Swedish elections put Palme back in driver's seat
The creators of Sweden's ''great social experiment'' have returned to continue their work.
After a six-year intermission, Olof Palme's Social Democratic Party is back in power with a decisive victory in Sunday's general election. Its 45.9 percent of the vote gives it 166 seats in Parliament and a clear majority over the nonsocialist parties, which won 45.1 percent (163 seats).
As the furthest left and most powerful of all the Western European socialist parties, Sweden's Social Democrats are still dedicated to the dream of jamlikhet - total equality. Deemed impossible in a climate where there has been a clear drift to the right in recent years, this dream was the guiding force behind the great social experiment interrupted when the party lost power in 1976 after an unprecedented 44 years.
The renewed pursuit of jamlikhet in the changed conditions of the mid-'80s could eventually even lead Sweden out of the Western democratic family.
The ''brave new world'' Palme promises to usher in frightens even many of those who helped his predecessors carry out the early phases of the great social experiment. A combination of world recession and governmental mismanagement and indecision has emptied the coffers that financed it.
Beneath the surface affluence of Sweden in 1982 there are cracks in the edifice that can no longer be hidden.
The foreign debt is increasing at the staggering rate of $3 billion a year, financing a vast public sector and, ironically, Swedish aid to the third world, still 1 percent of gross national product in line with a United Nations recommendation.
Astronomic labor costs have priced many Swedish goods off of the world market , and laws guaranteeing almost complete job security have dulled the competitive edge of the nation's work force.
Taxation, which can reach 85 percent on incomes over $40,000, has led to a mushrooming ''black'' economy and to an exodus of talented men and women.
A disillusioned youth rebels against the security provided by a welfare state that seeks to look after them ''from the cradle to the grave.'' Stockholm's House of Culture has become a hangout for drug addicts and alcoholics.
Buildings are vandalized. The roads need repair.Litter blows forlornly through streets once the envy of other Western capitals for their cleanliness.
Sweden appears to be in both fiscal and spiritual crisis.
To finance the pursuit of this great social experiment, the party has pledged to introduce so-called wage-earner funds allowing for a gradual trade union takeover of private industry. It will restore public spending cuts made by the nonsocialists and finance this with new taxes, including one on production, and a hike in value added tax.
There is some doubt whether Palme will actually carry through with this program. On election night he offered industry ''an outstretched hand'' in negotiations on the funds proposal. Industrial leaders see it more as a clenched fist.
Even within the party there is doubt. One month before the election the Social Democrats were rocked by the defection of their leading economist, Prof. Assar Lindbeck, from the party.
Lindbeck resigned because he disagreed with the wage-earner funds plan. Run by elected committees of trade unionists, the planswill be financed by a percentage of companies' ''excess profits'' and a levy on workers' wages. They will buy out private industry via the stock exchange.
''It will mean the collectivization of society,'' said Professor Lindbeck. ''Palme has been pushed into this by the unions. That is why I had to leave the party.''
Valter Aman, a Social Democratic veteran, was the man who helped create much of Sweden's job security legislation. Today he is a bitter critic of Olof Palme's leadership.
''He has lowered the tone of political debate,'' says Aman. ''What he practises is satire without humor.''
He says the wage-earner funds plan will bring about ''a bureaucratically controlled make-believe democracy.''
''People should not give too much power to the collective,'' he warns. ''The collective should serve the people and not be their master.''
Another Social Democratic defector, Dr. Alf Ennerstrom, goes further.
He claims Palme plans to establish a socialist republic in Sweden toward the close of the decade with Palme as president. He says the groundwork for this move was laid by the Social Democrats in 1974 when constitutional changes were introduced stripping the king of his powers.
''One stroke of the pen is all that is now necessary,'' says Ennerstrom. ''All Palme is interested in is power.''
He says the inherent docility of the Swedish people would make such a move perfectly feasible.
Certainly Swedes already put up with encroachments on individual freedom that would be unthinkable elsewhere in the West.
All citizens have a number allotted to them from birth allowing fast and efficient checking by both bureaucrats and police.
Their bank accounts are subject to scrutiny by the tax authorities.
And their leisure activities have been severely curtailed by rules limiting consumption of liquor, tobacco, and even food. All these moves met with almost no protest when introduced.
With the Social Democrats far more bureaucratically oriented than their predecessors, the next few years will almost certainly see the drafting of still more legislation curbing the freedom of the individual in favor of the equality envisaged by Palme.
Palme says his economic policies will ''get Swedish industry moving.'' His critics say they will get Swedish industry moving . . . ''right out of the country.'' Even today most of the Swedish multinationals are dependent on their foreign subsidiaries for most of their success.
A general exodus to more favorable economic climes may not be far away.
Foreign policy under Palme will have a clear bias toward the third world, with a meeker tone taken toward the Soviet Union and a clear leaning away from the West.
In a televised election debate Palme delivered a little homily expressing shock at the poverty he had seen in the United States.
Admittedly he leavened it with a condemnation of oppression in the Eastern bloc, but just for a moment the mask of the career politician slipped, rekindling memories of the man who marched alongside protesters to the US Embassy during the Vietnam war.