Sweden: A Completely Different Way

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 10.14.40 PMMonocle’s  Interview Series talks with five political “heavyweights” is killing it. Posted earlier an excerpt with Sebastian Pinera, President of Chile. Next in line was Fedrick Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden.

Mr. Reinfeldt is center-right, in Euro politico-speak, which means that he runs a tad more conservative than the mainstream. But as we are talking about Sweden, in the US he would be “a dangerous leftie who would struggle to become a congressman in California.” To hear a moderate conservative speak in the following terms gives a glimpse of not just alternative ways of conceiving society, but also the possibility that US is the one after all who doesn’t have it right. Not as much American exceptionalism as American extremism. This is not news, of course: we have been the “vulgar capitalists” for years now.

But enough of that. At the center of Mr. Reinfeldt’s politics is that inequalities translate into an un-free society.

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M:You’ve accepted large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Why is it important? Is it a moral issue?
FR: A richer part of the world should take its responsibility for poorer parts of the world. It is a moral thing. If you have a history in which people actually left because they were poor, because they had no future and were able to find a new future in another country, we should also make this possible in our generation for people who find themselves in the same kind of distress.

But it’s also for demographical and economical reasons. Sweden has an ageing population – my experts tell me that half of the children born in Sweden today will live to be 100 years old. And still many people would like to stop working at 65. So how do you create a pension system, welfare system that is sustainable? Since we do not have enough children born in this country, the answer must be to stand open for migrants to come into our society. So it is also for good economical reasons that we should stand open.

M:There were riots in Stockholm in May. Did it surprise you?
FR: For a long time we’ve seen the tensions between some suburbs with a high degree of immigrants. It’s very important to seek them out, to punish those who use a lot of violence. But also to say that this is a challenge, to give them the knowledge, to give them the hope for the future that they can reintegrate into society and to believe that they can get a job.

M:How would you define your politics?
FR: For Sweden it’s a clear will among the people to have high tax-paid welfare ambitions. What we have done is combine that with becoming a competitive economy, with a ‘put work first’ principle. So the combination of higher growth, more job-creating policies, together with the ambition to have widespread tax-paid welfare solutions, is the way forward.

For me, it is very clear that we would never accept that a large portion of our population should not have access to hospital care. We don’t want big inequalities because we think that having an inclusive society is about giving resources and possibilities to everyone.

But I believe that is centre-right thinking, that’s the end [result] of believing in freedom. Freedom in itself is a value but it must also mean each individual has the ability to rise and find their way to freedom. And if you have too many inequalities you will find large parts of the population in fact do not have the chances like everyone else. —image

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