For reasons I have yet to fathom, my libertarian friends on the Tenderfoot Coast between Times Square and Tysons Corner eagerly praise Sweden as some sort of wonder of economic freedom. Yes, Sweden. The country with the world’s highest taxes, socialized health care that makes Obamacare look awesome by comparison, 30-percent income tax rates for low-income families, twice the rate at the top, laws that literally permit unions to behave like a mafia, payroll taxes more than twice as high as America, some of the world’s most rigid hire-and-fire laws…
This is the country that many American libertarians praise as being more libertarian than America. I certainly agree that America is moving in the wrong direction, but when a libertarian praises Sweden for having introduced an Earned Income Tax Credit into its tax system, and thus steepened the marginal tax rate effect, he is inches away from political sacrilege.
Contrary to what you might hear at cocktail parties inside the Beltway, Sweden is nowhere near a well-ordered libertarian-style society. Its economy is bad, with one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Europe. The big corporations that have saved the Swedish economy over and over again from reckless tax policies and government power grabs, are now packing up their bags and moving, one truck load at a time, to more hospitable environments. The symbols of this corporate decline are SAAB Automobile, which has ceased car production entirely, and Volvo Cars, whose Chinese owners correctly assess that future models won’t be profitable if built under Sweden’s high taxes and rigid labor laws.
The rest of Volvo is still a Swedish company, but decreasingly so. Its mass transit bus division is moving its production to Poland, laying off thousands of workers in Sweden.
I could go on and on about the state of the Swedish economy, from the dramatic downsizing of its health care system (with one fifth of its total medical staff laid off in a few years) to the failure of the school choice system, to the disastrous general income security system. But this is not the place for such a lengthy excursion. I have already chronicled the dark side of the welfare state. Today I want to focus on a limited, yet crucial aspect of Sweden’s slow, agonizing collapse.
The triumph of organized crime.
In an op-ed in today’s Dagens Nyheter, one of the largest daily newspapers, two of Sweden’s top law enforcement officers effectively declare that the police has lost its fight against organized crime. The text is my translation; click here to perform a google translation:
Organized crime is a growing problem. As a result of changes in our society and the world around us, this kind of criminal activity has grown and continues to grow. This trend must be broken.
A linguistic note: the Swedish language often uses passive form to express normative statements. There is a cultural reason for this – Swedes are more collectivist-minded than most other Europeans – but the important point is that this makes the translation look a bit awkward.
The intelligence service of the national police is performing a comprehensive analysis in order to get a detailed picture of organized crime [in the country]. The conclusions cannot be reported statistically or in detail, but the broad picture is clear: organized crime is expanding. This is a serious situation that requires more of the police as well as politicians, but also of other parts of society.
It might be worth mentioning that most other European countries do not have nearly the same problems with organized crime as Sweden does. Crime statistics from Eurostat, Nationmaster and national sources show that Sweden stand out in many disturbing categories.
Back to Dagens Nyheter, where the director general of the national police and the commissioner of the national crime investigation unit explain that organized crime in Sweden…
are active in drug trafficking; armed robberies and systematic fraud; well-planned, large-scale theft; extortion and reckless human trafficking. The victims are private citizens, businesses and government agencies and institutions. The [organized] criminals create a parallel society, avoid paying taxes and live as parasites on the welfare systems.
This last part is a bone thrown to the left. Traditionally, the large and hard-line Swedish left is vehemently opposed to any policies that go tough on crime. Sweden has, e.g., some of the most lenient sentencing guidelines for violent crime, which might help explain why Gothenburg has a 75 percent higher violent crime rate than Cleveland, a slightly larger but socio-economically similar city.
By mentioning that members of organized crime use the welfare state without contributing to it, these two top law enforcement officers hope to gain more widespread support for policies that will allow them to get tougher on organized crime. It probably won’t work, given that the left in Sweden is among the most rigid in the world in interpreting the welfare state as a system of inalienable rights.
After having given a couple of examples of where the police has been successful in fighting organized crime, the two law enforcement officers declare that they are going to lose the fight unless they get a lot more help. But they are not asking for more resources – more cops, better weapons, computer system upgrades, new tactics… They know that the national parliament won’t grant them more money. Instead, their plea for help is directed elsewhere:
[Other] national and local government agencies as well as businesses and others need to do more. Everyone needs to ask themselves what they can do to curtail the rise in organized crime. More is needed to stop recruitment of new members to criminal networks and to support those who want out. More is needed to stop illegal commerce and to make it tougher to live as a criminal. The continuous growth in organized crime must come to an end and it is incumbent upon everyone to contribute toward that.
In short: Sweden’s two top cops are telling the country that organized crime is winning.
The rest of Swedish media ignores this op-ed. There are numerous reasons for this, one being strictly cultural: for more than three generations, Swedes have been raised to believe that they live in the very best of worlds, where things like corruption and organized crime do not exist. There is a cultural reflex-of-denial reaction to the kind of situation that the two top cops describe.
This explains why the only substantial comment on this article you can find outside of Dagens Nyheter is at Avpixlat, a controversial but very popular alternative news site. They do not beat about the bush (my translation again, click here for google translation):
It is deeply worrying that the police is now surrendering and declaring defeat in the battle against organized crime. It is a development that precipitates the collapse of society in a way we are familiar with from countries like Mexico, where drug cartels de facto are in charge.
Though things are still very bad in Mexico, and I would never allow my kids to visit, the tide is slowly turning there. But be that as it may. The point here is that Sweden is heading into the shadowland where Mexico has been for a very long time.
Even more worrying is the fact that the political establishment in Sweden is systematically bullying and intimidating the only party in the parliament [Swedish Democrats] that can put forward a workable strategy to break this trend and re-establish the well-ordered society that is now rapidly withering away.
Again, no other Western European country is struggling with organized crime the way Sweden is. No other EU member state has seen such a sharp rise in critical crime categories in recent years, and no country has rolled back its police force the way Sweden has, with closed police stations, reduced patrols in many rural areas and almost total neglect of crimes below a certain threshold, such as aggravated assault.
No other European country can show such a deplorable record of solving crime as Sweden.
A major reason why this is all happening is that Sweden has for a long time built an enormous, unsustainable welfare state. With this socialist experiment, other collectivist values have penetrated society. Crime is not considered an individual responsibility, but something that “society” is responsible for. A solution, according to prevailing Swedish political doctrine, is to increase spending on entitlement programs. That way people won’t feel as economically insecure and won’t be as tempted to join a crime gang.
That most criminals in Sweden also use the welfare state is a fact that eludes the country’s political elite.
That Sweden is a country in deep trouble, with probably less than a decade to live as a parliamentary democracy, is a fact that eludes America’s libertarian elite. Hopefully, in the future they will do their homework.