SHARE
COPY LINK
OPINION

BUSINESS

‘Sweden’s lead as tech nation could fade away’

To ensure Sweden gets the best out of future digitalization opportunities, the country's legislation needs to be reconsidered, writes Swedish economist Mårten Blix.

'Sweden's lead as tech nation could fade away'
Sweden's Spotify is a tech giant but can the nation keep up with other digitalization opportunities? Photo: Pontus Lindahl/TT

To ensure Sweden gets the best out of future digitalization opportunities, the country's legislation urgently needs to be updated, writes Swedish economist Mårten Blix. 

Housing and IT Minister Mehmet Kaplan recently received the government's Digitalization Commission's report in his inbox. It raises strategic issues for the future of Sweden. But the real tools to make any changes lie with other ministries, especially the finance and justice ministries. 

Legislation that set the foundations to take advantage of the benefits of digitalization is far behind. The issues at stake pose big questions, including how many new jobs will be created compared to those that disappear through automation. 

To avoid tax hikes in municipalities, the pressure on the efficiency of welfare services is about to increase significantly as the population is ageing. Another concern is red-tape and complex rules for the private sector. There is a serious risk that our advantage as an IT-nation will erode, and it is not primarily about the need for more public funding. 

In order not to miss the opportunities of digitalization to improve prosperity and create new jobs, a concerted effort is required to review the number of laws and regulations which are stuck in an analogue age. 

For that to happen, we need strategic guidance from the highest levels and targeted cooperation between lawyers, experts in the government and in the governmental agencies. 

It also requires a stronger organization of how digitalization issues get handled by government offices in order to facilitate difficult trade-offs and contribute to sustainability. 


Some Swedes are concerned about how their personal data is being used. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Data in all its forms may be the area where the potential benefits of digitalization are most underutilized – and also where the political obstacles are the greatest. This creates difficulties because the short-term political risks of mistakes can be large, while gains in the form of new jobs only come much later. 

The European Parliament has pushing hard to stop the further use of personal data. It is a stance that has been strengthened by Edward Snowden’s revelations of extensive electronic surveillance. Concerns that sensitive personal data may go astray create fears of a society where the private sphere is not respected and where the limits of what can be commercialized are stretched more and more. 

It is most definitely right to protect personal privacy, but we are doing it the wrong way. It should be possible to create legislation that meets the legitimate concerns of how data is used, but at the same time makes it possible to take advantage of the potential that exists in a number of areas. 

READ ALSO: will robots take over your job in Sweden? 

There are, for example, experiences from Denmark which show the great value of open data for businesses and the public sector, which have improved welfare services for citizens as well as providing new services from entrepreneurs and helping authorities make savings. 

Not least in health can our smartphones give us information and advice. The technology already exists. But uncertainty about the legal framework implies is not only big – it is growing. This is particularly the case with regard to the so called General Data Protection Regulation, which was recently negotiated in Brussels. Instead of facilitating innovation and growth, we have ended up with more red tape, high administrative costs and the risk of heavy fines. 

This can certainly create jobs for regulatory experts and compliance officers, but not the productive jobs that Europe needs. It is vital that the the regulation be implemented as pragmatically as possible. Otherwise, the creation of new jobs and digital services will be impeded, such as technology that makes it possible to continue reducing fuel consumption of smart and connected trucks. 

In order to take better advantage of digitalization opportunities, the government should consider: 

– Placing the overall responsibility for digitalization in the Prime Minister's office, with a clear mandate to reform national regulations and also with the power to contribute positively to international negotiations, especially with regard to data. In addition, a chief economist position should be created at the Department of Justice to ease dialogue with other ministries about the rules and regulations concerning digitalization. 

– Urgently give clear mandates to relevant governmental agencies to identify the obstacles and opportunities linked to digitalization in their areas of responsibility. Digitalization affects almost everything, and data protection regulations can directly inhibit new jobs and services. 

New organization on its own will not be enough to create constructive rules and reach decisions, but in the same way that the framework for fiscal policy helped budget discipline, it will become easier for political institutions to make the necessary trade-offs. On the one hand, this includes the need for protection, which limits the access and usage of data, and on the other hand, it includes measures which allow digitalization to provide better conditions for growth in the longer term. 

We are now facing a choice that decides how great the benefits from digitalization will be, and if we can improve welfare services without tax increases. 

We can choose to create new jobs and services tailored around digitalization in Sweden, rather than later being forced to import technological solutions made in Silicon Valley.

This is a shortened, translated version of a debate article which originally appeared in Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

Mårten Blix has a PhD in Economics and is a guest researcher at the Swedish Research Institute of Industrial Economics. He is a former secretary in the Commission on the Future of Sweden. 

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
SHOW COMMENTS