When you meet a foreign "progressive," they will likely try to tease you with a claim that America's "cowboy" capitalism produces inferior outcomes relative to the system of "social democracy" dominant in post World War II Scandinavia. They may dazzle you with UN data from 2005 to 2010 on life expectancy. The Swedes, for example, spend 2.6 years longer in assisted living facilities than us (80.9 vs. 78.3). And who would not want more wealth equality and job security?
On the other end of the Atlantic, we supposedly work two (sometimes three) jobs just to avoid losing our houses and selling our kidneys in China. And if we report lower unemployment rates, it is only because of the unintended consequences of the War on Drugs (we employ hundreds of thousands in unnecessary law enforcement jobs and keep millions of people in jail for smoking pot). Thus, unless we are dogmatically attached to our freedoms, we may ask ourselves: "Why don't we give the Scandinavian welfare model a try?"
Is Sweden a place to be emulated? Does social democracy serve better the needs and wants of the average Joe or Johan? What do you think will happen if, based on the purchasing power per person in 2008, we rank Swedish incomes with those earned in the 50 states of our Union? Perhaps not quite what your "progressive" friend expects-it will be in the bottom quintile, barely ahead of Montana ($37,383 vs. $37,099). But unlike Montana, more than half of the created wealth in Sweden is expropriated and spent by their government.
One might try to argue that the rest of the goodies supplied by the welfare state are worth the lower incomes and fewer choices available to individuals and families, but is that really how the voters feel in Sweden? Social Democrats managed their economy for decades with overwhelming support, usually in the range of 40 to 50 percent. As the long-term consequences of their policies became clear on a personal level, the Swedish people became more disillusioned with social engineering than ever and the support for the party has withered to less than a third of the votes since the turn of the century. So if your idea of the good life includes skiing in the dark for six months of every year, don't go to Sweden. You are better off moving to Alaska where Joe makes 55 percent more money (and is free to choose how to spend a much bigger part of it) than his Scandinavian cousin Johan.