“When you compare the results to other indexes, it's really breaking a pattern…it's really questionable.”
The comments by Carlhed, who heads up the Swedish Institute's department for branding and coordination, come just days after the publication of a Quality of Life Index by International Living magazine ranked Sweden 30th out of 200 countries in terms of quality of life.
Sweden's overall quality of life score of 71 put it on a par with Panama and Poland, and below Uruguay and Lithuania.
A representative from International Living confirmed for The Local that “Sweden has the highest cost of living and is the most expensive country in the world”.
But Carlhed, whose agency works to promote Sweden's image abroad, disputes the magazine's findings, pointing to several other indices which look more favourably on Sweden's price levels.
According to a 2007 comparison, for example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found Sweden to be the 12th most costly country as measured by real GDP per person and tenth most expensive in terms of real actual individual consumption per head.
And 2008 figures from Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Communities, show price levels in Sweden to have the fifth highest price levels among countries in the European Union.
Even the Economist magazine's “Big Mac Index”, which uses the price of the famous McDonald's burger as a gauge to compare price levels, puts prices in Sweden far below those of neighbouring Norway.
“Obviously, they've never been to Oslo to buy a hamburger on the Karl Johan,” said Carlhed, referring to the Norwegian capital's main thoroughfare.
“Anyone who has knows it costs a fortune.”
While the Swedish Institute plans to investigate the sources used by International Living in putting together the index, Carlhed explained that, even if an error is uncovered, it will be hard to undo the damage caused to Sweden's brand by the index.
“When a country is seen as expensive, people are less likely to come and visit on holiday,” he said.
“We are also dependent on workers and students from abroad, who may have second thoughts if they have the image that it's so expensive here and the quality of life isn't so great.”