A non-technical definition of “socialism” would be “bossy and obstructive and high-handed government.” Sweden certainly has a good deal of that, inspired for example by the eugenicists Gunnar and Alva Myrdal in the 1930s. Sweden, with other Protestant countries, led the world in compulsory sterilization and persecution of gays into the 1970s. It’s an example of the way the Swedes go along with their government too much, sometimes because they assume too easily that whatever is widely agreed must be right. An old Swedish woman left her worn-out frying pan in a trash container for metal packages. She was arrested for committing a crime against the environment, freed only after trial, and fined. Nice…
Swedish-government spending, true, is very high, half again as large, measured as a share of GDP, as government spending in the U.S.
But when it comes to production, socialism disappears:
Sweden in fact is pretty much as “capitalistic” as is the United States. It’s Minnesota writ large. Not writ all that large, actually, with merely 9.3 million people, many of them now foreign-born, compared with the 5.3 million Minnesotans, 10 percent of Swedish descent. Like the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Sweden is a place of private ownership and thrusting inventors, Swedish bachelor farmers and pretty generous social provision, pretty good schools (with vouchers) and terrible weather.
If “socialism” means government ownership of the means of production, which is the classic definition, Sweden never qualified. When little Sweden’s economists were second in academic standing only to big Britain’s, in the early 20th century, they were “liberal” in the European sense: free-traders opposed to central planning and governmental ownership. None of Sweden’s manufacturing or extractive industries has ever been socialized, this in contrast, for example, to the experiment after 1946 in the world’s first innovative economy, when the Labour party’s Clause IV nationalized the Bank of England, coal, inland transport, gas, steel, health services, and much else. Sweden never followed even the more modest example of America’s temporary nationalization of railways during the First World War. Sweden’s Systembolaget, the state liquor store, was sold off in 2008, as it has not yet been in all the U.S. Apoteket, the maddeningly inefficient Swedish-government drug-store monopoly, was privatized, too, praise the Lord.
But these are small potatoes. The big potatoes in Sweden are owned by reclusive millionaires worthy of Newport, R.I., or Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Consult Stieg Larsson and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When Saab Autos began its descent into bankruptcy, no Swede suggested that the government give the company billions on the security of its worthless stock. When Volvo became a Chinese company, no Swede objected. Compare the determination of the Bush and Obama administrations in proudly capitalist America to socialize General Motors and Chrysler — Chrysler for the second time. Or compare the plans on the left of the Democratic party to solve any problem by expanding the government instead of solving the problem, such as monopoly in the provision of U.S. health care. “In many fields,” noted a Swedish diplomat, “we have more private ownership compared to other European countries, and to America. About 80 percent of all new schools are privately run, as are the railroads and the subway system.” Compare Amtrak, with eight stops in West Virginia, compliments of Senator Robert Byrd.