swedish electorate during the 2006 elections, but received few votes.

The lack of progress for feminism might be due to the strong influence of left wing ideology, which creates alienation. Many Swedish feminists readily mix Marxist ideas with the women’s cause.

For example, in a speech given at Lund University, one of the leading figures of Swedish feminism, Professor Tiina Ronsenberg is quoted as saying: “Do not be depressed – act. Sooner or later the patriarchy and capitalism will fall, I promise!”

Another example is that of Gudrun Schyman. The leading figure in the Swedish feminist party is also the former leader of the Swedish Left Party, which used to be tied to the Soviet Union. Understandably, feminist ideas become less relevant for public policy decisions when strongly tied to radical left wing ideology.

But is their analysis true to begin with — that capitalism as such is against the interests of women? One can make two simple observations that disprove this hypothesis. Firstly, all countries in the world with high standards of living standard have, in one way or another, adopted market economies. For example, a rapid development from poverty to wealth is occurring in China, Vietnam, India and Eastern Europe due to a transition from socialism to capitalism. This development is undeniably good for both men and women.

Secondly, empirical studies clearly show that women can in fact succeed within market based economies, sometimes even surpassing men. Studies show that young women are actually earning more than men in some American metropolitan areas. A demographer at Queens College has recently reported that women of all educational levels within the age group 21-30 and working full time make 17 percent more in salary than the corresponding group of men. A similar situation is also found in Chicago, Boston and Minneapolis. In Dallas, the gap was 20 percent in favor of women.

In Sweden on the other hand, female entrepreneurship is particularly limited. When the Swedish Federation of Private Enterprises compared 25 European nations, they found that only Ireland and Malta had a higher ratio of male to female entrepreneurs than Sweden. Only 3.9 percent of Swedish women run their own businesses, compared to a 5.7 percent average in the 25 EU nations surveyed.

Limited opportunities for female entrepreneurship in Sweden are strongly linked to welfare policies. Women tend to work in caring services, such as healthcare. These jobs typically fall within various state monopolies in Sweden where entrepreneurship is either not allowed or strictly limited.

Professional women are also hurt by the monopolies, since employment in the public sector is often characterized by low wages. This is the reason why American nurses, who often work in the private sector, have the same salaries as Swedish doctors, usually employed by the public sector. Jobs in the public sector are also associated with bad working conditions. In Sweden, half of those on long term sick leave are found within the public sector, which only employs a third of the workforce.

Creating the opportunities for young women to catch up with, or even surpass, young men requires that we open up public monopolies for entrepreneurship and competition. There is then a case to be made that free markets promote rather than hinder the cause of women. The Swedish feminist movement would gain in popularity and be better able to find constructive solutions if they replace traditional anti-capitalist sentiments with a more open-minded view of the role of free markets.

Nima Sanandaji is president of the Swedish free market think tank Captus. He is currently writing a book for public policy institute The New Welfare Foundation (Den Nya Välfärden) about opportunities for women in the labour market and for female entrepreneurs.