Back in the ”good old days” we here in Sweden had something called a ”mixed economy” as part of the Social Democratic Party´s policy. Infrastructure such as railways, roads, the water power dams, the electricity grid, health care, education and postal service were owned and run by the state – that is to say the people of Sweden.
During the nineties all this started to change as a new capitalism emerged fired on by Reagan, Thatcher, the fall of the Communist block and driven by a growing greed and belief in the efficiency of the “free market economy”.
The Social Democrats have lost the last two elections and the center-right government of Mr. Reinfeldt has driven the policy of privatization to its extreme.
Hospitals, local health care centers, pre-schools and schools have been sold for nothing at all to international and local companies that are making money – a lot of money – from taxpayers and sending it to off-shore accounts so that they don´t have to pay taxes on their profits.
There has been one scandal after the other of old-people homes saving in on diapers or keeping the old people in their beds a bigger part of the day to save money. Schools are suddenly shut because they are not making enough money for their owners and the kids are thrown out. The fewer teachers the schools employ the better their economy will be and as long as the kids are given good grades – never mind if this truly reflects their development – the schools will be able to get new pupils.
The politicians call it the right to choose. Choose your health-care center, your kids´ school or the supplier of your electricity. Because of this the schools, companies in the health industry and power companies spend masses of money on marketing.
When it comes to buying electricity the individual can choose between different suppliers but is off-course limited when it comes to the grid and as there are few companies that form an oligopoly the prices are more less the same. So what is my choice? That I am paying a higher price because the suppliers need to cover the cost of marketing, need to show their owners that they are making a “healthy” profit and need to pay their executives hefty salaries and bonuses. Is it more efficient? Off- course not.
As an example I can choose a green supplier of electricity but I also have to pay a Finnish state owned company who bought the Stockholm grid from the city for a cheap price and now are making lots of money.
Every day I have two mailmen come to my door as there are two postal companies on the market. Efficient? Hardly. Just a stupid waste.
When it comes to health care I have to make choices between different doctors and hospitals without really understanding the differences while at the same time the bill is footed by my taxes and turned into a profit for the different suppliers. Just a few years ago we had a state run monopoly here in Sweden when it comes to pharmacies. Today that too has been privatized resulting in several different companies on the market that have the same prices but often don´t have the medicine you need. So my choice is to have to run around to different addresses instead of always being able to get what I need at my local pharmacy. Efficient? No.
The Swedish railway company was divided into one company for the infrastructure and one for running trains in open competition with smaller companies. This off-course led to that the infrastructure of railways the last twenty years has gone down the drain as nobody is willing to pay for the upkeep and modernization of the tracks. Nowadays the trains are consistently late. In the autumn there are leaves on the tracks, in the winter the shunts freeze and in the summer the tracks expand in the heat causing derailing or stops. Have train fares become cheaper? No.
In Stockholm the city still owns the subway, tram and bus network but subcontractors run different parts of the system. Smart? Out-sourcing has led to bus companies cheating with routes and safety standards, a subway system that chases freeloaders but does nothing to keep the service level up and that has grown more and more expensive causing more and more people to jump the turnstiles because they can´t afford to pay or use their cars blocking the roads and spreading their pollution. Smart economy for society? Off-course not.
No other country in the western world has had such a steep change in inequality the last twenty years as Sweden. Before that Sweden was one of the most efficient, socially balanced and equal countries in the world. Today Swedish politicians are surprised when the suburbs of Stockholm and Malmö burn. Unemployment has reached levels (around 8 %) which were unthinkable in the sixties and seventies but now continue year after year of the center-right policy making.
As Obama tries to get infrastructure investments started in the USA the Swedish government roll their thumbs and cut down on health benefits, un-employment benefits, culture, youth projects, etc. at the same time telling the rest of Europe that this is the way to go; save, give the banks bigger profits, spend tax money on profits for private companies…
It just is smart to handle some things on a national, federal or European level. (More about this in a later posting.) The capitalistic system does not work everywhere.
I was once proud of being Swedish. Today I am ashamed. I am ashamed of the prejudice, of seeing beggars on the streets, of the lack of cultural life and the demise of so many theatre companies, of the neo-fascists being part of the parliament, of the greed on an everyday level, of the lack of solidarity and equality, of the policies of a nation that once stood up for South Africa and for the developing world, the country that gave the world Dag Hammarsköld, Olof Palme, Raul Wallenberg and Edelstam (saving individuals from the CIA-supported Pinochet dictatorship)…
Maybe I should become Swiss instead of Swedish – people keep mixing up the two countries anyway… (Remember the midnight sun is Sweden, the clocks and chocolate and Alps are Switzerland).