Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Swedish Dream

You'd probably have to think pretty hard to see how welfare and freedom go hand in hand. But the Swedes think they have it figured out, which is akin to splitting the social services atom. In-fact the authors of a new book "Is the Swede a Human Being" argue that love and independence make good bed fellows. Intriguing, but how?

For the last fifty years the Swedes have established a state-run system of benefits, while forking over over 50% of their income to taxes. These independent types do so willingly because, well, it makes them more independent. This is the expression of a fundamental longing for individual autonomy and a desire not to depend on or be indebted to anyone, particularly not in intimate relationships - what the authors call "the Swedish theory of love."

"The main purpose of the Swedish system has been to maximize the individual's independence,"said author Lars Tragardh, who has spent most of his life in the United States. "The picture of a collectivist animal is completely wrong; the modern Swede is a hyperindividualist."

All this individuality is territory firmly claimed by Americans. Doubtless, a definition of the "American Dream" would include financial security and the ability to pursue your dreams with autonomy. This seems to be what the Swedes have in mind too, but their conclusion is to have social safety nets, and programs designed to free people from pitfalls. It's interesting to hear that love is best expressed free from debt. Life probably is too. It's food for thought anyway.

If you want to read more here's the whole article from Ivar Ekman of the International Herald Tribune.

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