OP 2020: Sweden breaks bad

Steen Jakobsen
Chief Economist & CIO

Summary:  A massive and pragmatic attitude shift washes over Sweden as it gets to work to better integrate its immigrants and overstretched social services, driving a huge fiscal stimulus and steep rally in SEK.

Olof Palme’s legacy can still be felt in the Swedish society — with its focus on equality and welfare, as well its overall exhortation to always “do the right thing”. But as often seems the case in Swedish policymaking, just as they took progressive taxation too far and collapsed the economy in the early 90’s, they have now taken political correctness on immigration so far that they have become politically incorrect. They are ignoring the large and growing contingent of Swedes who are questioning that policy, shutting them out of the debate.

A parliamentary democracy should offer a big enough tent to allow all groups of reasonable size a voice in the debate, but the traditional main parties of Sweden have taken the unusual collective decision to ignore the anti-immigration voice which has grown to represent more than 25% of the Swedish voters. The justification and intensions were good: openness and equality for all and safeguarding the Swedish open economic model. But anything taken too far can overwhelm, and to survive, all models need to be able to change when facts change.

Sweden has failed miserably on this point and has paid the price through woefully overstretched social and community policing services, housing shortages and even a rise in violent crime: from intimidation to gang activity. The other Nordic countries now talk of “Sweden conditions” as a threat, not as a model of best practice.

Sweden is now in recession and with its small open economy status is extremely sensitive to the global slowdown. This sense of crisis, social and economic, will create a mandate for change.

With its very low rates and unnecessarily large budget surpluses, Sweden is better equipped than most to rehabilitate its model with a massive increase in spending on education, reschooling, apprenticeship, social housing and efforts at true integration. This fiscal spend will drive EURSEK down, strengthening the Swedish Krone. In 2020, Sweden again becomes a leader and a role model, not because it’s politically correct, but because in the end it will “do the right thing” by rehabilitating a model that has broken bad. 

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