How Sweden went from 'least democratic' to welfare state

Sweden
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In a new study, Lund University economic historian Erik Bengtsson debunks the myth that Sweden was destined to become a social democratic country. Instead, he argues that it was actually against all odds, as Sweden in the early 1900s was one of the western world's most unequal countries—and the least democratic in western Europe.

Has Sweden always flown the flag for equality and welfare? No, that is a misleading, romanticized picture, according to Erik Bengtsson from the School of Economics and Management at Lund University in Sweden.

"Sweden is romanticised internationally as the small country in the north that took the lead in equality because of a tradition of independent farmers and a lack of nobility. The only problem is that this is a complete fabrication. There is a wish to believe that Sweden was a unique, idyllic land, but that's wrong."

Instead, Bengtsson shows, among other things, how the temperance movement's strong organisational culture and the free churches formed the basis for the Swedish welfare state in the late 1800s. This helped to educate the future social democrats, whose party, formed in 1889, grew strong rapidly and gained many members who defined themselves as working class.

"It was a method for organising people that proved to be successful and was the reason that Sweden became the world's strongest social democracy. It was very simple: If there is a strong organisation that wants to have an equality model, you get an equality model", says Erik Bengtsson.

Ethnologists usually describe Swedish stories of Swedishness as an echo chamber. The assertions are repeated again and again, but they actually originate from the same questionable sources.

"The story of Swedish democracy stemming from the farmers is a good one and perhaps we would prefer to see ourselves linked to happy people in folk costumes, rather than impoverished peasants. However, it's our job as historians to slow things down a little, shift the debate and show how this narrative is deficient", says Erik Bengtsson.

In the essay "The Swedish Sonderweg in question: Democratization and inequality in comparative perspective", recently published in the journal Past and Present, Erik Bengtsson also highlights another aspect as to why Sweden from the 1930s until the early 1980s became the model for a social democratic country.

"Sweden was the least democratic country in Western Europe in the early 1900s. Almost no one could be involved in politics, and very few could vote. This meant that a large proportion of the population could reach a consensus that another type of order was possible. We had a political world in which nearly the entire population was posited against a small elite, and when the people gained power it created a political dynamic with a strong popular alliance for democracy and equality", says Erik Bengtsson.

Today, Sweden is the eleventh most equal OECD country, overtaken by all the Nordic countries as well as Slovenia, Belgium and Austria. The welfare state's redistribution of wealth policy has diminished so much that researchers now question whether Sweden is still a "social democratic model".

"There is no continuity in Swedish history— is not based on our culture. This research shows that it is a fragile construction that we can lose or is subject to change, and not eternal and unconnected with history", concludes Erik Bengtsson.


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More information: Erik Bengtsson, The Swedish Sonderweg in Question: Democratization and Inequality in Comparative Perspective, c.1750–1920*, Past & Present (2019). DOI: 10.1093/pastj/gtz010
Provided by Lund University
Citation: How Sweden went from 'least democratic' to welfare state (2019, June 14) retrieved 15 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-06-sweden-democratic-welfare-state.html
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13 hours ago
The article is conveniently forgetting the point of what happened in the 1930s.

The Swedes practically invented scientific racism, and were the first in the world to have state institutes for studying and implementing eugenics - which directly influenced the Nazis. Then later on during the war they were in de-facto trade union with Germany while pretending to be neutral. After the war, it would have been mighty inconvenient for the ruling elites to continue along the same vein, with the entire rest of the world turning against such ideas. The Swedish elites had to do all in their power to divorce themselves from the Nazis and keep up the narrative that they were completely uninvolved in any of the war crimes - so they turned hard left.

It's not really a story of the quiet masses slowly gaining power and overthrowing the status quo. When the marching mob got up to the castle, the king had sneaked out and was now marching at the front of the mob to retake his own throne.

12 hours ago
Today, Sweden is the eleventh most equal OECD country, overtaken by all the Nordic countries as well as Slovenia, Belgium and Austria. The welfare state's redistribution of wealth policy has diminished so much that researchers now question whether Sweden is still a "social democratic model".


Open borders or a welfare state. Pick one and only one.

12 hours ago
Open borders or a welfare state. Pick one and only one.


The socialists built the "million programme" housing developments (projects) back in the 70's to answer the huge flux of people from the countryside to the cities, and for the immigration from neighboring countries like Finland. They stuffed all the poor people and immigrants into these more or less isolated cookie-cutter neighborhoods, which turned out with predictable results when the economy stopped growing: the housing projects started to perpetuate poverty by perpetuating social divisions. All the "true swedes" were over here, and all the poor "not swedes" were cordoned off over there.

Most of the scary stories you hear today about immigrants messing about in Sweden is exactly from these places. It's an example of failed integration, which keeps happening again and again because the socialists fundamentally recognize that maintaining a poor underclass maintains a stable base of dependent voters...

11 hours ago
For a different type of integration policy, you can look at Finland which did the exact opposite when they had to deal with the growing pains of urbanization and the massive evacuation and re-settlement (11% of population) from the areas invaded by the Soviet Union.

Under the Arava system, the state funded about half the cost of new homes, and the zoning was done according to "social housing plan" which put upscale private apartments right next to cheap public rental apartments in the same neighborhoods, which had the effect of making the social problems and poverty more visible but also preventing the social isolation of the poor.

As a result, Finland is now the more equal society compared to Sweden, and also more anti-immigration and socially conservative than Sweden because they can't just shove the immigrants into ghettos to be out of sight and out of mind - the social problems are more directly felt by a greater portion of the people.

10 hours ago
" It's an example of failed integration, which keeps happening again and again because the socialists fundamentally recognize that maintaining a poor underclass maintains a stable base of dependent voters..."

Eikka THAT is exactly the case here in the good old US of A. There is a 24/7 plan being used to separate us into groups and maintain liberal power. Men against women, black against white, gay against straight and poor against rich. Everyone is a "Victim" that needs to be "Protected" by ever increasing government power.

10 hours ago
Oh yea, just in case we happen to run out of the poor, they advocate for open borders and free government funded programs to support them. Of course asking for voter ID to insure that only citizens vote is considered to be racially motivated.

10 hours ago
There is a 24/7 plan


No plan is actually required. It's just that politicians can't make policies that would put themselves out of power, because the political system today is based on small arbitrary changes rather than the rule of any fundamental law or philosophy.

Individual politicians can make good policies, but the system overall cannot, because the politicians have to remain in power to maintain policy. You don't need a conspiracy theory to notice that this creates a non-optimal political system: the government merely sits between the classes and maintains the social disparity, because changing this status-quo would see the standing government fall out of favor and the opposition rise to power, and jeopardize any other policy they're trying to have.

10 hours ago
The easiest way to keep power is to buy votes, by offering welfare and other benefits, which requires money, which is most available by taxing the rich - but the rich can use their money to influence politics against you. That means, in order to tax the rich for more money to pay for your commitments, you have to give them something in return: favorable policies.

In other words, in order to buy votes from the poor, the governments must institute policies that actually benefit the rich - by allowing the rich to exploit the poor for the amount they lose in taxes. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the government gains popularity because the poor NEED the government now more than ever even as the government is obviously corrupt.

It's a stalemate, because the voters won't support cutting any benefits, so the state can't back out of any of its commitments no matter how arbitrary or ill-justified. It can only get worse.

10 hours ago
Interesting observations @Eikka. You from up there?

9 hours ago
Men against women, black against white, gay against straight and poor against rich. Everyone is a "Victim"


That's a martyrdom syndrome that is happening because many people have learned to play the state in its own game.

Since the leftist political philosophy has defined the role of the state to be the vanguard of society - a proactive and progressive "leader" of society whose task is to fix all the social issues and save the people from themselves - the moral entrepreneurs arise to define the problems for the state to solve. Otherwise the state wouldn't know what to do.

These problems just so happen to align with the socio-economic interests of the moral entrepreneurs themselves. This is a fundamental problem for all planned societies: you have to ask the people what they want, otherwise you're operating blind. If you don't ask, you're just a tyrant, but when you do, "experts" arise to speak over the actual people and fool you into making irrational plans.

9 hours ago
Interesting observations @Eikka. You from up there?


I have observed that by giving any personal definition, people simply use it as an ad-hominem to ignore the arguments they don't want to hear. If it were possible, I should be commenting completely anonymously.

9 hours ago
I admire Gustavus Adolphus. And I'm a block-headed Swede myself, albeit at a few generations remove.

9 hours ago
And just so you know, @Eikka, I haven't seen either the left or the right do very well lately.

Not sure where to go from here. But whatever it is, if it involves mass killings I'm against it.

9 hours ago
The story of the cobbler comes to mind. People would prefer good shoes that last a long time over cheap paper shoes that last a single season, but the cobblers prefer cheap paper shoes that last a single season, because then people buy more shoes more frequently and the materials are proportionally cheaper.

When the state tries to observe what kind of shoes the people actually need in order to set some regulations or standards, they don't have the option of asking everyone, so they ask only some people - and who knows shoes better than the cobbler? Guess what the cobbler answers?

Likewise with the moral entrepreneurs. They're presenting caricatured or exaggerated versions of real social issues, crafted to benefit themselves, and since the state has no practical means to gauge the real extent of the issue, they can only trust those who are most vocal about it.

Once the establishment accepts the narrative, it becomes reality for the system, no matter how absurd the claim.

8 hours ago
Not sure where to go from here.


Back. Wind the clock about 200 years backwards, and you'll find societies and states that were (attempting) to run by the rule of law rather than the rule of politicians.

The difference is that the rule of law doesn't depend on who is currently in power, so the incentive for political power is different. It's more like laying railroad tracks rather than fighting over who gets to turn the big ship's rudder this week. It also requires a broader consensus over what are justifiable rights and responsibilities: basically a total review of political philosophy, update to the constitution, and then better adherence to it.

But that requires a different definition for the role of the state. More libertarian than liberal. The society must move towards the right.

The Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism would call it "a negation of negation" - the society must reverse itself, but retain what is good about all the previous versions.

8 hours ago
I haven't seen either the left or the right do very well lately


That's because the division between the actual political parties is rather imaginary.

For example, the neocons (Bush Jr. etc.) are originally Democrats - leftists - who changed sides, but took leftist political philosophies along with them and adapted them to appeal more to the conservative side - such as rabid anti-communism or "war against terror" etc. which are merely rhetorical tools. The Bush administrations' exporting democracy to the middle east has its ideological roots with socialist internationalism and carries the same justification. On the other side, the Neoliberals (Clinton etc.) took narratives from the right and argued for a market-based "liberalist" way to institute social justice - access to capital for the poor in form of cheap credit, etc. - but still inside the framework of leftist ideals.

This admixture has made both political parties more or less leftist in practice.

7 hours ago
@Eikka, you appear to be an apologist for the far right.

200 years ago people died from diseases we cure easily today.

200 years ago there were no automobiles; and the streets of cities were covered with horseshit. (Quite literally; it was a major problem.)

200 years ago, we'd never been to the Moon and never seen a galaxy while understanding what we were looking at.

200 years ago Communism wasn't a thing.

200 years ago women didn't get to vote.

I don't think you've got any better idea than I do.

7 hours ago
200 years ago racism was rampant.

200 years ago women died in childbirth at 50 times the rate they do today.

200 years ago we didn't have computers, never mind Internet.

200 years ago we barely had machine guns, never mind nuclear weapons.

200 years ago sailing ships were high technology.

200 years ago we'd never heard of quantum theory or relativity.

You cannot possibly be serious.

7 hours ago
History is not an empirical science, and opinions will differ. That said, we can state statistical facts on society. The paper contribute but two facts as context for its complicated opinionated history, data on income equality and density of worker's unions. That said, Bengtsson's opinion has a point, because the data show that Sweden is nothing special among Scandinavian nations.

Speaking of opinions, here we see people opinionated against the article and the data it is based on.

The article is conveniently forgetting the point of what happened in the 1930s. The Swedes practically invented scientific racism ... After the war ... they turned hard left.


That is not what the article and the facts it describe say. Unfortunately Sweden had some racial based 'science' at the time, but so had US and it was divorced from politics. And the workers unions and social democrats were dominating from the 1930s, before the war.

The rest of your opinions are equally divorced from fact.

7 hours ago
Da the US constitution as written is one of the most enlightened documents in history. Even more amazingly it was written by relatively young people who have everything to lose. These people knew the tyranny of the powerful and tried to protect their new country from them. One would think that it was inspired by God!

It saddens me to no end that the ignorant masses feel that the constitution is not relevant due to changing times. I fear that they are too ignorant to deserve to be free and will cede their freedoms for the promise of the new Utopia, a few magic mushrooms and some pot.

7 hours ago
Today, Sweden is the eleventh most equal OECD country, overtaken by all the Nordic countries as well as Slovenia, Belgium and Austria. The welfare state's redistribution of wealth policy has diminished so much that researchers now question whether Sweden is still a "social democratic model".


Open borders or a welfare state. Pick one and only one.


As you own quote help show, Sweden - and in a larger context EU - is an example of both.

And don't forget that the worker migrants are mainly EU such, that asylum migration peaked when the Syria war did without border control making a difference, and that the popularity of Sweden/influx of staying migrants has contributed to push Sweden's birth rate above the replacement rate for decades now - rare for a high GDP (OECD) nation.

****
To sum up, I expect to see opinions continue to flow, but also to be divorced from the easily seen facts. Eikka is having fun with a Gish gallop to boot, that is just time waste for all.

6 hours ago
As you own quote help show, Sweden - and in a larger context EU - is an example of both.


The quote talks about the slow decline of Swedish welfare state. Of course you can have both open borders and a welfare state for some time, even many decades, but those two things are in tension. In the long term, I think it is either one or the other. And I do like my welfare state..

5 hours ago
Eh? Did i misread? I thought Eikka was implying it wouldn't be so bad to wind back to a situation similar to 200 years ago, while retaining the good things done since then. Doesn't it mean there wouldn't be horseshit anymore?

5 hours ago
The biggest threat to the US and to individual freedoms at this point is the Judiciary!!!!! Judges usurp the powers of both other two branches of government at will to further their agenda. They feel that they have the right to rewrite the Constitution at will and the other branches refuse to challenge their authority in a meaningful fashion.

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