Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I love the smell of socialism in the morning!

Ahhh, socialism. If you want to scare a bunch of Americans on Halloween, don't sneak up behind them and yell 'BOO!' sneak up behind them and yell 'SOCIALISM!' It will scare them witless.

When I was in the US this summer a New York Post columnist (I know, I know) wrote about how you could smell the socialism in the air in Europe and it would bring about the downfall of the old continent.

But see, here is what I don't get. Socialism this and socialism that, but seriously, what is socialism?

I used to think of socialism as communism's poorer cousin. A bit like a bunch of communists got cold feet going whole hog so they settled for socialism. The image I have of socialism, from my old days at American public school, is a country that controls the production of goods within its borders. It is also a state that controls the flood of goods in and out of its borders. The theory, as I understood it, was that government would own and run the businesses and the people would work there.

Anyway I learned that a long time ago, and, well I can't even remember what I ate for dinner yesterday so definitions of socialism I am fuzzy on.

But that said, I do spend a lot of time wondering if it really is Socialism that Americans are so afraid of, and why don't Swedes see themselves as socialist?

When I talk to Swedes about this being a socialist nation they often look at me a bit confused. This is probably because if you look around, capitalism is also thriving. The Swedish government has sold off their shares of Absolut, Telia and other previously state-owned businesses. You cannot find a parking place at the shopping mall on a Saturday because people are out fueling the economy.

Is socialism just social welfare? Living in Sweden, as I have written before, I pay a lot of tax. But I also get a LOT of benefits. Little Swede's daycare? Oh, you would crack up if I told you how much it cost. That is because it is subsidized, heavily, by the state. We get a monthly child stipend. And of course the 'free' health care, and that Masters program I am doing? It costs nothing out of pocket.

Are Americans really just afraid of someone else getting something for nothing?


  1. I think that a lot of Americans confuse socialism with communism. The image of socialism is something of a world being as in North Korea or something like that. A world without freedom at all where the state and goverment dictates EVERYTHING you do and are allowed to do. I once got the question in the US from a woman that wonderd if we had any freedom in Sweden.
    Socialism is really a bad word in the US. One of the worst insluts you can give anyone. I think the socialism has decreased in Sweden during the past 30 years. It is true that you pay a lot in taxes but you get a lot for the money as well. It is kind of funny because here in Sweden I am probably considerd very liberal and in the US I was considerd very socialist. The day care cost here is a very good example that you bring up. I think that Americans are afraid of paying for others that they don´t want to pay for. They want to know and control where and how their money is spent. They don´t want to pay for others that don´t share their values or morals. I also think that Americans don´t want to much state interferance and that has do with the history and breaking free from English. This is really interessting to discuss.

  2. Americans spend way too much time focusing on the exact size of government, and not enough time on having a government that actually functions.

  3. I love your post! I am a Swede living in Louisiana for the past 5 years. There are certain topics I am very careful with here in the south, and this is one of them.

  4. I don't think Sweden has ever been a socialist country, at least not in modern times. No aspirations of collective ownership. Sweden is only a capitalist country with very high taxes and redistribution of wealth.

  5. The definitions of Socialism and Capitalism are a bit vague. However Capitalism has the mantra "everyone for himself" while Socialism is "all for everyone". Sweden is indeed a Socialistic country if you take in mind that large portions of what in America is considered market(education, health) belong to the government. However businesses don't belong to the government but they are part of the free market. As you said the taxes are high in Sweden and the richer someone is the more tax he will pay. So it's a bit foggy if the businesses really belong to the government or not as they give big portions of their income directly to the government.

  6. You are destroying your own point... :) They are thriving because they are going BACK to capitalism... they were pretty gridlocked with Telia and other companies you mentioned, when the state owned them.
    I don't really care about what you ate last night, but if you are so fuzzy on socialism, what makes you think we really want to learn about it from you?

  7. @ Desiree - good point - even the definition of what is liberal is very different both countries....

    @anon1 - true, big government is scary scary, but mostly in the US it seems it is just big government and not to big on services

    @ulrika - Thanks!

    @anon2 - I feel that way too sometimes, that it was never socialist to begin with, which is why I wonder why it is held up as the torch of socialist nightmares by the US right wing - oh wait, ah, nevermind I won't start picking on the right wing....

    @pithikos - good points, altho most big companies here in Sweden don't pay too much in taxes because they get that money back, like Volvo in the past. I agree it is very vague in reality.

    @anon3 - wow, I am impressed you think I actually had a point! I admit I think the point was that I don't have one - ie. I am pretty puzzled as to how 'Socialist' Sweden is and the differences between American & Swedish views of socialism. So the fuzzy thing was me just trying to emphasize the fact that I don't know and I wanted to see if it was perhaps clearer to anyone else. Judging by the responses here, other people aren't so sure either. But if you have the answers, please feel free to share! I am not trying to teach anyone anything, more trying to learn.

  8. I'd love to see a debate between the sweden democrats, who think sweden was a paradise until the 80's when it went to hell, and the economic right who think it was hell until the 80's when it turned into a paradise.

    Also, not all privatisations have been successes. The school and railroad reforms are pretty universally regarded as disasters.

  9. Thats the thing, most Americans are very ignorant on the differences between communism and socialism. Anyway, if most of these Americans saw how much better off they would be with a more socialist country, they would probably also revolt..Hence, thats why the merits of socialism are filtered out of the corporate controlled media in the US.