Swedish politicians often refer to “the Swedish model”. Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven did so recently when he presented the government reshuffle last Wednesday. Politicans from other parties do the same. The purpose, of course, is to provide legitimacy to their own party and their own policies.
But, what is the Swedish model and who is really able to take credit for it?
Sweden was one of Europe's poorest countries in the early 1800s. In the middle of the century a series of measures to boost development were introduced, step by step helping Swedish welfare grow, with tangible effects showing from the 1870s onwards. It seems the Swedish model was hence created in the mid-19th century.
From such a perspective, the Swedish model has the following ingredients:
Sweden has not been at war for more than 200 years. To this day, we still like to assume a peacekeeping role in world politics.
Development has for 200 years been at the forefront of the Swedish mindset. We created an engineering culture early on. This led to fantastic innovations which often led to just as amazing businesses. These businesses are still a big part of the backbone of the Swedish economy. The companies allowed us to take advantage of our vast natural resources. Internationalization and free trade meant that we got access to even more customers, which enabled growth. Emerging banking, the so-called 'aktiebolag' (limited company) and stock trading all contributed to financing the growing businesses. We are still the leader in many areas, for example developing and using digital technologies.
Sweden is a large and remote country. Raw materials, labour and the market have always been far apart. This required from an early stage efficient infrastructure. Nineteenth-century canals, railroads and roads have in the modern era seen their equivalent in the form of broadband and telecom networks.
Education, and eventually good universities, absorbed the youth and contributed to new skills smoothly being fed back into society and the workforce. Sweden still allocates a significant percentage of its GDP to research. We are not pleased with the school system, but it is one of the most hotly debated issues.
5. Law and order
Sweden had, from an early stage, an honest civil service. Bribery and corruption has in general been only a small problem in our country. Owners, workers and civil servants wanted to do the right thing regardless of whether their duties were small or major. Conflicts were settled in a civilized manner by a well-functioning legal system. And so it continues. Sweden remains to this day one of the world's least corrupt countries.
6. Few conflicts
We want to agree. Consensus is a Swedish virtue. The parties of the labour market negotiate when they disagree, rather than going on strike. Swedish companies still have very loyal co-workers. Trade unions are these days often just as much partners as opposition to company bosses.
People have long been moving from places where they cannot support themselves to places where they can make a living. Immigration and emigration of labour has served as an important buffer in connection to those cycles that inevitably characterize economic development.
8. Long-term thinking
Owners and managers have historically aimed to create their life's work which is meant to be at its best when they themselves leave behind their active lives, rahter than peaking just before the publications of each monthly and quarterly financial statements. The state of the actual financial accounts has been determined by that which is left behind. Swedish capitalism is still dominated mainly by long-term owners, even though the threat of short-termism is all the more often “breathing down their necks”.
This is how we founded the Sweden we know today and it is, in essence, according to these principles that Sweden must continue to develop. These eight points are, as I see it, the basic elements of the Swedish model.
Which party or parties may then take credit for founding this model? The Social Democrats were founded in 1889. The Moderates in 1904. The Centre Party in 1913. The Left Party in 1917. The Liberals in 1934. The Christian Democrats in 1964. The Green Party in 1981. The Sweden Democrats in 1988. They were all born several decades after the Swedish model was established. They came into power far later. All parties have therefore rather inherited the Swedish model.
Inherited from whom? Well, credit for the Swedish model falls to the Swedish people, who have been doing so many things right for so long. That is why Sweden – regardless of government or parliament majority – is almost always one of the best performing countries in the world. When the government, as it is now, is a bit shaky, Sweden simply turns on its 'autopilot' in the form of the Swedish model.
So, to all politicians: you would do well to take care of that model which has for so long belonged to the Swedish people.