A loyal MR reader asks:
Back in 2004, you wrote “I'm willing to take the Swedish model seriously. I've been to Stockholm several times and loved it”. What exactly did you love about it? What made Sweden attractive?
I won’t dwell on the beauty of Stockholm, the quality of the seafood, or the intelligence and good judgment of the people. Swedish women seem OK too, and Swedish Impressionist painting is underrated. I even liked the place in December. But what I enjoy most about Sweden is the sense of freedom.
Let’s be blunt: much of this freedom stems from government, and what you get is freedom from other people. People are not less free of the tax man, but in Sweden you don’t need other people very much to insure your economic well-being. You can do your own thing, without much fear (relatively speaking, of course) of personal oppression from others. You really can choose which personal relationships you wish to have. Autonomy reigns. The Swedish family is, of course, fractured. For all of its collectivist reputation, Sweden is the land of the true individualist, sometimes verging on atomism. At will you can go off into the woods and eat your lingonberries, weather of course permitting.
I would not want to live there, if only because my restless self needs a large country and lots of space for travel in multiple directions. Uppsala bored me in less than a day, Malmo was OK, but what next? The yikes factor kicks in. Latin America looks so far away.
Nor do I think that living in Sweden necessarily would be good for me. But when I look at it, I like it. I like seeing it. I think it is an important social experiment. And it is hard to argue that it has been bad for the Swedes. I also think the whole arrangement, tax payments and all, is no less voluntary (and probably more voluntary) than what we do in the United States. Some of that is the small country/homogeneity thing, some is simply that Swedes recognize their high quality way of life.
I’ve heard it said that "socialism is the religion of the Swedes." This is not quite correct, though it hints at an important truth. I think of "being Swedish" as the religion of the Swedes. And the more cosmopolitan they behave, the more they are partaking in this religion; don’t be fooled!
This "being Swedish" business is a wonderful religion for Sweden. It is not a good or possible religion for most of the rest of the world. And it is not a religion to which I have been or could be invited.
But Sweden (or should I say Stockholm?) remains one of the best places in the history of the world to date, and we are fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize that.