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To Our Foreign Readers

Av Carl-Johan Westholm | 25 december 2009

The Christmas Holidays are perfect for reading important stuff. Here is a piece of thinking from our friend Carl-Johan Westholm, Secretary of The Mont Pelerin Society – an introduction to Swedish History. It will save your day.

Visitors’ Elite Guide to a Swedish Dinner Conversation:
What you already know and soon want to know about Sweden.

If you have a seat besides a Swedish man or woman at a dinner, and find afterwards that it was a pleasant and interesting talk about Sweden, your comments have probably been mostly “I know that” and “I didn’t know that!” You have been confirmed and more or less confused.

This is what I would tell you at the dinner table if you ask me about Swedish history and the ideas behind.

– When did Sweden become Sweden?
– That depends. Sweden of today has had its geographical borders only since 1905. In one sense.
– Oh, really?
– Yes. But Sweden has not been in war since 1814. Let me tell you how it all started and why we are where we are today.

Early warming
Sweden was once a territory full of ice. Later came periods of global warming, even if archaeologists have not yet found any remnants of early industrial activities.

In the archipelago of Stockholm, called Roslagen, people came from the east over water or went to the east. The last group was Vikings. The words Russia and Roslagen are related. Sometimes you can still find Russian submarines in the exotic and calm Swedish waters a mild summer night.

Around the year 830 (The European Emperor Charles the Great, Charlemagne, died in 814) an abbot from France named Ansgar appeared in Birka, the commercial city, situated on an island in the lake Mälaren. Stockholm not so far away was more or less still under water. The leading regional king Olof Skötkonung was baptized the year 1000, same year as a king in Ireland. He was the first of our kings who kept his new faith and coined his own mints. In history books, this used to be called “Sweden was Christened”. The messages from Jerusalem, Athens and Rome began its work in the minds of the people and its leaders.

The land between Roslagen and Russia was around 1155 invaded by a troop of Roslagish-Swedish soldiers under the leadership of King Erik. He asked the people there, the Finlanders, if they wanted to become Christened, and in this way Finland became a Christened country.
The old time religion had gods named Oden, Tor and Fröja – where we have the origins to Wednesday/Onsdag, Thursday/Torsdag and Friday/Fredag.

King Erik was later assassinated by a political opponent in Uppsala and became Saint Erik – you can find his relics in the Cathedral of Uppsala.

In Old Uppsala, there are graves for our Viking kings. It was the religious centre for the believers in Oden and Tor. Uppsala was called East Aros, Västerås was called West Aros and Trondheim in the north of Norway was called Nidaros – all later with big cathedrals.

The Power Game

Military operations were the basic political instrument. For centuries, the struggles and wars were primarily between leaders in Denmark against leaders in Sweden. Denmark consisted at that time also of what today is the south of Sweden. Sweden (including Finland) was an expanding kingdom. The state and the nation, the land and the kingdom, the people and the country, these were concepts overlapping one another.

The United Sea

Seawater was the most convenient way to travel. Land was troublesome, with a lot of forests and robbers. It would be interesting to see a map from this time when the distance is not in kilometres but in the time it took to travel between different places. In that way you would see how the Baltic Sea united people. The Swedish town Västervik on the Swedish east coast near the city of Kalmar is called Väst/West, because it was located west of the Baltic Sea.

The Mediterranean and its cities is another example of the importance of waterways, as its economic and political importance peaked at the same time.

– Yes, I know that. But tell me more about your country.
– OK.

The KU (The Kalmar Union)

426px-Dokument_pt_KalmarunionenThe Black Death struck Europe with the beginning in 1346. Sweden, in 1350, was the last country to feel the effects – of 600 000 inhabitants, about 200 000 may have died, a percentage like most other parts of Europe.

For more than hundred years, 1397-1523, there was a Nordic peace project, the Kalmar Union, with Queen Margarete of Denmark-Norway and Sweden-Finland as its most well known leader. King Kristian II of Denmark was its last leader (1520-21, more later).

Then war broke out again and the KU was dissolved. A Bishop Tomas of Strängnäs, a small Swedish town, wrote a poem in 1459, the Song of Freedom, to inspire the Swedes to fight against the Danish dominance. However, the song was translated to Danish, where the first words are “Freedom is the best gold”, still recited in Danish schools. The Swedish original text is “Freedom is the best thing, for those who freedom rightly can bear”.

The first Swedish Parliament, The Riksdag, took place in Arboga in 1435.

Serfdom was formally outlawed around 1300. The right of the elected king to rule over the free men (no free women) was limited, for at least practical reasons. Often people were too far away to be ruled. The land-owning peasant was like a small-scale dictator for his family and its “house people”. A son inherited twice as much as a daughter. In some counties, there were equal rights between men and women.

– Interesting. I thought the oldest son inherited all.
– Well, that was for some time usual among parts of the nobility.

– Let me just mention a consequence of the inheritance rules and the system of local collectivistic democracy. The private plots increased in numbers but became smaller and smaller. This meant that all owners had to decide how all in a village should work. Stagnation was the result. New ideas were hard to introduce. First in the 18th and 19th century, several decisions by the state forced the peasants to divide their property in fewer but lager units.

Trade, Not Aid

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the trade on the Baltic Sea was organised by the German speaking Hanseatic League. The Isle of Gotland was an important commercial centre, and place for military fights between Danes and Swedes, or rather their kings with their men. German businessmen wanted to control the commerce. King Kristian II of Denmark (called the Great by the Danes, the Tyrant by the Swedes) tried to be King of Sweden around 1520. He was already in Stockholm and became well known for the Stockholm Blood Bath, when around 80 leading men of the nobility were decapitated, including the father of Gustav Vasa.

Swedish Freedom Fighters

Gustav_VasaGustav Eriksson Vasa (born in 1496) belonged to the leading group of families of his days. As a young man, he had been imprisoned in Denmark by the Danish king, but fled to Germany and became sponsored by German business interests.

Gustav Vasa went back to Sweden via Kalmar and further north to ask for help from the people in the proud but somewhat distant area of Dalarna (Dalecarlia). However, the brave men of Dalecarlia were first somewhat reluctant when Gustav Vasa in Mora in 1520 addressed them to organize a rebellion against the Danish troops that occupied Sweden. Gustav gave up and walked to Norway. But in Sälen, near the border, two men from Mora had done their utmost on skies and caught Gustav and asked him to return and lead them against the Danish usurpers.

This was the first Vasalopp, today the world’s biggest ski competition with 14 000 participants, every year on the first Sunday in March. Nowadays in the other direction from Sälen to Mora. It is 90 kilometers and the first race was organised in 1922.

Gustav and his Dalecarlian men succeeded in defeating Kristian’s soldiers. Gustav made his entrance to Stockholm on the Midsummer Day in 1523. He became King Gustav I. The hereditary monarchy was introduced later, in 1544, by the Riksdag in Västerås, when Gustav Vasa had been king for two decades. He is buried in the Uppsala Cathedral, where you also can enjoy paintings about this period in Swedish history.

King Gustav was a ruthless organiser, suffered from tooth ache, and was a shrewd ruler in the manner of his contemporary Machiavelli. He was a colleague to King Henry VIII in England. However, he was married only three times, not six times like Henry.

He took advantage of the message of the German former monk Martin Luther that the kings in this world are all kings by the grace of God. Monasteries were forbidden, also the more well known one in Vadstena, founded by the Swedish Saint Birgitta; monasteries were permitted again in 1952. The church became a state church. Between 1726 and 1858, a special law forbade people to organize religious meetings outside the state church. The divorce between state and church in Sweden was finalised in the year 2000.

The influence from Germany and the German language was deep, although the kings and the elite nobility used Latin as lingua franca. So did Gustav Vasa’s oldest son Erik. He proposed a marriage to Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. However, she was not amused, and you can imagine what consequences not only on Swedish history if she had been willing.

– I did not know that.
– And I do not know if other kings were active either.

The Mad King Erik

319px-Erik_XIV_of_Sweden_by_Steven_van_der_Meulen_1561Erik, who had become crowned as Erik XIV in 1560 when his father died, suspected that members of the leading Swedish aristocracy prepared a coup d’état. These men, some from the Sture clan, were taken into custody at the Uppsala Castle.

Erik went mad, took a knife and stabbed five men to death. The Sture assassinations proofed that Erik was crazy (in modern times, he could have been nominated to the UN’s Committee for Human Rights). Erik was jailed at another castle, and after some years, he passed away. Rumours said that he had been served pea soup avec arsenic.

Erik’s brother Johan became king known as Johan III and married a Polish princess, Katarina Jagellonica, who became Queen of Sweden. He had sympathy for the Roman Catholic Church, Katarina was a practising Catholic. Their son Sigismund became king of Poland and Lithuania 1587-1632 and was king of Sweden 1592-99. Religion and politics were closely related.

The Lion of the North

Gustavus_Adolphus_at_the_Battle_at_BreitenfeldAnother grandson to Gustav Vasa, Gustavus Adolphus (in Swedish Gustav II Adolf) became king in 1611. He was still a boy, and the wise aristocrat Axel Oxenstierna ruled the country on his behalf.

In 1618, the religious, political and economic trends in Europe had undermined the temporary stability after the Martin Luther’s Reformation and the Thirty Years War started.

King Gustavus Adolphus went with Swedish soldiers and with in-sourced professional pan-European troops to Germany to fight against the great danger: “Papism”. The Pope was the archenemy.

The battle of Breitenfeld in 1631 was a great victory for the Protestants and for “the Lion of the North”, the nickname for Gustavus Adolphus. However, as could be read in the Swedish schoolbooks in the early 20th century, he had “by time become comparatively fat”, and he fell from his horse on November 6, 1632 in Lützen and the enemies ended his life.

In 1638, the vessel Calmare Nyckel (“The Key from Kalmar”) had approached Delaware in America and founded a Swedish settlement, “New Sweden”. It was taken by the Hollanders in 1655.

The war continued but at last the Westphalia Peace Treaty was signed in 1648. It defined the borders between different German lands, and who should be the ruling princes. It also said that each ruling prince decided whether the religion should be protestant or catholic in his land. And, which is still a de jure and often a de facto rule to this day, the Treaty declared the principle of national sovereignty.

Another result was that Sweden became a European great power – to 1718, that is for 70 years.

Riga was the biggest city in the Swedish Kingdom for the period 1621-1710 when Latvia was a part of the Swedish Baltic Sea Power.

Climate Change

The winter in 1658 was extremely cold. The Swedish King Karl X Gustav took his troop on the ice from Germany over the Danish Belt and forced in the following peace agreement in Roskilde the Danish King to give up the part of his land north of Öresund, the Baltic Streit. This has since then been the south of Sweden, known as Skåne. The Danish had to move its archbishop from Lund to Roskilde.

To make the Danish speaking people talking and thinking Swedish, the Swedish government founded a university in Lund in 1668. This was Sweden’s second university. The first one had opened in Uppsala in 1477. Before that, Swedish students had to go to Sorbonne in Paris or German Heidelberg.

Money Makes the World Go Round

Another memorable event in 1668 was that a private bank in Stockholm, the Palmstruch’s Bank, went bust. The Swedish government intervened. And so the world got its first still existing central bank, the Riksbank. It has up to this day its own currency to preserve, and has an imposing modernistic building in the centre of Stockholm on the rest of a hill (Brunkebergsåsen), where Swedish troops defeated Danish intruders in 1471.

Prague’s Silver Bible to Uppsala, Queen Kristina to Rome

Rene_Descartes_i_samtal_med_Sveriges_drottning,_KristinaIn spite of the slaughter of a share of the Swedish nobility at the Stockholm Blood Bath in 1520, the kings got increased competition about the power from the aristocrats. Gustavus Adolphus’ daughter, Queen Kristina, knighted several heroes from the Thirty Years War. What more, she also gave them land during her ruling period 1644-1654. One of the new noble men had grabbed the Silver Bible in Prague as a war trophy; it is still kept in the University Library in Uppsala.

Queen Kristina, the daughter of the protestant king, decided later to convert to Catholicism. She abdicated at a ceremony at the Uppsala Castle in 1654 and went to Rome, where she lived the rest of her life and was buried in the Saint Peter’s Cathedral.

– She must have been a remarkable person.
– Yes, she was, and more interested in philosophy than marriage. She wrote maxims in French, like this (I translate): “You are always as happy or unhappy as you want”.

The King against the Nobility

King Karl XI (1672-1697) travelled a great deal incognito among the people. The King felt allied with the people against the nobility. He found the wealth of the nobility, a result of the donations of state property to them from Queen Kristina, disturbing and unjust. He enacted “the Reduction of King Karl XI”. This was the first and is up to now the biggest confiscation of property in Swedish history. The aristocrats were permitted to keep only minor holdings.

The Beardless Warrior King

413px-Karl_XII_1706His son Karl XII became ruling king as a teenager, “a beardless thunder god”, later called “the Hero King”. He decided to go east. In a battle at Narva, at the border between present Estonia and Russia, Swedish troops triumphed in 1700. There is a street in central Stockholm still today called “Narvavägen”. However, there is no “Poltavavägen”. In Poltava in Ukraine in 1709, the Russians defeated the Swedish army. King Karl XII went to Turkey and stayed there for five whole years.

Karl’s wars were a burden for the Swedish people, in men and money. The finance minister (from Holstein) produced “emergency coins” to finance further martial efforts. Karl – with an odd personality and suffering from a more than the usual mental bias of macho of his days – decided to invade Norway. At Fredrikshald on November 30, 1718, he got a bullet in his head. His finance minister was beheaded. The Swedish Great Power era was over.

Some outlandish ideas were also produced during these years. The Uppsala physician and archaeologist Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702) came to the conclusion that ancient Sweden had been the lost island Atlantis, the first home for human beings after Eden. Even Sir Isaac Newton was interested in the theory and wrote a request to a personal copy. A more credible discovery by Rudbeck was the lymphatic vessels.

After the death of Karl XII a period followed with powerless kings and queens acting merely as representative figures. This has been called the “Freedom Age”. It included a political fight between two parties, Hats and Caps. The Freedom Age has by some been seen as an early period of parliamentary rule, by others as an example of foreign governments ruling by bribing leading local politicians. It ended in 1772 when King Gustav III by a coup d’état became the real ruler.

The Theatre King

Gustav_IIIKing Gustav III was inspired by French culture and language. Sweden’s official life, which for long had been influenced from Germany, now got another profile. King Gustav III founded the Swedish Academy, with its challenging motto “Genius and Style”. He sponsored French theatre, culture etc.

Earlier, a distinguished Frenchman did visit Stockholm, but with an unhappy ending. The philosopher Descartes (Cartesius) was invited by Queen Kristina; he got a cold in wintry Stockholm and died in 1650. He stopped thinking, and therefore he did no longer exist.

In 1776, King Gustav decided to let Jews immigrate to the big cities and practice their religion.

Even if Gustav III was called “the Theatre King”, he wanted also to be a real warrior. So he started a war with Russia, which ended in status quo.

It was under the reign Gustav III that Sweden gained the small Caribbean island of Saint-Barthélemy from France in 1785, in exchange for French trading rights in Gothenburg. Though it was sold back to France in 1878, many streets and locations still bear Swedish names, like its capital Gustavia.

Gustav III passed away in 1792 after being shot at a masquerade at the Stockholm Opera, a symbolic death. Even this served the theatre, by giving a plot to Verdi’s The Masquerade Ball.

The son Gustav IV Adolf was an unsuccessful ruler, but before telling that, we should note that Sweden had also the King of Flowers.

The King of Flowers

429px-Ehret-Methodus_Plantarum_SexualisCarl Linnaeus, knighted Carl von Linné, lived 1707-1778. He classified the flowers in a “sexual system” and gave them Latin names, studied in Lund, in Holland and England and later became professor in Uppsala, where he laid the ground to the Botanic Garden. Today this King of Flowers is better known to people all over the world than any Swedish King ever with formal royal power.

– I like that.
– Me too.

The King Who Lost Finland

Gustav IV Adolf sat at the Swedish throne when “Sweden lost Finland” in the war 1808-09.
Finland became a separate province of Russia, relatively independent and still with many Swedish laws.

Finland had later a civil war, between white and red troops, in January to May 1918 with 35 000 killed. This was after formal independence from Russia, after the revolution in1917.

Imagine if Finland still had been a part of Sweden hundred years later. What a potentially explosive political situation with general suffrage reforms in all west European countries. The Swedish speaking minority, the economic and cultural elite in Finland, would have felt recalcitrant but pressed by demands from the Finnish speaking majority to a break up from Sweden.

Maybe the majority would have fought against its Swedish speaking elite, the latter with support from the Swedish fatherland.

Sweden avoided another Scandinavian war in 1905. The background is the following.

The unhappy Gustav IV Adolf had been forced to abdicate in a coup d’état in 1809. He left the country and passed away after some years as “Colonel Gustavsson” in a hostel in Switzerland. An older relative became king for a while.

Sweden got a new constitution in 1809, inspired by Montesquieu and the United States, with divisions between the power to legislate, to rule and to judge. The Swedish Riksdag kept its original system from about 1650 with four chambers, one each for the nobility, the clergy, the burghers, and the peasants.

The French Marshal

436px-Karl_XIV_Johan,_king_of_Sweden_and_Norway,_painted_by_Fredric_WestinDuring this time powerful groups in Sweden wanted an alliance with Napoleon – and a French Marshal, Jean Baptist Bernadotte, born in Pau, was elected Crown Prince at a meeting with the Riksdag in Örebro in 1810.

“To get Finland back within the borders of Sweden” had become the catchword of the day. Crown Prince Carl Johan, the French Marshal’s Swedish name, was a “surpris” – this French expression had become à la mode. He made Sweden join the alliance against Napoleon. Instead of taking Finland back from Russia, he led a Swedish army into Norway – and Denmark had to surrender Norway to Sweden in 1814.

He was crowned King Carl XIV Johan in 1818. During summer time, he stayed at the new Royal Castle in Kristiania, as Oslo then was called. He was for many years worried that he would lose the throne. He calmed down first when a son of his married a distant relative to the Vasa family. Then he was convinced that the people should finally recognize his family’s constitutional hereditary right.

No war with Norway

However, the people in Norway were not happy. They wanted independence not only from the Swedish king but from Sweden. Around 1900, the anti-Swedish feelings peaked. The Swedish army mobilised. But the Swedish government accepted a referendum in Norway, and also its result – 99.9 percent voted for separation from Sweden. So King Oscar II of Sweden-Norway became King Oscar II of Sweden – and Norway became a sovereign nation in 1905.

Still, the word “union” gives negative vibrations for many people in Norway. This could partly explain why the European Union as a term gives mixed signals to Norwegians up to this day.

Oldest Stock Company in the World

As in most countries, Swedish business was regulated by the available political means. To start a company was possible only with a special permission from the government, a so- called “letter of privilege”. Such a letter was written and given in 1288 to a group of people in order to mine copper in Falun in the south of Dalecarlia. This is the first still existing stock company in the world, Stora Kopparbergs Bergslags AB, or STORA, as its name was in its 700 years jubilee in 1988 (Stora = Big). This is today a part of the Finnish-Swedish Stora Enso.

Sweden became the biggest exporter of iron in Europe during the 17th century. French Huguenots and Wallons migrated here in the same period and added valuable competence as businessmen and blacksmiths.

Trade was strictly regulated. At the countryside there were special market days per year, only then you could sell and buy goods. It was forbidden for peasants to trade freely and to fish. The reason was that if they would find this more rewarding, they could stop producing agricultural products. Then the people in the cities would starve.

– Crazy argument, indeed.
– Yes, an example of not understanding the spontaneous order.

When Adam Wrote

427px-Aftonbladet_no1_1830-12-06During these days, many ideas from abroad were anyhow imported. Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” of 1776 was printed in a shortened Swedish edition less than 50 years later. It was not stopped by the censorship – which would have been a risk if its subject had been the Swedish state church or the royal family. Actually, already in 1766 Sweden and Finland had enacted the first constitutional protection of freedom to write and publish.

Privately owned commercial newspapers began circulating when Carl XIV Johan was king. When he or some of his staff did not like an article, the publisher was forbidden to continue with the paper. But “Aftonbladet” just changed its name time after time from “the 2nd Aftonbladet” up to “the 26th Aftonbladet”.

The once so radical French Marshal had become a reactionary old king, reluctant to learn Swedish or Norwegian. His wife, Queen Desirée, had once been engaged to Napoleon and she returned to France for many years.

The Liberal King

Their oldest son Oscar, born in France when his father was a marshal, was as King Oscar I (1844-1859) inspired by the public debate in England and he was a man of the new time, a reformer with liberal views. He wrote a book about crime which was published in many languages.

468px-Johan_August_Gripenstedt_(Hildeband,_Sveriges_historia)The new time also meant that commerce was deregulated and eventually more people got wealthier; these businessmen did not always belong to any of the four estates in the Riksdag. Together with a growing middle class, partly of non-Swedish origin, in Stockholm and Gothenburg, they were the successful urban people.

The liberal leader for the deregulation of the Swedish economy was the finance minister Johan August Gripenstedt. He was inspired by the French economist Frédéric Bastiat. Gripenstedt also promoted the construction of a national rail way system.

– But was this Bastiat’s idea?
– Well, not really.

Two Chamber Parliament

After decades of discussions, the nobility was the last estate to accept a constitutional reform of the Riksdag. A two chamber system was introduced in 1866. The first chamber was elected by the county councils (“Landstingen”), created in 1862. The second chamber was elected by men who had an income over a specific level, and who had paid their taxes.

This last condition was fatal for free traders. They got the majority in the election to the second chamber in 1888 – but one of the candidates of the list in Stockholm had not paid all his taxes. The consequence was that protectionists also substituted all other names on the free traders’ list. Sweden got high import customs on agricultural products. The increasing group of industrial workers in the big cities had to pay most of the bill.

The Swedes are Starving – and Bounce Back Big

The weather in 1868 was extreme, with a cold winter and a dry summer. The harvest had been insufficient to feed the growing population. People in the countryside mixed bark from the trees in the bread. In London, money was collected by charities to the starving Swedish people. Few could predict that during the coming hundred years 1870-1970, Sweden would have the highest economic growth rate in Europe and the highest in the world after Japan.

In the second part of the 19th century 25 percent of the population emigrated to the United States of America. About every fifth of these returned to Sweden. By them Sweden imported a lot of ideas and knowledge for manufacture and trade.

The Crown Makes a Tax-free Zone

The Swedish State – often called “The Crown” – wanted that the areas in the north should be more populated. So the Crown made the northernmost of Sweden a tax-free zone for immigrants. Not least people from Finland moved to the north of “the real Sweden”, which was another expression for the Swedish speaking part of the kingdom.

Peace, vaccine and potatoes

PotatoesIn 1800, Sweden had 2.3 million inhabitants, 100 years later 5.1 million, in spite of the high rate of emigration. Today we are 9.3 million, partly because of the high immigration: 1.1 million born outside of Sweden.

Peace, vaccine and potatoes made the population grow, as the bishop and poet Esaias Tegnér said. He and the Uppsala Professor in history, Erik Gustaf Geijer, were the two leading intellectuals and poets in Sweden in the first half of the 19th century. Both were conservatives and sceptic to the consequences of the French revolution. Geijer visited England and in 1838, he confessed that he had become a liberal. “Geijer’s conversion” shocked the establishment in Sweden.

Labour and Employers’ Organization Play Important Roles

Sweden was industrialized later than many other European countries, but faster. The period with an economic base for a politically strong middle class and liberalism became therefore short. The Social Democratic Labour party was founded in 1889, the corresponding national labour trade union movement, LO, later, in 1898 – in many other countries the national trade union organisation came before the party.

The social democratic program was a copy of the same movement’s program in Germany. To speak German was then more common in Sweden than to speak English.

The Swedish Employers’ Confederation SAF (Svenska Arbetsgivareföreningen) was founded in 1902. In 1909, the same year as men obtained universal suffrage to the second chamber, the Grand Strike break out. It was a defeat for the LO, which lost members and regained its strength first in the beginning of the 1920’s.

Labour in Charge for 40 Years

Sweden was neutral during the First World War. In 1917, the year of the Russian revolution, there were hunger riots in Stockholm. The conservative Prime Minister Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, called “Hungerskjöld” and father to Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN Secretary General 1952-1961, became a scapegoat for the extreme left.

The majority of the Labour movement stayed in the peaceful Social Democratic Party, whose leader Hjalmar Branting and King Gustav V (1907-1950) had been school mates. The rest, a revolutionary Bolsjevik minority, founded the Swedish Communist Party, soon financed from Moscow.

The Spanish Flu killed 27 000 people in Sweden during winter and spring in 1918.

Branting became the first social democratic minister in the new liberal government led by the Uppsala Professor Nils Edén in 1917 and Prime Minister in 1920.This was the beginning of what eventually became the usual order of things from 1932 to 1976, with social democrats in the government together with other parties, or alone in 1957-1976.

The social democratic dominance in the Swedish parliament could be explained by two circumstances, in which Sweden, for example, differed from Denmark. The first was the fact that the numbers of industrial workers in the electorate was 5-10 percent higher in Sweden than in Denmark. The second fact was the two-chamber system.

The election system to the first chamber was originally constructed to preserve and give a slight dominance to conservative parties. The irony of history made it to an advantage for the social democrats, as it gave them a slight over representation there. The opposition complained that they had to win two consecutive elections to come to power. Tage Erlander stepped down as social democratic party leader in 1969. He had been Prime Minister since 1946.

– A long time, indeed.
– Yes, and compare with the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s dictum “One week is a long time in politics”. Do you know what Tage Erlander said had occupied most of his time during these 23 years?
– No.
– To prevent catastrophes, he said. He had a nice form of humour.

One Chamber, One Shot

After two decades’ discussion, a one-chamber system was introduced in 1970. In 1976, Sweden got a government without social democrats, with Thorbjörn Fälldin from the former Agrarian Center Party as Prime Minister. It succeeded to be re-elected in 1979, but in 1982, the charismatic Olof Palme returned to a second term as social democratic Prime Minister. He was assassinated in February 1986 while walking home from a cinema with his wife Lisbet Palme on street Sveavägen (means “the Sweden Way”) in central Stockholm.

“Sweden – the Middle Way”

In 1936, the American journalist Marquis Childs wrote the book “Sweden, the Middle Way”. This was a real PR-bonanza for the “Swedish Model”. During the 1950’s, the leaders for the national labour trade union LO and the employers’ confederation SAF travelled together in the USA to give lectures about this success.

Later, it was said that it was the high taxes that had made Sweden prosperous. The Democrat Vice President Hubert Humphrey (1965-69) visited Sweden and praised its system. Earlier, the Republican President Eisenhower (1953-1961) had pointed a finger at Sweden and its high rate of suicides.

Both were more or less wrong, or ill-informed. The statistics about suicide in Sweden was obviously more reliable than in many other countries. The taxes in Sweden in the 1930’s were not higher than in the other European countries, around 15 percent of GDP.

In the late 1920’s, the taxes on wealth and death had increased. But here a typical political phenomenon appeared: the useful doublespeak. A new law was introduced, for foundations. Wealthy families could donate their holdings to a foundation, controlled by the donors, and tax exempt, provided it gave 80 percent of the annual profit of dividends (not growth of value) to ends of common good. The Wallenberg Foundations are since then the dominating owner of many big Swedish companies.

The Swedish Match King and the Russian Rockefellers

Locomotive_safety_matches_labelThe most well-known Swedish business man in the world in the 1920’s was Ivar Kreuger. He got the monopoly for production of matches in many countries, in exchange for lending money to their governments. The liquidity crises in the US economy, about which he had personally warned president Hoover, caught him in his own trap (some would say Ponzi-like trap). He was found dead in his apartment in Paris in 1932. Many of the big industries he had controlled came at the hands of the Wallenbergs (Ericsson, STAB, today Swedish Match) or others (SCA, Boliden).

Another well-known Swedish entrepreneur – who also used to live in Paris in periods – had passed away in San Remo in Italy on December 10, 1896. His family was called “The Russian Rockefellers” in a book later published by the Hoover Institution. Alfred Nobel’s father and brothers had started oil production in Baku in Russia. Alfred had invented dynamite, easier and safer to handle than gun powder. The Nobel Prize has given Sweden the hottest global feast every year, on the Nobel Day in December 10.

As brands, Linné and Nobel are outstanding. Two gentlemen from different centuries and in different fields made a big difference. They both had common curiosity and were longing for knowing more, and had capacity for doing more.

A Land of Inventors

Sweden has had many important inventors and researchers. Some still remembered, some forgotten, even when their inventions are still used – here are just a few introduced, more than 50 years old, not all were patented:

– 1837 John Ericson, patent propels for vessels (famously used in the American civil war at the “Monitor”)
– 1844 Gustaf Pasch, safety matches (Swedish Match)
– 1858 Fredrik Göran Göransson, Bessemer method for iron production (Sandvik)
– 1887 Gustaf de Laval, hand driven milk separator and 1883 patent steam-turbine (Alfa Laval)
597px-Primus_Stove– 1882 Jonas Wenström, patent dynamo machine and 1891 patent three phase alternating current (Asea, ABB)
– 1888 Frans Lindqvist, “Primus”, petroleum-oil stove (everywhere in St Petersburg during the revolution chaos as Ayn Rand observed in “We the Living”)
– 1892 J P Johansson, adjustable spanner (Bahco)
– 1905 Gustaf Dalén, automatic light house (Aga)
398px-Metalzipper– 1907 Sven Wingquist, spheric ball-bearing (SKF)
– 1913 Gideon Sundbäck, zip-fastener
– 1922 Carl Munter/Baltzar von Platen, refrigerator (Electrolux)
– 1944 Erik Wallenberg, Ruben & Hans Rausing, Processing and Package Technology (TetraPak)
– 1958 Rune Elmqvist/Åke Senning, pacemaker

697px-Tetra_pak_1965

Among contemporary Swedish inventors, Håkan Lans with his patent for colour graphics for computers and his patents and double world standard for his position indication system for maritime (AIS) and air traffic (VDL Mode 4) is in the frontline. This satellite navigation system of his (better than radar) has made the journey by boat or by airplane safer and cheaper for many visitors not only to Sweden.

Not everything was invented here. Lars Magnus Ericsson and Tore Cedergren started in 1883 a competitor to American Bell´s monopoly on telephones. Stockholm became in a few years the capital with the highest number of telephones per person.

On radio and television broadcasting, Sweden had for long time a state monopoly. In 1985, the Wall Street experienced Jan Stenbeck had returned to Sweden and invested in TV-programs from London via a satellite, a legal loophole. He passed away in 2002 but his spirit of entrepreneurship is vital, like his mobile telephones Tele 2 and Millicom in many parts of the world and the Modern Times Media Group, MTG. (Yes, inspired by the title of Paul Johnson’s Modern Times). No one in Sweden challenged the political and economic establishment in his daily business as Jan Stenbeck, and made big profits of it.

Three other cases of well-known outstanding creativity must be added.

Two are examples of “platform companies”, where design and strategy are formed in Sweden, but the production mostly situated in other countries. Its goods are cheep and with good quality. The IKEA group for furniture, founded by Ingvar Kamprad, and H&M, for clothes founded and developed by the Persson family are extremely valuable brands.

So is also the ABBA music group, the most successful winner ever of the Eurovision song contest. The musical “Mama Mia” is just one of their collections of contemporary evergreens.

– I have seen and listened to it in London.
– Me too. And the export from Sweden of modern music is remarkably big also from other groups, like Roxette. And Madonna and Britney Spears have Swedish composers.

Artists’ Sweden

Carl_Larsson_Brita_as_IdunaAmong Swedish painters, Anders Zorn (1860-1920) is appreciated, not only for his portraits of nude women from Mora, where he mostly lived. He also worked in the USA and made an oil painting of President Grover Cleveland. Carl Larsson, also from Dalecarlia, painted the Swedish country life in an idealistic manner.

If you when being in Sweden happen to listen to Swedish folk music, you would probably be in Dalecarlia or near a radio with popular songs by Evert Taube (1890-1976). The Swedish summer, the archipelagos of Roslagen and Gothenburg and even a visit to Argentine Pampas inspired this most beloved Swedish composer and troubadour. The 18th century poet Bellman transformed German melodies for his poetry about Dionysus in nature.
Hugo Alfvén’s (1872-1960) “Swedish Rhapsody” is one of the best-known pieces of music from Sweden – parts of it used in pop culture, with a late-romantic flavour.

Sweden Neutral in WWII

During the Second World War, Sweden was neutral. However, 8 000 Swedes, often from the upper classes, volunteered in the Finnish winter war against the Soviet Union 30 October 1939 – 12 March 1940. The armistice between Stalin and the Finnish Marshal Mannerheim (he spoke Russian and Swedish, but poor Finnish) came in the last moment – three days left to a catastrophe.

France and England planned to invade the north of Norway in March 15 to march to Finland, and also to take control of the iron ore mines in the north of Sweden. If that had happened, England and France had been at war against the Soviet Union. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Germany had continued, the later German attack on the Soviet Union maybe never started. The World War could have taken another turn.

Instead Hitler speeded up “The Weser Exercise” and German troops invaded Norway and Denmark in April 9, less than a month later.

After the war, the government that had consisted of a coalition of all parties in the Riksdag except the Communists was dissolved. The Social Democrats were determined to let the government intervene more in the economy, which was not unique for Sweden at the time. This was the conventional Labour view in the UK, France and in many other countries.

The Impact of “The Road to Serfdom”

The social democratic economist Gunnar Myrdal (already known for his book “An American Dilemma”) had succeeded the liberal economist Bertil Ohlin as Minister of Trade. Later, both should be given the price in economy to the memory of Alfred Nobel. Myrdal had to share it in 1974 with Friedrich Hayek, which disturbed the former.

Hayek had had a profound impact on Swedish political life already in the late 1940’s. His “The Road to Serfdom” had been translated into Swedish and led one leading political scientist, Herbert Tingsten, to abandon his social democratic views. As Tingsten had become editor-in-chief of the leading morning daily Dagens Nyheter in 1946, this gave echo in the public debate.

Tingsten and Ohlin had met Hayek at one of the first meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society, an exclusive group of intellectuals who worried over the new totalitarian tendencies in the world. The leading Swedish economic historian Eli Heckscher discussed with Hayek before the war when Hayek had invited him and some others to a conference. However, the war made this form of international intellectual cooperation impossible. Now it was time after the war for a new start.

It was “time for harvest”, Gunnar Myrdal and other leading Swedish social democrats repeated as a promise before the election to the second chamber of the Riksdag in 1948. This election debate, called “the planned economy debate” ended with a defeat for the social democrats. It was a triumph for the liberal party Folkpartiet and its new leader, “Professor Ohlin” – politicians had always titles at this time. Because of its majority in the first chamber, the social democratic government survived, but it gave up its proposals to nationalise banks and big companies.

Bertil Ohlin had not been able to achieve this result without the determined assistance from the business community at large. A number of businessmen were personally engaged also because of the almost confiscatory inheritance tax enacted in January 1948.

Sweden had not suffered from war on its own territory. The many Swedish medals at the London Olympic Games in 1948 were one sign of its well being. Stockholm had had Olympic Games in 1912, when a new Stadium was built. The games in 1912 are partly remembered because of “the lost Japanese”; this mythological marathon runner started but disappeared on his way to the Stadium.

– You are kidding.
– No.

Nato’s secret member

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – Nato – was born in April 1949. The Swedish government tried to form an alternative, a Nordic Defence Union. Denmark and Norway with different experiences had other priorities. Finland had lost parts of its territories to the Soviet Union, and had a Pact of Friendship and Assistance with the big neighbour in the east.

Sweden was a member of the Nato, but not formally. The military defence as part of the GDP was 5 percent during the 1950’ and 1960’s. Sweden had one of Europe’s largest military air forces, with planes made by Swedish Aeroplane AB, SAAB. This company also produced cars, in tough competition with imports and with the Volvo cars, produced in Gothenburg.

When Volvo decided to begin selling cars in the US, the Swedish Minister of Trade, Gunnar Lange ridiculed this idea – “to sell cars in the homeland of cars, ha-ha”. Fortunately, he had no veto right.

Vox Populi

461px-Kraftor_krava_dessa_dryckerThe first referendum in Sweden was held in 1922, when 51 percent said no to a prohibition of alcohol. Sweden is considered to belong to the north European aquavit belt, and the production and selling of all alcohol was nationalised, with exception for beer. It is still strictly regulated, however now only on the retail level.

The second referendum took place in 1955. A huge majority voted yes to keep the left-hand traffic. The Riksdag changed this, and Sweden has had right hand driving since 1967.

The third referendum, in 1957, was about pensions, with three alternatives. The Riksdag later decided with a margin of just one vote to follow the social democratic alternative, which had got about 45 percent of the votes. This pension system was built on a mandatory pay-as-you-go model, plus buffer funds. These funds should not have the right to buy stocks. Instead they came to buy unfavourable bonds to finance house constructions; a form of collective sub prime subsidies.

Later, the state-run pension funds were permitted to buy stocks, but should do this after strict investment on return criteria. Today, a smaller part of the mandatory prepaid premium can be invested by individual choice of every employee.

The fourth referendum took place in 1980, when the majority accepted nuclear energy.

In 1994, the majority voted Yes to membership for Sweden in the European Union.

In 2003, the majority voted No to introduce the euro currency. This referendum will be repeated in the traditional European style until the people will vote Yes (“remocracy”).

Taxes, Taxes and Taxes

The taxes had grown and were in 1960 one third of GDP. Especially the sales tax in the retail trade from 1960 made further increases easy. This tax was later changed to a value added tax, VAT – from the beginning a French idea. VAT is deductible on exports.

Twenty years later, in 1980, taxes had nearly doubled, and were now together with the budget deficit two thirds of GDP. But at this time, the business community again was awakened as in the late 1940’s and took the lead in the public debate. With the presence of Thatcher and Reagan on the world scene, it can also be seen as an adaptation to the international trend. But it had a special Swedish pre-history.

Trade Unions Fighting Profits

The Swedish national trade union organisation for blue collar workers, LO, which still is close to the Social Democratic Party, had become very self confident. In the beginning of 1970, its leaders had begun discussing the problem with “over-profits” – that was a result of the centralised wage negotiations, which inflated the wages at some industries and prevented a raise to a market level of wages at other more profitable companies.

Such profits should be taken care of, in some way. Not with higher taxes, and not with socialisation. But with both! A certain percentage of profits in all big companies should be directed to special “wage-earner funds”, and it should be converted in form of new shares in these companies. The owners of the companies should pay for their own take-over by the wage-earner funds, whose boards should consist of trade union people.

When Hans Rausing asked Rudolf Meidner, the leading trade union economist and father of the idea, if there was any possibility to avoid losing his family’s ownership of world leading TetraPak, the answer was No. The same day the Rausing family decided to emigrate.

Business Owners Fight Back

Curt_Nicolin_1961The wage-earners fund proposal ignited the business community. The Shareowners’ Association had started in 1966 and it became now an energetic political fighter.

The Swedish Employers’ Confederation, SAF, under its dynamic and also in philosophical and political areas uniquely engaged chairman, Curt Nicolin, took a historic lead. Together with its head of information, Sture Eskilsson, the SAF became in a few years the leading ideological communicator in the land, directly and indirectly.

The Free Enterprise Foundation, Näringslivets Fond, from the late1940’s was reinvigorated and its think tank Timbro with its more scientific subsidiary Ratio started in 1978.

Ratio began with a seminar and book about The Anti-Intellectualism in Sweden, and organized annual seminars of high intellectual anti-main-stream character. Books by F A Hayek were again translated, as “The Constitution of Liberty” and so were books by the historian Paul Johnson, as “Modern Times”. Henri Lepage’s book “Demain le capitalisme” (“Tomorrow Capitalism”) became a best-seller. The author was for some years more well-known in Sweden than in France.

Ratio’s activities were directed by a scientific council with the former head of the University of Uppsala (1955-1978) the much respected member of the Swedish Academy Torgny Segerstedt as chairman.

The Privilege to Formulate the Problem

The Swedish Employers’ Confederation had its first national congress in connection with its 75 years’ jubilee in 1977. At the second congress in 1980, the author and novelist Lars Gustafsson wrote a report, in which the clue alone was worth all the costs for the 900 delegates, because it has been so often quoted and has changed attitudes. He coined the term “the privilege to formulate the problems”. With this expression, he underlined that it is not enough to have the right answers. You must ask the right questions, and set the agenda.

The SAF congress in 1980 had the theme “Creative or Defensive Sweden”, explaining the difference between a growing economy where all can improve their standard and an economy of a zero sum game, where you only can be better of if some one else gets worse off.

The SAF launched a nationwide campaign on the theme “Invest in yourself”, which was deeply controversial among some journalists (“egoism”) but the more appreciated among young people. It was a real PR success, with an entrepreneurial ideological content.

The Swedish Taxpayers’Association’s campaign “Half left” in 1985 was a strong force behind the diminishing marginal tax rates some years later – from 85 to 50 percent.

760px-Lindgren_1960Already in the general election in 1976, the high taxes had been a hot topic. The well-known author of books for kids, Astrid Lindgren, wrote a new story, but this time not a book about Pippi Longstocking but an article about Pomperipossa, who like Astrid Lindgren had high incomes on books for kids.

– No, said the finance minister as a comment to Astrid Lindgren, “You are wrong. The taxes on your incomes are not 102 percent.” But they were. And he had to leave, after the elections, after 21 years as finance minister, and with him the whole government.

The Holders of the Privilege to Formulate

Let us just take a few seconds and look at Swedish history and the privilege to formulate the problems.

From the time of the Vikings, the main problem had been survival and power. This was common not only in Sweden. A strong country is a big country with a strong king, ready to defend the country against enemies, i e other countries, and often ready to attack the enemies first. The Viking gods supported strong kings. Then the church came on the scene and supported strong kings, if they supported the church. This well known struggle for power in Europe between church and the states changed when Martin Luther launched his reformation. This coincided in Sweden with the first king of Vasa, Gustav I in the 1520’s. Now the king, not the Pope, selected the bishops, and the candidates learnt what that meant.

The technological development continued and in the middle of the 19th century, with more printing media, a liberal middle class tried to define the urgent questions of the day: more freedom of religion, of trade and commerce, and, on the whole, more freedom in society at large. The French revolution had influenced not only how the Swedes selected its new hereditary royal family but gave room for more people to think and act. Karl Marx’ “Das Kapital” became for some a secular bible, quoted but seldom read.

– Workers unite?
– Yes, that was the phrase.

From this time I think you can see the following holders of the privilege to formulate the problems in Sweden up to this day:

1889-1968: The labour movement, with the Social Democratic Party and the workers’ national trade union. They were the holders of last resort to the Swedish model, a strong centralised state in the footsteps of Gustav Vasa.

1968-1970: The student movement. For the second time, Sweden imported ideas from Paris. The student revolt against General de Gaulle, the French president, was the first young after-the-war generation’s examination test before entering the labour force. In Paris, they built barricades. In Stockholm, some five hundred students occupied their own student union’s house.

As a response, the head of the central administration of the universities invited the student leaders to a tea party. How idyllic this may seem, it was anyhow a watershed. The already quoted political scientist Herbert Tingsten had a few years before written his summary of the history of modern Sweden: “From Ideas to Idyll”. The new-left students were angry. The Social Democratic Party leaders were scared. They were used to decide what to debate.

1970-1980: The public sector. “You have never had it so good” had been the British conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s slogan. His social democratic colleague in Sweden Tage Erlander promised “Make good times better”. This was in the 1960’s. And “better” meant more of service and money from the public sector. In the 1970’s, most problems had one thing in common: a continued expansion of the public sector was the solution; the problem was how to do it.

1980-: The public sector and the private sector – competition about the privilege to formulate the problems. After the wage-earner funds proposal (a diluted form was introduced in 1982 but ended in 1992 when a non-socialist government returned for three years), and the ever-growing taxes, the Employers’ Confederation SAF and Timbro/Ratio challenged seriously the public sector’s privilege to formulate the problems.

For the first time in modern times in Sweden, there was a fight between two ideas that should set the agenda for debate in media and politics. The Conservative Party under leadership of Gösta Bohman was strongly allied, and he quoted often books from Timbro and Ratio.

This was a historic break from the traditional Swedish consensus seeking model, where non-socialists accepted not to change the decisions made by social democratic governments. “The discreet shame of the bourgeoisie” became an expression for this older attitude of political passivity and lack of ideological firmness.

You can say that there is still this competition between ideas. But non-Swedish impressions about Sweden, especially American, being praising Democrats or critical Republicans, are not up-dated. They still believe that Sweden is an unreformed social democratic dreamland.

High Taxes But…

564px-Enkronan_bak_highThe taxes on incomes are still high in Sweden, near two third of the cost to employ a worker, including payroll. About the same as it is in France. Denmark has now a higher total tax level than Sweden. On the whole, the EU-member states in Western Europe have detrimentally high taxes on work.

As another point of view, the social democratic government in Sweden took away the inheritance tax some years ago, and the present centre-right government took away the wealth tax, which the wealthiest anyhow often could avoid to pay.

Perhaps you could find that in present-day Sweden, the practising ideology is “the raw and brutal social liberalism”, although never ever called so. This means liberalism and low taxes for the rich, which has stimulated economic growth – while socialism and high taxes and subsidies for the great majority has de-stimulated growth, because it has hampered an efficient division of labour (and promoted black markets).

Few families can afford buying services like cleaning, if more than three fourth of the price is taxes. The present government has therefore introduced a remarkably high tax deduction for families buying private household-related service – a reform strongly opposed by the social democrats, with the argument that every person should clean up after one self at home (not necessary at the office). This is an emotional rest from old class conflicts.

– So called ressentiments, you mean?
– Yes, deep in the heart of the labour movement. I see that you use a concept of Nietzsche’s.

Free Schools

There is more: Sweden has established the voucher system for schools. Now it has existed for so long that a couple of big private school chains has grown big and are exporters. In Stockholm, 40 percents of the high school students use vouchers and go to private schools, called “free schools”. For all between 3 and 17 years in the whole Sweden, more than 10 percent use these vouchers, from kindergarten and up.

In health care, you find a lot of individual choice in a tax-financed system. There are also wider possibilities for private health insurance. Telecom was deregulated in the 90’s, earlier than in most other countries.

Norway at the Top

Sweden, which in 1970 was the country in the north of Europe with the highest incomes, is not any longer at the top. Norway is now the richest per capita. Also the Danes have higher incomes. Finland and Sweden have about the same. What is the reason for the Swedes to lag behind?

First of all, we must congratulate our neighbours. Not only the Norwegians to their oil, but also the Danes with their flexible labour market. Sweden’s labour market is more rigid, with 20 percent unemployed young people, though e g Spain has still more rigidity and higher unemployment.

Sweden also lost tempo during the 1970’s, when the trade unions succeeded in getting 40 percent increase in wages and salaries for two years.

In 1991-92, the Swedish currency was pegged to the Ecu (pre-euro) and the Government forced the Riksbank to defend this fixed exchange rate with at most an interest of 500 percent.

– Five hundred?
– Yes, five hundred – “to defend the strong currency”, you see. It was an example of making the exchange rate a religious belief, with “Europe” as its heaven and final destination.

About 100 000 jobs in industry were lost, and the working labour force sank from 4.5 million to 4.0 million in a few years. First after more than ten years, the old level was reached again.

This home-maid economic crisis, a product of a consensus between a social democratic government and its successor, the moderately conservative Carl Bildt’s government 1991-1994, also made the leading banks bust-worthy. The government had more luck in repairing its own mistakes with the banks, and the “Swedish solution” with separation of banks in good and bad banks is now recommended in many countries.

Today it is strange to see the then responsible Swedish politicians boasting abroad about their good deeds from this Swedish financial mess, forgetting what and who caused it.

450px-Lansstyrelsen_i_Stockholms_lan_(gabbe)Sweden is since 1995 member of the European Union, and for the second time its Prime Minister is the chairman, for the second part of 2009.

Some Ideas Will Have Consequences

Which ideas will prevail in the future? Who has the privilege to formulate the problems today in Europe? It seems to be those who argue “global problems need global solutions”. The EU must therefore strengthen its position in this global power game.

European “unity” is the symbol. “Symbolic” means unity in the Greek language. The opposite is split, division, called “diabolic”.

We see here how even the language supports more and more of centralised decision-making. “Pro Europe” means that you favour more “unity”, more of political solutions. Unification tends to tip over to uniformity. Also the way to Brussels is paved with the best intentions.

Of course, there are often over time need for more or less political centralisation in different areas, depending on technological developments. You often need a legal framework, over the national borders. But one thing is a common legal framework as such, quite something else if it is the result of majority decisions at a high level, or the result of negotiations between equal governments of states.

The dream of world federalists, of a world government, would easily be turned to a nightmare, if the “only one and the same solution” would be on the agenda. A dynamic world needs not only difference in opinions but also difference in solutions.

– This is well said by you.
– Thanks, already stated by the Employers’ Congress in 1980. Please repeat it!

Gustav Vasa in the middle of the 16th century paid an author, Peder Swarts, to write a chronicle about how good the king was for Sweden. Today the EU sponsors films, articles, books, conferences and more to show how good the EU is for Europe. It is not much to complain about. This is one traditional way for the power to get itself more legitimacy.

More troublesome is that Europe is missing another activity where Sweden has yet fresh memories of and still practice. It is the countervailing power of those who like freedom for themselves more than power over other people.

A Duty to Speak Up

Sweden today would have been a different country without the strong ideological and operational leadership in the public debate by the Swedish employers SAF, Timbro and Ratio in the 1980’s. We who were there, we had a moral feeling and an intellectual conviction of having a special obligation to speak up in these special times.

Europe today has not the same energy source of production and selling of liberal ideas. There are few pan-European think tanks, besides those financed by the EU itself.

The European business organisations seem to be re-acting and lobbying in Brussels. They are ideologically sleeping partners. They are not formulating the problems, or if they have the impression that they do, it is because they say self-evident things without originality and creativity. Who can remember anything European business has said of interest, except its own easily guessed but mistaken self-interest that always asks for more, like every other lobbyist?

– But are you not unfair now. Should we expect so much more from European business? They do what they can best, doing business.
– Yes, but is it enough? Capitalism can hardly survive if capitalists don’t explain and defend capitalism. Wealth is not always a result of a free market, but sometimes of rent seeking, state subsidies and pure corruption.
– What is your ideal for Europe?
– The founder of the Berlin University, Wilhelm von Humboldt, wrote about “human development in its richest diversity”. John Stuart Mill quoted it in the beginning of “On Liberty” in 1859. This is a guiding light for me.
– Is this what most political leaders and public opinion in Europe have in their minds?
– I hope so. But power is expanding by itself. It must be limited – freedom must be continuously supported, with intellectual and organisational means.
– What would you suggest?

A Nobler Thing

– Could there be a nobler thing for a European liberal, than to contribute to “human development in its richest diversity”? Sweden’s modern history shows that this could be more than a dream.

– Cheers!
– Or as we say in Sweden: Skål!

——
carl_johan_westholm_67x100This version was presented for non-Swedish members and guests at the regional meeting of The Mont Pelerin Society in Stockholm August 16-19, 2009.

Carl-Johan Westholm, Secretary of The Mont Pelerin Society

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