I tune in to Fox News occasionally to get some relief from the constant left of centre bias offered by the BBC – the latter is currently offering an incessant stream of reports on how public spending cuts which will return Britain to levels of government spending last seen in 2006, represent the end of civilisation as we know it. It is disturbing though to hear Fox presenters repeatedly describing European countries, such as Sweden – as ‘socialist’, warning about the fate which awaits the US if it does not mend its Obamaesque ways.
Sweden is emphatically not a socialist country – unlike Britain, it has never practiced a policy of mass nationalisation and has thus never needed a Margaret Thatcher to reverse such a trend. Unlike the United States, it has recently taken radical steps to privatise postal services and to massively enlarge the role of the private sector in secondary education. In essence, Sweden is an open market economy but with an enormous transfer-based welfare state imposed on top. One might say that Sweden is a model of social democracy. Indeed, many on the British and American left point to Sweden as a clear example of how to combine high levels of prosperity and other quality of life indices with high levels of income redistribution. Alas, for the left, even a cursory glance at the history reveals that the success of Sweden in this regard has occurred not because of social democratic policies, but in spite of them.
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Mark Pennington is the author of Robust Political Economy: Classical Liberalism and the Future of Public Policy.