As Obama tries to rein in Wall Street and raise taxes on the wealthy, critics say he is trying to turn America into Sweden. Meanwhile, in Sweden, it's full-speed ahead for capitalism.
Stockholm, Sweden – There is a long tradition of using Sweden as a socialist model to highlight social shortcomings in the United States. Recent tax change proposals by the Obama administration, for instance, had conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly asking his viewers, "Do we really want to change America into Sweden?"
Yet if the Scandinavian model were shipped across the Atlantic, the changes would have little to do with socialism, say analysts here. In fact, some believe it should be held up as a bastion of market capitalism.
Last week, the country’s center-right government began selling off state-owned pharmacies, one of the country’s few remaining nationalized companies, as part of an ambitious program of liberal economic reforms started in 2006. In the same week, a study by the Swedish Unemployment Insurance Board revealed that almost half of the country’s jobless lacked full unemployment benefits. Many opted out of the state scheme when the cost of membership was raised last year; others were ineligible.
State pensions, schools, healthcare, public transport, and post offices have been fully or partly privatized over the last decade, making Sweden one of the most free market orientated economies in the world, analysts say.
“Sweden has always been on the side of the market economy. This is not socialism,” says Olle Wästberg, director of the Swedish Institute in Stockholm, and a former Consul General to New York. “In many fields, 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.”