Are Swedish taxes too high?
The Local · 3 Dec 2008, 17:32
Published: 03 Dec 2008 17:32 GMT+01:00
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Paint me red and call me a socialist, but I do not think Swedish taxes are too high when one considers what one gets in return.
In Sweden we have a reliable, modern and well-integrated public transport system and road network that has to cater for a very widely dispersed population. We also have one of the most generous social benefits systems for parents and children including an excellent (and affordable) public healthcare system, extremely long paid maternity and paternity leave, highly subsidised day care for children and, essentially, free schooling and university.
Our taxes have also allowed Sweden to invest in environmental strategies resulting in Sweden becoming one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world.
The only downside is that our taxes also have to pay for a very large and cumbersome public sector that lags a long way behind Sweden's private sector in terms of productivity.
There is an old saying that goes something like: “you get what you pay for!” In the case of taxes, I think we can all clearly agree that in order for government, any government, to provide for its citizenry, they need to collect some form of revenue (call it a tax in this case) for commonly used services like paving roads, healthcare, unemployment benefits, mass transit, to name a few. It becomes problematic when what you pay for is a lot more than what you get.
I have been paying into the Swedish tax system for about seven months now, and the rate based on the same income earned in the United States is definitely a lot higher and I am not quite seeing the direct benefits.
But paying these high taxes really requires a person to make a decision to change one's lifestyle. If you want to retain more of your own hard-earned cash and pay for the basic necessities, then you are in the wrong country my friend.
If, instead, you trust the government to provide for those basic needs, then Sweden is the place for you. I can give you an example of me driving in a suburb of Sweden where the roads were so bumpy and the earth so uneven that I think the streets of Baghdad are better paved.
So my point is that I expect this in the United States. We know what the bureaucracy has done to that great country. But in Sweden, with nine million people, I expect the roads to be paved in Stockholm’s suburbs.
As a foreign consultant, we are not afforded health insurance or unemployment benefits. So at the end of the day, it just doesn’t add up. In most cases, even the special taxes in Sweden are “taxed”. As one Swede put it in kinder terms, “in Sweden, we have a tax for literally everything imaginable”.
Bureaucracies happen on many levels. There is no doubt that the United States has perfected the art of bureaucracy. But there is also no doubt that we don’t have caps or ceilings on our salaries.
In trying to relate how Sweden's taxes match up with taxes in the States, it is hard to define whether they are too high or not. In my own shopping experiences here in Sweden, it seems that everything is much more expensive, on top of the taxes being high.
But, in talking with friends who are from Denmark, I can honestly say that I am quite happy with the taxes here in Sweden. As far as Sweden using the taxes in the best interests of the country, I think that I would need to be here a while longer to fairly give an opinion on the subject. I do believe that, all in all, the Swedish government tries to do what is best for its citizens, but just like in the USA there is always room for improvement.
Many Swedes have told me that taxes in Sweden are fairly high but most of them are happy to pay them. For me, that is not a surprise since people can clearly see that their tax money makes a difference through arguably the most generous social security system in the world.
They can see this in state of the art healthcare, good roads and railways, in child support and parental leave, and in well-functioning public services.
There is a fundamental question that every individual has to answer: Do you want that extra 6,000 or 7,000 kronor in your wallet or not?
If the answer is yes, than you should also be aware that you will have to pay for your own medical treatment, for example, while your housing support would be gone and of course many other features of the Swedish welfare state.
That’s why many Swedes would never take that money even if it was offered to them. It is safe to say that Swedish society made its decision a long time ago and I completely agree with the choices they have made.
Taxes in Sweden are indeed high when you add them up. There are “arbetsgivaravgifter” – fees that employers have to pay, and income tax for wage earners. Then you still have to pay VAT, property tax etc, etc. on the taxed money you do receive.
On the other hand, you get a lot for your taxes in Sweden. A safety net to fall back on if the wheels fall off, free schooling and university, a decent public transport system and access to free healthcare. I am really noticing the difference since moving back from the UK.
I would however want to have a little bit more transparency regarding how and where Sweden’s tax revenue is used, rather than adhering to the “black hole” principle. I also see a lot of room for simplification of the system, such as introducing a capital gains allowance that is not taxed and allowing the first 50,000 kronor of income to be tax free.
Yes and no. In general our taxes are well founded and provide a security net and services that are either not available or very expensive in other countries.
We do however have examples of (in my opinion) idiotic taxes, such as the "Robin Hood" tax for living in Stockholm and the "Trängselskatt" (congestion charge) for going to and from my workplace. To me, these are examples of failure and are the work of weak, dishonest politicians.
Other than this, you might question what our tax money is used for sometimes, like when the government decides to use it to implement surveillance of all citizens’ data and phone traffic. But more often than not the money is spent in a good way.
To answer the question straight away – no. Although this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t flinch if they were increased.
I think it’s much easier answering that question from an unemployed point of view. However, my Swedish boyfriend works full time and grumbles about tax quite often. Especially straight after buying a full fare bus or train ticket he’s quick to say that, since he pays more than enough in tax, transport should be free.
I agree, but I also think that the transport here is well ordered and that they didn’t accomplish this by twiddling their thumbs or running twenty minutes behind the bus timetable, which I’ve experienced back in Australia.
Also, I love that Sweden offers several educational opportunities for immigrants like myself, even if SFI doesn’t work for everyone. From my point of view, taxpayers’ money does support the people in this society and when I finally get a job I’ll make an effort not to grumble about it too much.
They say that in life "nothing is certain but death and taxes" and this could not be truer than in Sweden. Swedish taxation is one the highest in the European Union. However, there is a big return on the money paid for taxes. Coming myself from a country with a lot lower taxes but also a lot lower return on the tax money in terms of services, I find taxation in Sweden very reasonable.
I believe that in general tax money is invested well. One has good, free healthcare, unemployment benefits, social care, child benefits etc. Although the Swedish social care system is not as robust as it used to be it is still very much ahead. I do not feel sulky at all when paying taxes I know that I get value for my money.