When you read about the best governance systems and the happiest, healthiest people on the planet, why do the Nordic or the Scandinavian countries always seem to top the list? What are they doing or not doing to achieve such standards? This article uncovers all those modals that one such country- Sweden has adapted to and its political system as well.
HISTORY AND POLITICAL BACKGROUND
Sweden is a country in Northern Europe, with a population of 10.3 million, out of whom 2.6 million are from foreign countries. The history of Sweden’s birth is unknown, but the list of monarchs is assembled from the first kings known to have ruled both Svealand (Sweden) and Gotaland (Gothia) as one province. It was during the seventeenth century that Sweden emerged as a European superpower. Its conquered land extending to Russia, Poland and Lithuania.
During and after the two world wars, Sweden has managed to remain a neutral power and has stayed out of alliances and organisations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. The political system of Sweden has taken shape in the form of a parliamentary representative democratic constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister leads the government, which exercises executive power in the country. Legislative power resides in both the government and parliament, elected within a multi-party system. The Judiciary in Sweden is quite independent and the posts are appointed by the government and employed until retirement.
Since the Great Depression, the country’s national politics have largely been dominated by the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, which has held a plurality (and sometimes a majority) in parliament since 1917. The Economist Intelligence Unit announced Sweden as a “full democracy” in 2019.
THE NORDIC MODEL
Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, all have contributed to shaping the Nordic Model. The Nordic model is a term that defines the unique combination of free-market capitalism and social benefits that have given rise to a society that enjoys top-quality services, including free education and free healthcare, guaranteed pension payments for retirees.
The success of the Nordic model and its success in Sweden lies in its history, where the collectiveness of the population has set a good foundation for the current day political and administrative system. The citizens not only make the government but also trust it and that is why they are willing to pay higher taxes in return for facilities like free healthcare, free education and whatnot. But it does not mean that it comes without flaws. The model has its own pros and cons and lets us take a look at how Sweden has adapted to it and its challenges.
HOW DOES THE NORDIC MODEL WORK IN SWEDEN?
For Sweden, it all starts with the Saltsjöbaden Agreement, which was a labour market treaty signed between the Swedish Trade Union Corporation and the Swedish Employees Association in 1938. The agreement cemented that the two parties shall come to an agreement without the interference of the government and it is still held up with the most recent amendments being made in 1976. The Swedish model of capitalism grew under the reign of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, and its role as a state providing comprehensive welfare and also infrastructure grew after the world wars.
In the 1950s, the formulation of the basis of the Swedish social democracy had started with ideas drawing inspiration from liberalism and not socialistic reform. The Swedish “affluent society” was based on the principles of providing citizens with economic security whilst simultaneously promoting social solidarity, and not following the rules of ‘selective welfare provision”. The Swedish model was characterized by a strong labour movement as well as inclusive publicly-funded and often publicly-administered welfare institutions. By the early 1980s, the model started to suffer from imbalances and a capital flight. The two possible solutions were either transitioning to socialism by socialising the ownership of the industry and the other way was to provide favourable conditions for the formation of private capital and adapting neo-liberalism.
The Swedish model was first challenged by the Meidner Plan which suggested collectivising capital formation but it did not garner enough support in the elections and stood defeated. When the Social Democratic Party returned to power in 1982, it inherited a slowing economy resulting from the end of the post-war boom. The Social Democrats put up monetarist and neoliberal policies, deregulating the banking industry and liberalizing currency in the 1980s.
WHAT MAKES SWEDEN A SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL SYSTEM?
In return for high taxes, Swedes are provided with a broad spectrum of public services and social welfare benefits that guarantee a minimum living standard, provide aid in emergencies, and narrow the gap between income groups. All of the people who are residents of the country are covered by national health insurance. The responsibility to provide health services lies in the hands of the county councils (and the local authority in the case of Gotland). Health conditions in Sweden are one of the best in the world. Infant mortality is low, and the average life expectancy at birth is high. One of the world’s oldest populations resides in Sweden, with a significant slice of the population age 65 or over. The doctor’s per capita population rate is also very high. The state makes sure that primary health care centres are available in every community. In matters of highly specialized health care as well, the country has several major hospitals.
Extremely liberal benefits are available to parents. 13-month paternity leave can be granted to each parent until their child turns 8. They also receive tax-free child allowances. Students who choose to continue their education in the country are also entitled to study allowances. As for the university level, the majority of student funding consists of repayable loans. All working people in the country have unemployment insurance provided by their trade unions, while the unemployed without such coverage can receive a smaller cash benefit from the state. Sweden also pays its citizens an income-related supplementary pension financed through a payroll plan.
But grass always seems greener on the other side, and it is not that Sweden is a perfect paradise country, it has its own setbacks. The income tax in the country is the 3rd highest in the entire world. It may seem like a fair number because of all the benefits provided by the state, but not all people earn a ton of money and might find it difficult to pay off such a heavy amount. The cost of living is also another major issue. As it is an extremely cold country, the amount eventually adds up to a large sum when electricity and rent and/or taxes are added.
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An aspiring civil servant, a curious mind but also an avid binge watcher- Prerna is currently pursuing BA Prog in English and Political Science from Kirori Mal College. She belongs to Chandigarh but really enjoys the hustle of Delhi. Her favourite pastime is taking naps and recognises herself as a pro at it.