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Nordic countries are reinventing their model of capitalism (economist.com)
166 points by JumpCrisscross on Feb 1, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments

Comparing the U.S. and Swedish cultures using Geert Hofstede's [1] parametric ontology, a well-regarded comparative sociological model, the Sweden is far more cooperation (versus competitive) oriented as well as less individualistic (more collective) with a smaller power distance.

MAS U.S. 62, Sverige 5

"A high score (masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the “winner” or “best-in-the-field.” A low score (feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine)."

IDV U.S. 91 (highest measured), Sverige 71

"The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members...In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only."

UAI U.S. 46, Sverige 29

"The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the UAI score." [2]

Note that a recurring theme in Hofstede's research is that different cultures are good at different things - a downside of the MAS/IDV dynamic is Swedish companies' tendency to seek harmony to the point of inaction, i.e. death by committee.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geert_Hofstede

[2] http://geert-hofstede.com/united-states.html

Swede here.

> standing out from the crowd is not admirable.

That's interesting. We even have a word for that; "Jantelagen" (Law of Jante). The meaning is, "Don't think you are better than anyone else."

Thankfully, it is starting to change, but it is still ingrained in our culture.


"The Nordics’ success depends on their long tradition of good government, which emphasises not only honesty and transparency but also consensus and compromise."

This is unfortunately the hard part. The big government/big corp/big law collusion makes this almost impossible in the USA. These classes are now unified into one upper class, and are working relentlessly to increase their power and reduce their responsibility. Interestingly, China is much worse than the USA in this regard, and is a good example of what happens when big government owns a nation completely: a tiny aristocracy ruling with impunity over the poor masses.

This is perception more than anything else. I don't see many people complaining that government was too big in the "golden age" of the 50's and 60's, yet total government revenue as a percentage of GDP has been pretty stable since then: http://www.usgovernmentrevenue.com/include/usgr_chart3p22.pn....

Indeed, if you factor out the huge increase in social security and medicare expenditures that result from the aging of the population between 1950 and today, the rest of government is probably smaller today than it was then.

Moreover, much of what seems to be "growth" in government is the result of transfer payments--things like Social Security checks that are taken out of one pocket in the private sector and deposited directly into another pocket in the private sector. In terms of bureaucratic machinery, at least the federal government has been shrinking: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/wired-workplace/2010/09/....

In 1950, there were 1.44 million federal workers for 150 million people. The number of federal employees peaked in absolute terms in 1990, at 2.25 million, but that number actually represents a decline in relative terms, because by then the U.S. had 250 million people. Today the federal workforce is at about 2.15 million, while the population is at 310 million. That is to say we have twice as many people as we did in 1950, but the headcount of the federal government is only 50% larger.

As for your other points: collusion, etc. We are substantially less regulated today than we were in the 1950's and 1960's: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deregulation#Deregulation_1970-.... Many major industries (trucking, airlines, energy, finance, communications) were deregulated between 1970-2000. With decreased regulation came decreased opportunity for regulatory capture.

The idea that things are worse today than they used to be is a lot of "back in the good old days" day dreaming.

yet total government revenue as a percentage of GDP has been pretty stable since then

I'd be very careful using GDP for anything. A while back I took a look at the finer details of how GDP is defined by the US government, and more importantly, how that definition has changed over time.

I wouldn't trust GDP further than I can throw a truck. As a metric it has become nearly useless, and (I feel) highly deceiving.

Where can I read more about this?

For other readers, the issue seems to be how to calculate inflation.

Immediately after world world two, the U.S. had arguably the largest percentage of world GDP of any political entity in world history. This occurred because the entire industrial capacity, major cities, and young population of every other developed country had been devastated.

Also, there was less stratification between the rich and the poor.

These are the two basic factors people refer to when they see the 50's and 60's as a golden age.

How is government spending as a percentage of GDP? Because AFAICT our biggest problem in the USA is not spending within our means.

In other words, the main difference to "big government" since the Cold War is that it's now politically astute, rather than alarmingly unpatriotic, for the Right to attack it. :)

I'd be more interested in government spending (not including transfer payments) then number of employees. There has been a dramatic shift in the number of things which are out-sourced to private companies. (Additionally, many of companies providing these services have the government as their main or sole buyer.)

In other words, the real question is: what fraction of societal expenditures are being directed by the political process?

Take 1965 and 2006 as comparison points: http://federal-budget.findthedata.org/compare/67-109/1965-vs...

See also: http://useconomy.about.com/od/usfederalbudget/p/FY-2006-Fede... http://www.ssa.gov/history/percent.html

Expenditures in 2006 were about 20% of GDP versus 17% of GDP in 1965. In 2006, social security accounted for 20.5% of the budget, versus 14.8% in 1965. That's 4.1% of GDP versus 2.5% of GDP. In 2006, medicare was 12.2% of the budget. In 1965, Medicare didn't exist (it was created that year). That's 2.5% of GDP versus 0% of GDP.

Net of social security and medicare, total federal expenditures in 1965 were 14.5% of GDP, and in 2006 they were 13.4% of GDP. At least at the federal level, the proportion of GDP spent on things other than the care of the elderly shrunk slightly over 40 years. Indeed, this is probably an under-estimate, when you allocate the percentage of medicaid, the NHS budget, the DHHS budget, etc, spent providing care for the elderly, researching diseases that primarily effect the elderly, etc.

That's the story at every level of government - entitlements crowding out public goods. California has a similar problem with public pensions.

It's the story for a simple reason: the American population is getting old and retiring.


The big government/big corp/big law collusion makes this almost impossible in the USA.

I would argue that it's impossible to do in the USA because the US is a very heterogenous culture whereas countries like Sweden are a very homogenous culture. Solidarity among people is much easier to achieve with individuals that have existing and reasonable bonds with each other.

"As of 2010 however, 1.33 million people or 14.3% of the inhabitants in Sweden were foreign-born." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Sweden

The equivalent number of foreign-born citizens in the US is 13% according to http://www.census.gov/population/foreign/

It is not just a matter of being foreign born. The US is a very large country and different regions have markedly different cultures and societies with their own histories. Some of these regional cultures have a long history of not being able to cooperate, which is part of why the Federal government is often dysfunctional.

There is a tendency to treat the US as a homogeneous culture when it is far from it in practice. Despite a common language and currency, there is probably a greater cultural distance between e.g. the Pacific Northwest and deep South in the US than there is between many European countries. People identify with their regional culture, whether it is Southern, Cascadian (aka Pacific Northwest), New England, the Sagebrush (aka Mountain states), Midwest, or California.

This is laughable. I (surprisingly) see just as many regional differences within a single European country as in the US. For example, people from Gothenburg can't stand people from Stockholm, dialects and customs vary greatly. People very much identify with the region they're from. I'm from an island that historically had much German and Danish influence, hence it has it's own language (almost died out though) and very peculiar dialect. The island has its own customs, food even sports. Many people from the middle or north have trouble even understanding southerners, especially those with a rural dialect. The south also used to be part of Denmark for many hundreds of years which is partly why they have such a strange dialect. Sweden has its own indigenous people called Samer that live in the north, which have their own language. Sweden has a history spanning more than 1000 years, with vikings, invasions, kings and empire. Wherever you go in Europe, you'll see the same but EVEN MORE diverse. It seems you haven't really been to Europe much, or you wouldn't say something so hilariously wrong. On the other hand, I'm European, and have lived in 3 different US states and visited maybe 15. Whatever regional difference within the US that you are talking about is largely urban vs. rural, but the culture itself has become a blend of whoever immigrated, but there are only small remnants left of that. The US is largely a homogeneous country in my eyes, people move cross states here way more often than people do in Europe, because in Europe you'll get genuine culture shock, if you can even understand the language.


Your comment is derisive and not useful or appropriate. Not only do you mock the parent poster, but you don't provide any counter evidence besides a mixture of anecdotes and opinions.

Please work on your civility.

I'm not the one making outrageous claims about there being bigger cultural differences between US states than between countries. It's just not true and it's laughable. I can't provide data on it because there is no way to measure such a thing. You can believe whatever you want, but I'm giving a counter-example and my experience from actually living in the two different continents. If you think that's derisive or not useful that's your problem.

I agree with your statement in reference to relative differences between cultures: "there is no way to measure such a thing."

I was wondering if you could expand on this part of your comment:

>>>I'm not the one making outrageous claims about there being bigger cultural differences between US states than between countries. It's just not true...

It seems like you are making a positive claim about the truth of the parent's statement about cultural differences.

>>>I can't provide data on it because there is no way to measure such a thing.

Now it seems like you are claiming that there is no (scientific, reality-based, data-driven) way to make any positive claims about the truth of the parent's statement about cultural differences.

You can do that without being an ass about it.

Let me just make it clear that the reason I'm using this tone is that I've had this discussion way too many times, and not once has there been a single person agreeing with me. It seems Americans grow up in this extremely America centric bubble, where after hearing a slightly different accent in Boston, and maybe eating a local dish, feel safe to say "yeah, you know what? I bet Washington and Massachusetts are just as different as Norway is to Poland, cause I've just experienced these massive differences in my country". Sorry but it comes off as very naive coming from people who at most have spent 2 weeks on vacation in Paris once.

I have to agree with PurpleLobster.

Americans underestimate how much more diverse and I mean EXTREMELY diverse Europe is. Even in tiny European countries with just 10 million people, the languages, dialects, traditions, mentality, civility, are insanely different. It's hard to described until you visit a few countries yourself.

Americans who have never left the country will be quick to chime in and say "we're diverse too, especially new york". But they still don't get it.

When you compare the North American continent with the European continent on diversity, you'd be a fool to underestimate Europe. Let me put it this way, America's a melting pot. Europe is a continent with hundreds of millions of people living side by side for thousands of years and they still don't get along, or speak the same lanugage, or see eye to eye on issues, they all have their own separate countries and governments and just recently tried to form a union (EU).

Diversity is a lot more than just skin color.

I'd endorse all of that. America isn't completely homogenous, but it's far more so than many other places. As a European I've certainly noticed (and been fascinated) by the different cultures and so forth in different US states, but they're more the same than they are different.

I don't think anyone said you were wrong. I'm certainly not. That doesn't make it called-for, does it? I'm not perfect at this, either, but if you're interested in a discussion rather than venting your spleen, you'll find more success if you tone it down.

It's one of my many weaknesses, I admit. http://xkcd.com/386/ and all that.

I have come to realize that this is just a general psychological phenomenon. People tend to, if not overestimate the differences within their own group, then greatly underestimate the differences in outside groups.

> overestimate the differences within their own group, then greatly underestimate the differences in outside groups.

Like how all asians look the same.

The small differences you are used to distinguish between simply doesn't exist in the other group, and you are not trained to recognize the differences they see.

there is probably a greater cultural distance between e.g. the Pacific Northwest and deep South in the US than there is between many European countries.

This is a little overstated. Geography aside, there's a lot of similarity in the look, feel and culture of suburban USA no matter what part of the country it is. The big differences in the cultures in the USA are between the three or four largest cities and the rest of the country. There's also a handful of outlier areas like New Orleans or Honolulu that aren't really like anywhere else on the planet.

Having spent time in both cities I find Honolulu to be quite similar to Auckland in New Zealand. YMMV. If I had to come up with two unique American cities I would have gone for New Orleans and Las Vegas.

I'm not saying the US is homogeneous, I'm saying it's not all about immigration, it's about integration and assimilation as well.

"there is probably a greater cultural distance between e.g. the Pacific Northwest and deep South in the US than there is between many European countries" Right. Making a comparison to the countries in the Balkans is very interesting here.

If you've ever traveled across the country, you'd realize people in Seattle are much different than people in Phoenix who are much different than people in St Louis who are much different than people in Boston who are much different than people in Atlanta who are much different than people in Honolulu. You could easily the population of Kansas is as different from the population of California as Colombia is different than the population of Argentina, so I don't think "foreign-born" is a good metric for heterogeneity in the context of this question.

The 'native born' citizenry of the US is hardly what I'd call 'homogeneous'.

The point I infer from your post is only valid if all second-generation+ immigrants are fully assimilated into the country's majority culture. The existence of various racial and geographical cultures would go against this theory.

Is that a like for like comparison?

In Sweden, percentage of foreign born may paint a relatively accurate picture of homogeneity, whereas the same is not true in the US. Mass - immigration is very recent for the former, but not for the latter.

I don't know if it is. I think it can be, but it's not just about who's foreign born. It's an interesting subject.

The US has been formed by immigration. Though at some point you should be considered assimilated. If my grand-grand parents emigrated to the US, are their descendants still Swedish? What about my grand-parents? What about my parents? What about me? From a generational standpoint that is.

I would say most parts of the US is very homogeneous. It's just that it's very segregated. Based on race and class. You don't see a lot of rich Caucasians in Compton.

I think homogeneity is about community. About feeling related. Relating to others. Empathy. State of mind.

Speaking a different language than the rest is definitely a barrier. But learning a new language doesn't take that long if you're being accepted by the community. Integration.

Immigration is not new to Sweden. Sweden is not a country built on immigration like the US, but I dare say that people have immigrated here for at least a couple of millennia. Look at the big picture. The native Americans immigrated too. All swedes did too. Is origin important, or assimilation/integration?

Not only that, but someone born and raised in Los Angeles is going to have nothing in common with someone born in Oregon, or Tennessee, or Michigan, or Vermont.

Really? I was born and grew up in a suburb of Chicago, but have since then lived in Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and a few other places, and have rarely felt that my born-in-Chicagoness was at all an important or a distinguishing factor. There are Americans I don't have a lot in common with, but it doesn't have much to do with where we were born. For example, I don't tend to get along with people who have anti-intellectual views, but you find those (and their opposite) anywhere. I think of myself as "American", but I would be hard-pressed to think of anything particularly "Chicagoan" about me. It'd be something trivial like hot-dog or pizza preference, probably.

As far as geography goes, I see more differences within than between regions. I don't have a lot in common with people who live in very rural areas, for example. But e.g. a coffee shop in Midtown Atlanta doesn't feel that much different from a coffee shop in Brooklyn or Westwood. And the Atlanta suburbs don't feel that different from the Chicago suburbs.

What? Not even speaking English?

Someone born and raised in New York City probably doesn't have that much in common with someone from upstate New York either.

I think that's a very good point. When I was growing up in Norway, the 'others' were always far away. We were all so similar, in so many ways, it was very difficult to pit us against each other.

After 30-40 years of immigration, we're now much more heterogeneous and the solidarity and feeling of community is almost gone.

When I was growing up, we were taught in school that 'it must never happen again'. It's almost funny how violently people here cling to this understanding of WWII while at the same time seeming to accept all the 'this is who you should hate today' that the media here is peddling now.

A previously open and trusting society, experiencing real cultural clashes, mixed with misunderstandings and fear. This is unfortunately the perfect scenario for some real dark forces to appear, and I think it's not very long until it really goes off the rails here.

> This is unfortunately the perfect scenario for some real dark forces to appear

Well, they kind of did, and you handled it perfectly.

Anders Berivik killed 77 people (mosly kids). Compared proportionally to the population of the US, that would be 4822 people, a lot more than the 2977 victims of the 911 attack.

Yet Norway didn't start imprisoning people without trial, nor harass them at airports.

77 / (5033675 / 315255000) = 4822.44781

Not only is the US heterogenous, but that division is constantly being driven through the slave culture of the deep south that really never died.

So you have a large part of the country (13%) who are native-born, but are seen as the "other" but another large part of the country, and an institutional culture to keep this divide in place.

> I would argue that it's impossible to do in the USA because the US is a very heterogenous culture whereas countries like Sweden are a very homogenous culture. Solidarity among people is much easier to achieve with individuals that have existing and reasonable bonds with each other.

This is a really important point. Solidarity and diversity are on a spectrum in some fashion. If you are too other from the other, then both of you have a hard time relating and caring about the same things. I see this again and again in political threads: "others" arguing their POV, but the reality is that both of them simply have a terrifically minimal common ground.

Also, population of US: 300 million, population of Sweden: 10 million, only a bit more than NYC

But comparable to North Carolina. You already have states. Use them.

"Its public debt fell from 70% of GDP in 1993 to 37% in 2010" Talk about selection bias. For those interested in the real stats (using a not so great but still functional UI), check out http://www.scb.se/Pages/SSD/SSD_TreeView____340506.aspx?Expa...

In the early nineties, financial hardship hit Sweden. It was mostly because of irresponsible loan policies and having a fixed exchange rate to the best of my understanding. One can make analogies to the sub-zero mortgages here.

"Sweden has also put its pension system on a sound foundation, replacing a defined-benefit system with a defined-contribution one and making automatic adjustments for longer life expectancy." Right. Ask my grand-parents who has paid high taxes for most of their life to finance their pension how much they enjoy their cut pensions. And ask them what they feel about going to an elderly home run by an off-shore investment firm that receives a fixed amount of tax money per senior citizen in their care, thus having a reason to lower the expenses as much as possible to maximize profit. It's a company after all.

"the country was demoted from being the world’s fourth-richest in 1970 to 14th-richest in 1993, when the average Swede was poorer than the average Briton or Italian" Yeah, but you really didn't have to pay for much back then, or pay much for something. Wealth is relative. Also, again with the early nineties...

IMO, some things in a society should be public. Health-care and infrastructure shouldn't really be run for profit. I've got some stories regarding that, but it's Friday evening so CYA.

I've found the Economist to be surprisingly biased and uninformed when it comes to the Nordic countries. Makes me question if their reputation really is well deserved.

I think the Economist is pretty consistent in advocating its deregulated, trade-based neoliberal stance in more or less any article: it's just more obvious when it comes to Scandinavian and East Asian Tiger states whose economic performance glaringly conflicts with its theories than when it justifiably credits US success with a pro-business attitude and failures with regulatory capture and protectionism, blames regulation for European slowdown and accuses the slowly-developing world of being ridiculously corrupt.

All GDP hollywood-accounting aside, the reason why they went up to public debt of 70% was because the nanny state was spending too much. I know it's hard to understand for socialo-commies, but it's a fact.

Contrarily to France, they realized it and worked hard to reduce the public debt and it worked.

Yes, cut in pensions for older people do suck. But it works. It allows the nanny state to be a bit less of a nanny state and hence to escape from the public debt trap.

I'm not disagreeing with you that health-care and infrastructure shouldn't be run for profit. But then comes the problem of... COST!

Where do you draw the line? Socialo-commies are always going to use intellectual terrorism like: "What, you don't want to contribute $X so that grandmas have their life expectancy probability augmented a bit?"

But it makes no sense. Let me tell you: what if, for 1 000 000 000 000 $ per person I can create a better healthcare system. Are you going to allow me to do it?

No, because there wouldn't be any economy anymore. It wouldn't work.

So I return your your argument: you sebcat insensitive clod, how comes you're not willing to spend $ 1 000 000 000 000 per person per year so that everyone has a better health-care, you really have no heart!?

So any discussion about "health-care" is pointless: it's not about no health-care at all or a super-good healthcare. The question is which % of the GDP can be used to provide with level of health-care without ruining the entire economy.

And that's the big problem of the socialo-commies and their nanny states: they cannot count. It's all words and intellectual terrorism.

But as soon as you use their own arguments against themselves, they're dodging the question.

Now every single time I discuss with a socialo-commie I use that $1 000 000 000 per person per year example and I ask him if it's sustainable or not. And he says no. So I tell him he really has no heart and he's a bad person for letting all these grandmas die.

And then the expression on their face are priceless because their entire belief system is shred to pieces.

Is your belief system shred to pieces when you learn that the US spends twice the percentage of GDP on health care as nations like France with worse health outcomes?

I find it very intellectually dishonest to compare Scandinavia and the United States, or any other large country for that matter.

  * All in they are 26 million. The US is 310 million.
  * The US is geographically HUGE with millions of square miles. 
    Nordic countries less so.
  * Scandinavian populations are less diverse than the US.
  * The US is a superpower and must support a large military.
I don't think we can look at Sweden or the other countries as a model society. Sure, there are good ideas in there, but the question arises -- will it scale?

  * Healthcare and social services -- will it scale from 26MM to 310+?
  * Infrastructure -- will it scale from 100K kilometers 
    of roads and railways to 10MM kilometers of roads 
    and rail?
Then there are issues of States' rights in the US. Getting a federal law passed is only the first part. Next, each state has to figure out how it will be implemented, added-on, or blocked.

Having said all this, I don't know who we can look to. Maybe no one.

Must support a large military? I think not. We choose to support a large military, far above what is necessary.

And for the questions of scale, I don't really see the relevance. Forgive me if I'm wrong on this, but don't states already do their own infrastructure projects (aside from once-a-century stuff like the freeway system/east-west rails)? Don't they have the option to do their own healthcare (Romneycare etc.)? And aren't most states pretty much on the scale of a Scandinavian country population and size-wise (or smaller)?

As I see it, the states should be experimental grounds for any number of different systems of government and implementations, with the successful ones being adopted by the others (ideally). If Texas wants to have a bare-bones capitalist model and California wants to be a semi-socialist one, why not? Why do things have to be decided at the federal level?

If the US does not project a global military presence on "the high seas" international trade will stop due to piracy in key places. It's really that simple. Singapore and the Suez Channel will become effectively unpassable unless you buy of 30 different military forces or shoot your way through.

Immediate consequence : availability of oil throughout 90%+ of the globe drops to 5-10% of what it was before in Europe, 40-50% of what it was in the US. In other places it'll be worse. Slightly longer term consequence : it becomes impossible to produce electronics.

This is assuming no-one else replaces the US doing this. But, who CAN do this ? China might be able to, but I don't think USians will like the consequences of that (e.g. their territorial expansion project ... their attitude to what happens to basic resources ...)

What are you talking about? The US Military does not enforce free trade on the high seas. I am not aware of it taking any day to day role against piracy at all.

Singapore has its own navy. Why would you need to buy off 30 different military forces to sail the straits of Malacca? I'm not an expert on Egypt but I'm sure they can enforce free passage on their own canal.

You're talking as if the US is the only rational state actor in the world. It is not. This is not The Pirates of the Caribbean, and the US is not the British Empire circa 18th century.

So you need a $700 billion a year military to fight a couple of pirates. Yeah right.

Cut military spending and flourish?

Population density is lower in nordic countries(except for Denmark) than in US, so maintaining infrastructure is more expensive over here per capita than over there.

Smaller domestic markets are also an issue over here, as well as language barriers which also complicates exporting products to an extent.

I claim that the system in nordic countries would not fit to US because of way, way lower purchasing power. Imagine cutting your pay by 33 % and having the local grocery prices hike up by 25 % for example. Good? No.

I think you have it backwards. They are trying to emulate us, not the other way around. That was my take from the article.

> Having said all this, I don't know who we can look to. Maybe no one.

That's precisely right. If you're at the front of the pack, you can't follow someone else's footsteps ... because there aren't any.

There are, however, very specific sectors where other countries excel. It certainly wouldn't hurt to look there for guidance. In the end, though, the only thing we will have to guide us are our principles and convictions, hoping that they will lead us to a better place.

The US is not on the front run. At least in term of happiness, which is basically the only relevant factor. I think that on average, it's slightly better to live in a country like Gernamany, Denmark, Canada, etc than in the US.

When you figure out how to measure happiness, let me know. If you think simply asking people is a good way to find out, you're even more naive than I already think you are.

Of course, there is no exact method of measuring happiness. But you can estimate whether some policy increases happiness, whether some person or society is happier than another etc. There are lots of ways of estimating happiness.

Crime rate and health are pretty good indicators.

* Scandinavia is huge when compared to it's population.

* We (everyone in this planet) could live without armies.

* Universal healthcare and school system wouldn't work because corporations don't want it.

* US is corrupted.

Points 2 and 4 are frankly just wrong. I know the idea of a peace loving utopia is a fun one, but claiming that there is no need for a military and just out of hand dismissing the US as "corrupt" without any quantifiable evidence is frankly just lazy and ignorant.

I think that if every NATO country reduced their army by half, no one would really notice, even in the long run.

I'd say that in a pure numbers game. i.e. 1 mil to 500k troops you may be right. The military as an idea is undergoing a dramatic transformation that's been happening since the dawn of the nuclear weapon. The challenges we face now are quite different than the ones we faced throughout any other time in history. We need to look at the military like a startup of sorts. How do we tear down the big bloated corporate structure and enable to act quickly and derisively in a global battlefield where a small group of determined individuals has the ability to inflict the same amount of damage that used to take tanks and a large standing force. I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do think it's important that we acknowledge that the danger has changed not simply gone away.

Although according to Transparency International[1] US isn't any more corrupt than an average European country and does damn well compared to the southern countries, although tailing nordic countries quite a bit. Still, doing very good in comparison to the rest of the world.

Of course, there can never be too little corruption in a country, so everyone has room for improvement on that part. Even us nordics.

[1]: http://transparency.org/cpi2012/results

That is because the definition of corruption is corrupted by the corrupt!!!

A lot of people see all that lobbying as corruption. But it will never ever figure in statistics for corruption.

Where would you draw the line between "lobbying" and "talking to relevant parties to gather input on new legislation"?

What do you think "lobbying" is?

I think that the difference between talking and paying is quite clear.

I'd like to see a European country openly invade Middle East ignoring the UN Charter and get away with it.

I'd also like to see a European country poison the markets with loads of toxic assets causing massive turmoil around the world and, again, get away with it (with a hefty bonus).

The kind of changes we see in social-oriented countries today are forced upon by American neoliberals who wish to expand their influence. They operate in the name of capital, not people.

Corrupted in sense of companies ruling it. Most of those countries that are red are military controlled.

In 2009, 16% of Finland's exports were from Nokia, and they employed a good percentage of the population of the entire country. Would you say Finland is corrupt? Or do you think you are simply biased against the US?

But how much did they pay for politicians? Do you know how bad light they get if they take any money? Do you know how much corporations on US pay for politicians so they only do good things for them?

Provide evidence. I hate hearing this claim without any quantifiable proof being provided at all.

    The US is geographically HUGE with millions of square
    Nordic countries less so.

I think this is wrong. If a Nordic country annexed Antarctica tomorrow, it would become geographically huge but it would have no effect on any real differences between that country and the US (not any more so that claiming part of the moon). Geographic area isn't a useful metric on its own.

But not so in relation to infrastructure. Other than Alaska there are many, many roads which connect our towns and cities.

US states are comparable with smaller countries like Sweden. So area / population is not a reason, why good policies from e.g. Sweden can't be copied – just implement them on a state level. The main problem is different culture – individualism, guns etc.

Not only is that a naive statement, it is simply not true.

First, states are too dependent on interstate commerce and trade to operate as micro-countries. We need the federal regulations for several reasons: - How do you tax a pipeline than runs from Louisiana to Texas? - Or a power grid that spans an entire region of states? - Or how do you provide social services to people who live in New Jersey but whose work is taxed in Manhattan?

My point was, that the dependecies / coupling between the US are not the reason, why coping policies from countries like Sweden won't work. Sweden is part of the EU. Countries in the EU are not so interconnected as the US, but still are quite a lot - higways, power grid, money transfers, usually the same currency. There really aren't many policies, that are only feaible in smaller countries.

You know, lots those problems have already been solved in the EU. It isn't necessarily that complicated. Especially if you keep the federal structures where it makes sense.

> * All in they are 26 million. The US is 310 million.

How would that matter? Divide and conquer is a trusty algorithm.

That should be an advantage for the US. You already have the states, which would be a matching subdivision. On top of that, the federal government could be compared (badly) to the EU.

the 26 million of the nordic countries matches Texas quite perfectly. North Carolina is comparable to Sweden in population.

> * The US is geographically HUGE with millions of square miles. Nordic countries less so.

Wut? Northern Sweden, Norway and Finland are very sparsly populated. We still need good infrastructure to handle transportation of electricity, timber and steel/ore, all generated in the north but consumed in the south, some 1200 km apart.

> * Scandinavian populations are less diverse than the US.

In what way? Sure we don't have many Mexican immigrants, and we didn't trade with slaves. But is that really the most important measurement of diversity? We sure do have political diversity.

> * The US is a superpower and must support a large military.

Must? Says who?

In one of the lectures of Econ101 at Yale Robert Schiller brings up a very interesting thought experiment: imagine everyone about to be born having a pre-birth meeting. What sort of system would they agree upon if they had to decide without knowing what their lot in life would be?

I am norwegian and I feel like this kind of reasoning about 'fairness' has shaped a lot of our public policy. Everyone should be able to be find happiness in life, even if they are unfortunate with their rolls during character creation.

Another issue, which I personally find very important, is that of moral hazard. There are greedy and/or ambitious people out there willing to step over bodies to improve their own situation This is one of the reasons I feel a state run health care system is so important.

We are in a sense erring on the side of caution with most of our government policies, and the price we pay is some waste. There are people who exploit the welfare state for their own gain. I will, however, happily pay for some waste if we never get in a situation where someone needing help is denied because someone else is out to make a buck.

What the article talks about, in my eyes, is mostly the nordic countries trying to eliminate waste--moving toward a smaller government while still keeping the quintessential intact.

Another thing worth mentioning, which is also able to explain part of the government downsizing, is that we--as everyone else--are facing serious challenges because the baby boomers are about to retire, and in general the ratio of retired to working people is expected to shift quite a bit over the next 50 years. The promises goverment can--and should--make necessarily has to change when its expenses are expected to go up while revenues stay the same.

The nordic countries have been capitalist for a long time. In 1960 the taxes in Denmark were lower than in the US. In the 1960s and 1970s the welfare state really started expanding.

The system as it is now in Denmark is unsustainable. Most people don't work. The government is running a deficit. And the outlook is very low growth and Denmark is going to be the poorest northern European country.

It used to be in the top 5 of the richest countries in the world.

Besides the government deficit and debt, the population also has high private debt. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405270230444460457733...

One of the good things in Denmark that you don't have in most southern European countries is that you can fire people easily.

BTW Denmark has had the school voucher system for decades.

edit: According to this site Denmark is more economically free than the US: http://www.heritage.org/index/

> Most people don't work.

Now that's just absurdly wrong. Come on, you can do better than that.

Denmark have an unemployment rate of 6% which is not good, but certainly better than many European countries - and better than the US, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, Denmark have a comparatively large workforce because it has relatively few stay at home parents (which doesn't count in employment numbers).

The "most people don't work" statement may be true if you count every living person, including newborn babies, kids, students, retired people, disabled and so on.

Click 2013. In the red municipalities less than 50% are employed. http://www.dr.dk/Nyheder/Indland/2013/01/26/103754.htm

Technically correct, but also very misleading in a discussion concerning sustainability of the welfare system. Obviously a working couple with three kids is not a problem in the same way that e.g. three unemployed people per two working.

Are they seriously counting children as unemployed? It would make sense to count students, since studying is often an alternative when young people find themselves out of work.

Well, the link in the parent is to a TV-channel new item, so it is not intended as serious statistics. It is probably intended to highlight a legitimate problem ("baby boom"-generation getting retired and life expectancy increasing, leading to a smaller part of the population working), but lumping kids together with unemployed and retired is just uninformative.

> One of the good things in Denmark that you don't have in most southern European countries is that you can fire people easily.

I feel this requires a very particular definition of “good.“

It's good because it's less risky to hire people. In Spain it's hard to fire people and the youth unemployment rate there was more than 50% last time I checked.

edit: And the ethical answer is because employers and employees should have the freedom to voluntarily agree on the terms of employment.

I have a different view of ethics. To me it seems more ethical to give people the freedom to voluntarily agree on the terms of employment within certain limits.

The reason for this is two fold: first, some people need protecting and second, the employment contract is frequently an unequal power relationship.

Also, I'm not sure it's good to pick an economy in poor shape and presume it can be reduced to a single reason. Germany has laws to protect workers, for example, but no one says they're in trouble.

I guess what I'm saying is that making it too hard to fire workers is one thing that can drive unemployment up, but only one of many, and it should be balanced by the need to care for others. Some middle position seems best.

The flip part is that it doesn't mean people end up on the street because there are insurance against being unemployed.

It's always a bit amusing hearing outsiders refer to Scandinavia as 'socialist'. This is very far from the truth.

In Norway, the Labour party has been in power for much of the last hundred years, seems reasonable that it would be quite the socialist haven. In reality, in the last fifty years, anyone rising to power in the Labour party has had to be pre-approved by the CIA (well documented in e.g. self biographies of the people involved).

As it turns out, unsurprisingly, this has not been very conducive to any form of socialism.

> In reality, in the last fifty years, anyone rising to power in the Labour party has had to be pre-approved by the CIA (well documented in e.g. self biographies of the people involved

Do you have any URL to document this?

> hearing outsiders refer to Scandinavia as 'socialist'

I think this is mostly from the perspective of the US. To them, we are extremely socialist with our free healthcare and free education.

You know, just a few years ago, anyone could come to sweden and have a free university education.

Aren't the nordic countries the countries with the highest "happiness" level per citizen, because of the way their societies have worked so far? Are they sure they want to mess with all of that?

Being of nordic extraction, I'd suggest that nordics also have the highest rate of claiming happiness, even when miserable.

That reminds me of a wonderful thing Garrison Keillor once said (about his Norwegians in Minnesota): "We Lutherans are an optimistic people – our glass is half empty and we're grateful for it."

"Minnesota, where even the atheists are Lutheran"

Sounds like you've found the solution to unhappiness in America.

What we're seeing here is the desire of the rest of the developed world to "Catch up" to the United States' model of Capitalism.

Corporate Profit is now the most important thing, and as those corporations expand globally and use their might and influence, we see more and more countries reduce public spending, cut taxes and make it easier for big business to flourish at the expense of the average citizen.

IMO this is a horrible thing for citizens of developed countries, and I genuinely hope countries can find a way to buck this trend and not focus purely on corporate profits. I don't know if that's possible when The United States has the best advertising agency in the world (Hollywood).

I think it likely happiness indexes will fall as more countries tend towards the US model, unfortunately.

From my perspective in the U.S. I see things quite the opposite. We are slipping towards the european model with expanding entitlements, unfunded mandates and an ever expanding litany of ridiculous laws. Self reliance empowers the individual and the state. Few things are as inefficient as government bureaucracy.

> Few things are as inefficient as government bureaucracy.

I haven't found this to be blanket true. My dealings with the Danish government are a dream of transparency and efficiency compared to my experiences interacting with large American corporations. I had to go through more bureaucratic nonsense (including urine testing!) to get hired for a shitty summer job in high school, than anything I've had to do for the Danish government, and that even includes getting a visa.

The major difference being that the US ranks dead last among developed countries in every way that directly impacts the life of the average person on the street. Life Expectancy, poverty rates, murder rates, education, etc. etc.

Life Expectancy, poverty rates, murder rates, education, etc. etc.

All of those measures are not even close to homogeneous across the US, so any talk of the the "average person on the street" is meaningless, statistically.

You really have to segment the US in order to get an accurate picture for what it's like for a particular person (or kind of person, such as a typical HNer) to live here.

That's the whole point of taking a sample across a big population, we're talking about the average, not how life is for one particular group or another.

Everyone in America is impacted by the choice to put corporate profits ahead of public spending.

I think the article answers your question:

“The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways,” says Gunnar Viby Mogensen, a Danish historian. “We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.”

The resources the welfare state are spending are going towards housing, food, health care and disability for a certain percentage of Sweden's population.

When Gunnar Mogensen says 'We can't afford it' I think he is really saying 'we can't afford to feed, house and care for 100% of our people'.

Am I the only one that was irked by the article glancing over the fact that some percentage of Sweden's people are becoming far less economically secure?

Making life really good for a small percentage of your people is an easy, solved problem. All you have to do is use government to shave away resources from the majority and pocket them. Even the dictator of North Korea can do this.

Making life good for 100% of the people is an incredibly hard problem to solve.

My problem with articles like this one is that they don't really think throwing some percentage of the people over board and saying good luck is a problem.

Sometimes they make utilitarian arguments. I find these unconvincing based on the data.

What you see a lot in discussions about welfare is that people are confused about the distinction between the financial sphere and the real sphere. This confusion is occasionally created maliciously, but certainly most of the time it happens out of sheer ignorance.

I don't think there is any doubt that Sweden has enough access to resources and manpower to care for 100% of the people. So in real terms, they can certainly afford it.

Add to that the fact that Sweden currently has an unemployment rate of about 8.1%. This indicates that there are in fact real resources (certainly manpower, but most likely more than that) available that could be used to care for everybody, without taking anything away from anybody else, simply by activating those real resources that are currently left unused.

(TANSTAAFL, but sometimes you should just eat everything that's on the table instead of throwing it out while some go hungry.)

However, in order to activate the real resources that are necessary to achieve that, money has to be set in motion, and a government deficit may be necessary - and people believe that this is not possible in the long term, hence "unaffordable".

But the Swedish government is monetarily sovereign. They are using their own currency, are not borrowing in foreign currencies (that I know of), and so can in principle spend whatever it likes. The only limit is the inflation that would be created if spending pushed past the limit of what is available in terms of real resources - but we've already established that plenty of real resources are currently available but unused.

I really liked your statement that making life good for 100% of the people is an incredibly hard problem. It's a great way to put it. I believe that it is hard mostly because of political opposition, and the political opposition in turn can only be so strong because people in general are not used to cleanly separate the financial sphere from the real sphere. Put simply, our understanding of economics is shamefully bad.

(Disclaimer: I am not an economist myself. The above is based on my understanding that I obtained from reading mostly blogs - and the occasional research article - from Modern Monetary Theory economists and those who challenge them; if you are interested, a good but lengthy starting point is this series: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/p/modern-monetary-theory-...)

The "financial sphere" and the "real sphere" are pretty closely related: the problem governments have is not so much borrowing constraints as how to effectively deploy the unused 8.1% of the labour resource without driving up prices for related economic resources that are pretty close to full capacity. (rough analogy: not using CPU to it's fullest capacity doesn't necessarily mean you can make a program run any faster if you're I/O constrained)

"Modern Monetary Theory" economists have a lot of interesting ideas (I like economic iconoclasm myself and have formally studied the more conventional stuff) but are a bad starting point for learning about economics not least because they consistently (and deliberately in the case of the academics) misrepresent the positions of the academic economic mainstream.

Well. Sometimes they lend in foreign currency because they get a better rate that way. There have also been occasions when they have lent in other currencies because they have felt that the Crown is undervalued.

(Personally I favor MMR over MMT. They use mostly the same framework and ideas, but MMT seems to do quite a bit a hand waving when it comes inefficiences that arise due to the job guarantee they favor.)

> "When Gunnar Mogensen says 'We can't afford it' I think he is really saying 'we can't afford to feed, house and care for 100% of our people'."

I think a more generous interpretation would be along the lines of: as demographics shift, they won't be able to afford their policies unless they can do something about costs, economic growth or both.

More and more countries are going to start finding themselves in Japanese-style economic situations: where GDP per worker may continue to grow, but the net workforce begins shrinking. And it becomes increasingly difficult to support the elderly and disabled as the workforce shrinks, unless you have sufficient economic growth to cover the gap, and/or are free to adjust costs/benefits when it isn't.

There are clearly better and worse ways to confront this problem. But it's very real and not just a boogeyman invented by those who would take from the needy to line their own pockets.

Sweden has successfully defeated low birth rates by making it more attractive for professional working women to have children. How? By not only giving maternity leave, but also instituting "use it or lose it" paternity leave. This has in a way made it almost as "inconvenient" to hire a man, because the majority of men who never took any paternity leave (even when they could) now do, thus reducing discrimination.

Why would adding it for men matter? Why wouldn't there be a dynamic where men simply don't take the paternity leave and life goes on as usual? Much the same way as maybe you don't technically have to work any overtime or past 40 hours a week (but everyone understands that if you do so, your career will go the way of the dodo and you'll be on the first list of pink slips).

The way it works is that parents get 16 months (roughly) to split between them, but 2 of those are reserved for the father. If the father doesn't take them, then the mother doesn't get them either, hence "use it or lose it". This seems to have made it acceptable for men to take paternity leave, while before it wasn't. Men have an acceptable excuse in a way. It seems to really have changed the underlying attitude to the point where taking a few months paternity leave is the norm. It has a positive feedback loop: suddenly you can see fathers in town with strollers, so that in itself makes it more acceptable. Many have argued that legislation is not the way to deal with problems like these, but on the other hand it has been very successful in its goal to shape public opinion.

I don't see why that would change the dynamics: the men can still just skip the 2 months and continue to work and signal their loyalty to the company. I think there must be something cultural or economical going on: worker-protection laws, low unemployment rate, or something like that.

>Making life good for 100% of the people is an incredibly hard problem to solve.

The 90's problem in Sweden started with politicians believing that this was a solvable problem. It's actually counter productive for the population having a state with this delusion.

Making life good for 100% of the people is an incredibly hard problem to solve.

There just needs to be a lot of money and not very many people. Not sure about Sweden, but Norway could pull it off.

> Norway could pull it off.

Until the oil runs out. Our economy is so definitely not self-sustainable as things are now if you take away the oil, and we have a government-sector which (depending on who you ask) is around 10x bigger than it needs to be.

I'm a Norwegian, I'm having a good life now, but looking at how utterly mismanaged and inefficient everything governmental is in this country, I'm seriously wondering how this will end up by the time I get old.

I'm a Norwegian who live in US, and have lived in Spain and Australia. The inefficiencies you notice in Norway are tiny compared to those in other countries. The most blatant differences to US are:

* The existence of Altinn, which has no equivalent in any other country, as far as I know

* Everyone has a personal ID number and the number is not secret (it's printed on the front of all forms of ID, including student cards), so it can actually be used for stuff

* The existence of numerous national online databases like Folkeregistret and the vehicle insurance database, which ensures doctors, banks and insurance companies have real-time information about you, given only your personal ID number. You don't need to fill out forms everywhere, or provide the same information to several agencies (e.g. both DMV, IRS and your bank)

* Bank account numbers are not only not secret, but safe to publish on the Internet, and wire transfers are free. In US, domestic wire transfers cost $15-$25!

* Contracts for payments can be enforced, so there's no need for a credit score system other than the "yes/no: have paid all bills" database

Thank you for posting this. There are tremendous inefficiencies in the US system. Some are just dead enders from past times, some stem from American individualism and it's ideology, and a lot from failures to invest in infrastructure and our human resources (our citizens).

Of course health care is an incredibly contentious topic but I was struck by the sheer waste and cruelty of the system when I read of the story of a 24 year old man that died because of a tooth infection.

He went to the pharmacy with two prescriptions, an antibiotic and a pain killer.

Lacking the money for the higher priced antibiotics he only filled the pain killer prescription. He died from that infection.

Society spent at least $7000 per year for 12 years to educate this young man and we let him die for lack of $70 for a prescription. Even if you feel no empathy and discount national shame this is an example of breath taking irrational economic waste.

Nope, that would be us, Latin American countries :-D


Not sure why though.

Depends on the poll. According to Wall Street Journal Denmark is #1 on the list, with Norway placing second and Sweden tenth. http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/05/24/the-10-happiest-count...

Given that not everyone from every single country has answered this survey the results can't possibly be right. And it also needs different fields and stages and 'Yes' and 'No'.

danes are repeatedly voted most happy people in the world.

With all that beer and bacon who wouldn't be happy? :)

As a Swedish hacker I would like to add yes we do have a balanced government budget. But no we have not reinvented capitalism in a way that is fully coherent with system engineering principles and sustainable for the future without boom/bust cycles.

As it is now, we have fractional reserve banking, were money is created by private banks, in Swedens case Handelsbanken is using 6sek(1 USD) in capital to create 100sek(16 USD) in loans. If that bank fails, it will be bailed out by the Swedish state. The only difference the last time Sweden bailed out it's national banks in the 90s was that the state demanded ownership so which at least is smarter than demanding nothing back.

We need to reinvent capitalism to a system which is not driven by exponential debt creation by private bank entities backed up by the government.

PIMCO debt supernova http://www.pimco.com/EN/Insights/Pages/Credit-Supernova.aspx...

The debt bubble graph by Professor Steve Keen http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2009/0...

The 75 year stock trend line, sure looks like an exponential curve. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-01-30/75-year-trendline-h...

The limited productivity of debt, the most important chart of the century http://economicedge.blogspot.se/2010/03/most-important-chart...

http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2012/01/28/economics-in-t... http://cdn.debtdeflation.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/0...

> the last time Sweden bailed out it's national banks in the 90s was that the state demanded ownership

Some calculations showed that the state pretty much got all the money back in the end.


I like how they framed this: "It has also cut the top marginal tax rate by 27 percentage points since 1983, to 57%... This year it is cutting the corporate-tax rate from 26.3% to 22%."

You might also note their top marginal income tax rate is 22 percentage points higher than the US, and their corporate tax rate is 6 percentage points higher. As other commenters have noted, this is not a high point for The Economist.

EDIT: yup, completely wrong on the corporate tax rate. 16% was the _effective_ rate.

Californians pay 13% state taxes plus 37% federal at the top end. Not that far off the 57% then.

US corporate tax is 35%.

A rate which virtually no corporation actually pays.

A completely unsubstantiated statement.

They can because VAT is the ultimate cash cow. For example in Finland VAT accounts for 40-50% of all tax proceeds. In 2010 VAT proceeds were 12.7 Bn while Income & Capital Gains taxes were 7 Bn.

"It also allows parents to send children to private schools at public expense and make up the difference in cost with their own money"

Theoretically this is a lot easier to do in the United States, where public schools cost much more than private schools on average. Washington DC was able to fund private school scholarships at 50% the cost of sending kids to public school, pocketing the savings.

The problem in the US is that the most vocal proponents of this are trying to use it to get their children into parochial schools rather than academically superior ones.

How is that a problem? The parochial schools are academically superior, at least compared to the inner-city schools run by public unions. And America is very religious for a western nation so it is not a political handicap.

On the latter point, it's not a political handicap as long as religions Americans like are getting the taxpayer money for their schools, but once religions Americans don't like qualify for the programs, support starts to dry up: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/louisiana_n_1593995...

There's a number of problems. One is that it's whackjob fundamentalists that want to use this simply to isolate their children from reality. Another is that there's so many religions that just don't quite agree & wouldn't want their money going to a Baptist/Catholic/Jewish/Mulsim/Hindu/Scientologist/Mormon/whatever school. Finally, and most importantly, there's the 1st Amendment which provides for separation of church & state & putting any state money towards religious education is a clear violation of this principle.

I'm surprised they didn't mention Sweden doing relatively well in the recent crisis compared to Denmark due to being outside the Euro.

Denmark doesn't have Euro.

The Danish DKK is closely tied to the exchange rate of the euro (+- 2.25 pct) due to being a part of ERMII, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Exchange_Rate_Mechanis...

Yes, but having your currency tied to the Euro isn't a problem. (Quite the opposite, if the majority of your trade is to the Eurozone. It's what Switzerland ended up doing to prevent the CHF from getting too strong and killing exports). Actually being in the Euro means having to take over an ever increasing proportion of debts of other, possibly mismanaged countries. That's what's going to kill the few remotely healthy Eurozone members.

True, but our currency is tied to the Euro: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danish_krone#Relationship_to_t...

Why are you so sure that is the reason?

Being a scandinavian, I have to start by saying I do not agree on the positvie light of this article. But having said that I thought I wanted to add a few facts. First of oil, both in Denmark and Norway plays a huge role for sustaining the welfare state. Sweeden is the biggest arm exporter per. capita. Also about armies, Denmark is the country in the world with the biggest loss per. capita in Afghanistan. And then as many say the uniformity is key to have a lot of public services. There become less choice and more standards. Those who are not able to fit the mold is having a hard time in these countries.

Oil contributes about 3% of the Danish government revenues (~US$5 billion out of ~US$150 billion), so while it's nice, I wouldn't say it has a "huge role" in financing the state.

Seems like Swedish economy has significantly better longer term prospects than Norway's (because it is based on replenishable exports, while Norway's on natural resources)

However both, and most of the other 'Nordic' economies are export oriented. Meaning that they depend on having negative trade surplus somewhere in the global economy


This is why their model (including taxation and welfare systems) are not applicable to places like US.

Actually, trade deficit that cannot be easily (and organically) 'corrected' by sudden jump of exports (typically means natural resources, arms or food) -- is rather catastrophic for economic stability.

US was able to maintain its economic stability since late 70s (this when US trade deficit started) -- by continuing making the USD a reserve currency but now without the gold standard.

Being the country controlling the value of the world's reserve currency puts US in a place - that simply cannot be compared with any other country in the world.

The problem for the United States is that for various political and economic reasons, it is required to serve as the importer/consumer of last resort for the entire world economy. China, for example, would basically collapse into depression if they couldn't export to the USA.

But the only way to finance this is for the rest of the world to either continually loan America unlimited amounts of money, or just give America money with no expectation of return. Given the former, America is thus provided with the world's glut of exported goods and consumer goods, at the cost of being deeply, deeply in debt.

> Swedish economy has significantly better longer term prospects than Norway's (because it is based on replenishable exports, while Norway's on natural resources)

True, but Norway invests heavily in infrastructure (building highways through the fjords is crazy expensive) and technology. They also very carefully manage their oil money so that they will last for generations once the oil is gone. At least they are not building skyscrapers in the desert...

I am not surprised to not hear anything about the developments in Iceland.

On Rick Steeve's travel show on PBS it was interesting to see in Nordic countries the biggest buildings were city halls but in Europe it is pretty much always a church.

That really shows you how even hundreds of years ago how different the culture is in Nordic countries.

What I'm interested in is how much of this success comes from consuming long term investments of the past like infrastructure.

Presumably a propaganda piece designed to win over the remaining 50% of the American voters who still haven't bought into the idea that the Democratic party can turn the US into a leftist utopia.

"Democracy will cease to exist when people realize they can vote themselves more money." Does the article mention that 15% of Swedish, female voters work in (government) health care? Add a couple of more percentage points for teachers and other government workers... Is this sustainable?

Does it mention the injustices of the welfare system, where fresh-off-the-airplane "refugees" can receive more in benefits than I net after taxes in my work as a software engineer?

Does the article mention the great Moslem slums of the cities? There are places in Scandinavia which firemen and postmen can no longer go into unescorted for fear of being pummeled by rocks. Does it mention the occasional "youth" riots? (We just had one a few weeks back in Gothenburg). The Sahlgrenska university hospital in Gothenburg must now keep its emergency entrance locked due to recurring fights breaking out between various clans.

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