Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Swedish Welfare State

Warning: Second Educational Post in a Row

The typical Swede (Sven Medelsvensson) of today is almost an entirely different species than his ancestor Erik The Viking.

In the past, Erik and his hairy mates would drink grog and cohort for months until running out of money. Then they would jump in a boat, travel to Poland, the Baltic States, The British Isles, or France and proceed to rape and pillage the shit out them until it was time to come home and drink some more.

Today the typical Swede works a white-collar job, lives unmarried with his partner, has kids, and has a house or apartment of his own. He has traveled all over the world, speaks good English and perhaps another language (such as Spanish), and enjoys boating and other outdoor activities. He still drinks but only on weekends and no foreigners usually get hurt.

But that was all very recently. Sweden was of course heavily influenced in the Middle Ages by its teutonic neighbor to the South, Germany, Sweden's largest trading partner for hundreds of years until after WW2 (today its the USA). As late as 100 years ago, Swedes were notorious for beating their children, drinking enough vodka to make a Russian blush, going to war at every opportunity, starving to death due to bad politics, and being so Christian as to make unmarried women and their children enter a special door in the church. And due to Sweden's homogeneous racial profile, it tended to land on the xenophobic side of the fence.

How xenophobic was Sweden? Only Nazi Germany had a larger per capita Eugenics program than Sweden. Sweden sterilized people up until 1970. As late as the 1950's they did this for even trivial reasons: such as belonging to a motorcycle gang, being an unclean race, being retarded, being an unfit parent, etc.

But how did this transformation happen? And why is it unthinkable for it to happen again? Why do typical Swedish children pick flowers and berries while English kids are throwing rocks and American kids are shooting each other with semi-automatic weapons? My theory is the twin blessings of the death of organized religion (intellectual enlightenment) and the rise of the social welfare state which came with Sweden's growing wealth after WW2.

Sweden made BANK during and after World War 2 by supplying Hitler with raw materials for his war machine in exchange for being left alone. And after World War 2, while the rest of Europe was decimated, Sweden was booming with a trained workforce and an intact manufacturing base.

So wealth is almost certainly one of the reasons. But I would not discount the death of organized religion as a contributing factor. In Sweden, going to church is seen as the intellectual equivalent of losing a war to Poland. Swedes (and me) share a mix of embarrassment and horror when politicians in America use the G word in speeches and Presidents like Reagan and GW Bush mention publicly that they talk to God.

What are the benefits of living in a country like Sweden? It is against the law to beat children, jobs are so cush you get a month off per year and get this... you get paid MORE FOR VACATION TIME than you do when you are working (I'd like to see someone suggest that in the States) and wait, there's more... socialized medicine, free higher education, permanent unemployment benefits, and more.

Despite its industrial base, Sweden ranks amongst the best countries in terms of clean air, water, and recycling. Rumor has it you can drink out of Lake Mälaren that encircles Stockholm. I've swallowed water swimming in that lake but I personally wouldn't want to drink it on purpose. That being said... the rest of the world could learn alot from studying this place.

Just remember to separate the green bottles from the clear bottles or they might revert and cut your nuts off.


Anonymous said...

Growing up in Europe and now living in Washington DC I miss the freedom from religious zealots. Enjoy your time in a somewhat paradise.

Sloth said...

How is it possible that people believe in an all-powerful God who shows his love by allowing nuclear proliferation, tyranny, and random natural disasters?


Sloth said...

I think God is a slutty girl who likes thirty-something artistic guys who drink Finnish lager.