Last week, a conservative friend asked me how I liked living in Sweden under Comrade Obama. I sighed. Somehow or another, it has become accepted that Sweden is a frightening socialist state and that life there would be horrible. I am here to defend Sweden, a nation I have never visited.
Sweden is a monarchy, a governmental structure very far from socialism and from the American ideal that all people are created equal. Marx, of course, believed that his radical socialist ideal started with the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie, which pretty much eliminates a monarchy. The United States was founded on the principle that people did not need a king because they could rule themselves. We might think that the trappings of a monarchy are pretty and that their personal lives are fascinating, but is anyone really excited about the prospects of Prince Charles replacing Barack Obama?
Marx’s version of socialism, Communism, failed everywhere it was tried. No one seriously advocates Communism anymore. Socialism is more complicated, but it is not what Barack Obama or anyone else in U.S. government advocates. (By the way, ”The Communist Manifesto“ is in the public domain, in English, and it is short. There is no excuse for not reading it. Frederich von Hayek would be good to read, too, but his books have a lot more pages.)
Setting aside the fallout from a major overhaul in our national ideal, would being like Sweden be so terrible? Do we just blithely assume that ideal auto companies lose money, that something is wrong because Volvo is profitable?
The top tax rate in Sweden is 57%. But consider that in the United States, the top tax rate is 34%. Americans also pay state and local taxes, but those are deductible from Federal income taxes. In addition to income taxes, Americans pay into Social Security. That tax, 15%, is supposedly shared equally between employer and employee, but do you really think your employer pays it graciously? No, your employer reduces your wages. If we assign workers the full payroll tax burden, then our top tax rate is 49%. On top of that, we pay for health insurance. Exact estimates are hard to come by; the Kaiser Family Foundation puts it at 12.7% of payroll. Add that to the income tax and Social Security burden, and it looks like Americans have a comparable marginal tax rate of 61.7%. I’m not entirely sure that high taxes are bad as long as we get something for them.
Would I be excited about paying a top tax of 57%? No. But is Sweden wallowing in the same misery as North Korea? Sweden’s life expectancy is 80.9 years, better than the U.S.. They have lower infant mortality too. Our poverty rate is 17.0%, Sweden’s is just 6.5%. Even the Heritage Institute admits that Sweden ranks high for its economic freedom.
And, what should be especially exciting to the American right, Sweden has a national religion, and it is Christianity! Not the weirdo Papist stuff, either, but good old-fashioned Lutheranism.
I’m not a fan of monarchy as anything other than a cultural curiousity. (As cultural curiousity, though, I’m fascinated, and I even own Princess Diana’s butler’s cookbook.) I’m amazed that the British people are willing to support the assorted members of the Mountbatten-Windsor clan. Surely, the American experience with two generations of Bushes should put aside any notion that basic competence is hereditary, if we had any doubt.
I also love the American commitment to diversity, which is very hard work at times. We have to manage school holidays, learn what to say, pronounce difficult last names, and generally accommodate people who are not like us. It pays off in the form of wonderful, rich experience. I live in Chicago, a city with an historic Swedish neighborhood. I am fond of a Swedish diner that has the most wonderful cinnamon rolls and is owned by a Chicago alderman who is also an out gay man. Many weekend afternoons, I go ice skating at a park district rink where it’s common to see high-school girls wearing jeans and headscarves; Mexican children who are overdressed for the cold clinging to the side walls; and Russian fathers barking advice to young boys on hockey skates. Assuming they were born in the U.S., any one of those skating kids could become president.
That, to me, is the strength and wonder of the United States. But some people don’t like radical democracy and upward mobility because it means that someone they do not like, who does not look at all like them, can become president. Not everyone here is all right with the kids complaining that the hielo es frio. America is more than its tax rates. Trying to figure out if our doctor is in the network in both her city and suburban offices or just the suburban one is not what makes this nation great. Changing our health care system will not turn us into Sweden — or North Korea.