I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Swedish Centrist...

News & Politics

I've been called a 'far out left-winger,' and some gracious fans of my work have even suggested that if I'm not content with how things are, I should just go ahead and move to the worst place they can conjure up in their fevered little minds: France.

But I don't consider myself to be a member of the "left." Indeed, I think of myself as a squishy moderate, a mushy centrist through and through.

That is, a mushy Swedish centrist.

And as a Swedish centrist, I have to say that I'm sick and tired of those jackasses at the Wall Street Journal Editorial page constantly dissing me and my peeps. That is, centrist Europeans like myself.

I know it's the Wall Street Journal's raison d'etre to make you believe that Europe and Canada and Japan are dysfunctional and that there's no viable alternative to the prevailing neoliberal arrangements here in the States.

See, you can't opt for more healthcare, better education and much more time to spend with your families in exchange for a bit more unemployment. Not like us mushy Swedish centrists.

But to convince you of that point, sadly, they simply have to lie. Because it's not enough to say, 'hey, Europe is filled with dirty, Islamo-lovin' America-hating socialist academics'--you've also got to trash Europe's economy, which in actual fact is quite strong.

Consider this editorial from Friday's Journal (hey, I was on the road all weekend), co-authored by the Loathsome One--Rick Santorum--and a British winger, Iain Duncan Smith. They begin with this premise:

For all the differences between the United States and Europe, we share a common challenge: how to improve the social well-being of our citizens without a massive growth in the size and intrusiveness of government.
Compared to the U.S., most European economies are struggling with inflation, unemployment, low growth and a declining tax base; nearly all European societies are burdened with increased crime and family breakdown; and there is a draining away of hope and opportunity.
When it comes to growth, I get a sense of deja vu. Haven't I debunked that canard like fifteen times?

Ok, once more, with feeling:

The U.S. outgrew most but not all of the EU-15 countries in 2003 and 2004. Your U.S. growth rate in 2000 and 2001 failed to match the OECD average, and most of our countries outgrew you. In 2002, it was 1.9 percent against the OECD's average 1.6 percent. Most European countries did better. Even those stinky, wine-swilling surrender monkey's in France outgrew the U.S. in 2000 and in 2001.

If you take an honest figure, like GDP growth between 1990 and 2002 (the latest from the UN Human Development Report), you'll find that the U.S.'s average growth of 2.0 percent is right in the middle of the pack; you outperform countries like Belgium (1.8), France (1.6) and Germany (1.3) and you are in turn outperformed by the likes of the UK (2.4), Spain (2.3) and Norway (3.0). Ireland kicks your fat ass.

As for Sweden, between 1990-2001, you beat us in growth, 1.7% to 2.1%, but your cost of living increased by more, 2.7% to our measly 1.8%. Add those up, and we won!

As for that 'rising crime,' I can only say, in the words of the immortal Gary Coleman: 'watchoo talkin' about Ricky?' You have a homicide rate of 5.5 per 100,000, we don't even keep a statistic! We have few enough murders that we can just list them (Sven Svenson, Olaf Ingersoll...). We have about a third fewer assaults and you have almost nine times the incarceration rate that we do.

Let's take a hard look at some other hard numbers, from 2001, with a tip of the hat to Andrew Jackson, Director of Research for the Canadian Council on Social Development. According to Jackson (who used OECD data), we Swedes have a lower per capita GDP than you yanks--about 30 percent lower.

Ouch! Score a big one for the good ole' U.S of A.

And it gets worse: our unemployment rate is 5.9% to the 4% you sported in 01' (it's up to around 5.5% under your current president).

But be careful, because unemployment only measures the folks who tried to get a job in the last two weeks, failed, and reported it to the Department of Labor. Our employment rate was ever so slightly higher than yours (74.2% to 74.1%).

And you seemingly perfect Americans have your income distributed like Latin American banana republics in the 50s. We have a third of your poverty. One out of every six Americans lives on half the median income or less, but just one out of sixteen Swedes do! You go, Olaf!

Moral issues? Well, frankly, we don't mind boys kissing all that much. But we think children living in poverty is pretty immoral in a developed country. So we choose not to accept it--it's a moral choice. Our child poverty rate, at 2.6% is one ninth of your 22.4% Ouch to you guys!

What's more, a quarter of you have crappy, low-paying McJobs that suck the life and soul out of you in exchange for a few shiny bits of silver. Only one in twenty Swedes have low-paying gigs. You're wage-slave humps--I'm sorry to be so blunt, it's quite un-Swedish of me--but it's the truth.

I'm not sure why that is, but it may be related to the fact that 89% of us belong to a union. We have powerful corporations and powerful labor organizations that balance it out. You just have powerful corporations...and the powerful politicians they own! Less than 10% of private sector labor in your country is organized.

We think collective bargaining and balancing corporate power is smarter. Maybe it's our education system that makes us that way. We Swedes have almost twice the rate of high-level literacy as you guys. You have a high rate of low-level literacy--almost half your population is moderately literate. That's enough to know which cubby is yours down at the Walmart but not enough to make informed political decisions.

That's why you elect people who pitch meaningless platitudes like "small government" to you. We care about good government, not big or small. Know how we keep 'em good? We participate--83% of Swedes voted in 2001, but just 49% of Americans. As far as turnout, in 2000 you were sandwiched in there right between Chad and Botswana.

So you're distanced from government. Good luck with your future floods, earthquakes and, god forbid, terrorist attacks. You're going to need it because, you know, you reap what you sow.

So we have differences, we've made different choices, and the WSJ doesn't want you to think about them. But I'll think about them, on average, for almost three and a half years longer than your men will, because my public healthcare system results in a higher life expectancy. And our women, who are also, let's face it, much hotter than yours--we're Swedes!--live two years longer than yours.

Go Sweden, it's your birthday!

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