by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
“Why can’t we be more like Europe?” One typically hears that question from a speaker who stands to the left of the political center.
… [D]espite his subtitle, “Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia,” the author fails to reveal the degree to which the myth is in fact mythical. He apparently believes that “the Nordic countries have the answer” and provide a model for the future. But he does not identify how the countries became rich in the first place. Although oil-rich Norway is a special case, the rise of Scandinavia is essentially a free-market success story.
To take the country I know best, in the 1990s the Swedish welfare state was restructured. Since then, benefits and taxes have been cut, markets have been deregulated, and much of the core services of the welfare state are today provided by private companies. Sweden has one of the world’s most extensive voucher systems for schooling—a free-market reform—and a private health sector that is rapidly growing to replace failing public health care.
The pervasiveness of capitalism in the Nordic countries is revealed in the Fraser Institute’s 2015 Annual Report on the Economic Freedom of the World, which calculates an Economic Freedom Index consisting of five main components for more than 150 countries. In the case of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the overall index of economic freedom is a bit lower than that of the U.S. because of only one component, based on size of government. Otherwise, in four out of five dimensions of economic freedom—protection of property rights, soundness of money, openness to foreign trade, and degree of regulation—the average is higher than that of the U.S.
Those who love Sweden tend to do so for the wrong reasons, based on the myth of Scandinavian socialism.