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Swedish politics: left, center-right, racial right

October 7, 2018

Nick Gier

In 1976, after 44 years of rule, Sweden’s Social Democrats lost to a coalition of moderates and conservatives. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Olaf Palme, a leading critic of the Vietnam War, the Social Democrats returned to power in 1982 and governed until the present, except for another center-right stint from 2006 to 2014.

Opposition leaders want to take credit for Sweden’s economic and social success, but most of the reduction of public spending—from 67 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 1993 to 49 percent in 2012—was accomplished by the Social Democrats.

In 1983 they cut the marginal tax rate from 84 percent to 57 percent (40 percent for the U.S.), and just before their opponents came to power in 2006, the Social Democrats eliminated the inheritance tax.

Even with much higher taxes and public spending compared to the U.S., the Swedish economy still grew on average by 2.7 percent from 1993 to 2010. Currently, under the Social Democrats, it increased to 4.2 percent in the last quarter and for the year it is estimated to average 2.8 percent. Today, the U.S. growth rate was 4.2 percent for the last quarter and an estimated 2.9 percent for the year.

Sweden is now running a surplus of 1.1 percent, but the U.S. budget deficit, primarily because of the GOP tax cuts, is now at 4.6 percent and rising. As a result, our national debt is now at 104 percent of GDP, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will reach 152 percent if no new revenue is found. (Greece stands at 170 percent.) The Swedish Social Democrats brought down their debt from 70 percent of GDP in 1993 to 37 percent today.

The conservative Heritage Foundation now ranks Denmark and Sweden higher than the U.S. on its Economic Freedom Index, and Sweden stands at 7th place in economic competitiveness behind Switzerland, the U.S., Singapore, the Netherlands, Germany, and Hong Kong.

The standard conservative response to Sweden’s success is that the country is less ethnically diverse. But Sweden’s population is now 19 percent foreign born, whereas the U.S. percentage is 13. During the Iraq War, Sweden admitted about 80,000 Iraqi refugees, 6,000 Christians among them.

Since the turn of the century, the Swedes have welcomed an average of 26,000 refugees, maxing out at 163,000 in 2015, more per capita than Germany. In stark and embarrassing contrast, the Trump administration just announced that it was placing a limit of 30,000 on all new refugees.

Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are of course wrong to their constant fear mongering about immigrant crime. In Germany, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., immigrants commit fewer crimes that native citizens. However, crime for this demographic is higher in Sweden, but no more so than those of the same socio-economic status. Nevertheless, incidences such as Kurdish gangs setting cars aflame in four major cities in August, has stoked anti-immigrant sentiment.

The far-right, anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats have capitalized on this unrest and, they have risen in the polls—from 1.4 percent in 2002 to 17.5 percent in the election on September 9. The Swedish Democrats do support the welfare state, but they don’t want immigrants to benefit from it. Party leaders have called them “parasites” and “shameless liars.”

The response from the governments in both Sweden and Denmark, through which most refugees reach Sweden, has been dramatic. The once open borders between Germany and Denmark, and the bridge between Denmark and Southern Sweden, now have restrictions.

The Danish government now requires asylum seekers to pay for their own subsistence, something the U.S. still does while they are being processed. The Trump administration, however, is now proposing that immigrants who take food stamps, Medicaid, and other forms of assistance may not obtain green cards.

The September 9 election resulted in a hung parliament, with Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left Party winning 144 seats and the center-right coalition garnering 143, not enough for either to form a majority. The Swedish Democrats have 62 seats.

Denmark’s anti-immigrant People’s Party is a member of its center-right government, but Sweden’s major parties have always rejected a formal arrangement with the Swedish Democrats. Nonetheless, the center-right parties were glad to have their votes to remove Social Democrat Stefan Lofven as Prime Minister on September 25.

Sweden can expect many more weeks of political turmoil, and the likely result is that the center right parties—Conservatives, Moderates, Liberals, and Christian Democrats—will form an unstable minority government.

Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read more about the “Middle Way” between communism and capitalism at www.nickgier.com/MiddleWay.pdf. Email him at ngier006@gmail.com.

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