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UNITED STATES

The ‘American dream’ is actually Swedish: study

While US voters shunned the Democratic Party's traditionally redistributive policies in Tuesday's mid-term elections, most Americans actually prefer a wealth distribution model similar to Sweden's, writes the AFP's Andrew Beatty.

The 'American dream' is actually Swedish: study

Forget the socialist-bashing rhetoric and reverence for the filthy rich, when it comes to wealth distribution, Americans — even Republicans — would really rather live somewhere like Sweden.

According to a soon-to-be published study by researchers at Harvard and Duke universities, Americans believe US society is much more equal than it really is, and want it to be even fairer.

Business school professors Michael Norton and Dan Ariely asked 5,522 Americans about US wealth distribution and how it should look if things could be changed.

“Respondents vastly underestimated the actual level of wealth inequality in the United States, believing that the wealthiest quintile (20 percent) held about 59 percent of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84 percent.”

Studies show current US wealth inequality is near record highs, with the top one percent of Americans estimated to hold around 50 percent of the nation’s wealth.

According to Norton and Ariely this tops “even the levels seen just before the Great Depression in the 1920s.”

But when asked how they would like the United States to look, respondents picked “wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution.”

In a blind test, about 92 percent of respondents said they preferred a model closer to Sweden’s wealth distribution to that seen in the United States.

The study’s authors also reported a “surprising level of consensus” among different groups, with 92 percent of Republican voters backing the Swedish model versus 93.5 percent of Democratic voters, with the richest and poorest also voting along similar lines.

“All demographic groups — even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy — desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.”

On average the top 20 percent of earners were seen as holding just 32 percent of wealth, less than the 84 percent in reality.

But anyone hoping this augurs well for a revolution will be disappointed.

Even if Americans become more aware of the wealth gap that exists, Norton and Ariely suggest they may misplaced faith in the “American Dream” to correct it.

“Just as people have erroneous beliefs about the actual level of wealth inequality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States — beliefs which in turn may drive support for unequal distributions of wealth.”

Disagreements about the causes of inequality may also drown out the consensus.

The authors also suggest there is a gap between what people would like to see and the policies they are willing to support to get there.

The study is to be published in the journal “Perspectives on Psychological Science”.

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RUSSIA

No island as important as Gotland, says US military chief

There is no island as strategically important as Gotland, a top US military chief has told Swedish media as his soldiers prepare to join Sweden's largest exercise in two decades.

No island as important as Gotland, says US military chief
United States Army Europe commander Ben Hodges on a visit to Lithuania. Photo: AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

Sweden is leading the major military exercise Aurora 17 in September, with units from all over Sweden, at sea, land and air. More than 19,000 troops are set to take part, including 1,435 soldiers from the US, 270 from Finland, 120 from France and between 40-60 each from Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.

It will focus on the Stockholm and Gothenburg regions and Gotland, the Baltic Sea island at the centre of military discussions in Sweden, where fear of an increasingly assertive Russia has grown in recent years.

“Aurora 17 is the first and biggest exercise of its kind in more than 20 years,” said Sweden's Armed Forces.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commanding general of the US Army forces in Europe, described Gotland as a key location on a visit to the island ahead of the exercise.

“I look forward to my soldiers being given the opportunity to train as much as they can with you,” newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) quoted him as telling Swedish troops permanently stationed on the island for the first time since 2005.

“You have a strategically very important task here. I do not think there is any island anywhere that is more important.”

READ ALSO: Why is Sweden re-militarizing idyllic holiday island Gotland?


Swedish troops on Gotland. Photo: Sören Andersson/TT

READ ALSO: Why Sweden is bringing back military conscription

Non-Nato member Sweden has strengthened its ties with the military alliance in recent years, despite Russia's words of warning that an expanding Nato would be seen as a “threat”.

Russia will hold a joint exercise, Zapad 2017, with Belarus around the same time as Aurora 17, seen by many Nato allies as an attempt to flex its muscles. The US has also stepped up its presence in eastern Europe with troops and tanks as part of a Nato military build-up that has drawn criticism from Moscow.

“Russia has changed the security environment,” Hodges told DN.

“We have to react to that, and not just the US, but the whole of Nato. The countries closest to the bear have historical experience. They feel the hot breath of the bear – and they are the ones most worried.”

“The fact that Sweden decided that they have to put troops back on Gotland is a very clear indication of what's going on. Sweden is known as moderate, credible and alliance free. Nevertheless Sweden felt that this was necessary.”

READ ALSO: Sweden in Nato would be a threat to Russia, says Vladimir Putin

Ben Hodges' comments in Dagens Nyheter were translated from Swedish to English by The Local. We understand his original comments were given in English, translated to Swedish by Dagens Nyheter.