TCS Daily

Party Central

By Johnny Munkhammar - August 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Sweden - where the ruling Social Democrats have been in power for 65 of the last 74 years - holds general elections in September. As the voting approaches, the need for economic reform in the Scandinavian country is becoming greater. Growth is slowing, employment falling and welfare services deteriorating. The Social Democrats have not had an agenda for the future since the fall of socialism and they lack reform ideas. Yet they have remained in power for the last 12 years.

Since Sweden is generally known to be a well-functioning democracy, the seemingly endless rule of Social Democrats poses something of a riddle. Why is there no shift in power to other parties? Can this merely be attributed to the management and campaign skills of the Social Democrats and the lack thereof in the opposition?

In a word, no. Sweden has in fact become a democratic one-party state. The ruling Social Democrats have not only become one with the state; their total "Labour Movement" is ridiculously superior to all the other parties combined when it comes to resources before an election.

In the last election, 2002, the Social Democrats got some 40 percent of the vote in a country with 9 million citizens. They rule Sweden as a minority government, with support of the Post-Communists and the Greens. The ranks of government employees are growing rapidly, especially the number of people working in public relations.

The public authorities - for the labor market, social insurance, taxes, etc - are also growing in number. They are supposed to be independent from direct political influence, but the government appoints the directors - mostly Social Democrats. The public authorities use about $270 million of the taxpayers' money a year for propaganda.

The information activities from the public authorities usually support Social Democrat policies. The efforts are largely dedicated to advocating a larger state, growing public expenses and more regulations. Last spring, the public authority for Social Insurance also openly criticized the proposals of the largest opposition party.

The chairmen of temporary committees, often producing policy proposals, are largely Social Democrats. The Committee for Parenthood Leave is chaired by a Social Democrat. He recently proposed $40 million in public funds for a campaign to convince parents (an opinion poll showed that they didn't agree with the Social Democrats) about how to share their tax-financed parenthood leave.

Swedish state public service TV still has the highest number of people watching among all the channels. The government last year appointed Lars Engkvist, who previously was a Social Democrat minister, as its chairman. Opinion polls suggest that, among journalists in general, there is at least a two-thirds majority for Social Democrats and Communists.

The Social Democrats also have an enormous sphere called the "Labour Movement" outside government. First of all, of course, there is the party itself. One reason why it is particularly wealthy is a lottery, a source of financing which is partly protected by a state gambling monopoly.

The largest trade union, LO, with almost 2 million members in various unions, has some 4,000 employees. They all have to be members of the Social Democrat Party and work full-time in the campaign. LO also donated some $10 million to the Social Democrats before the last election. This alone is about the same amount as the campaign budgets for the other six parties in the Swedish Parliament combined.

There are another 35,000 elected representatives of LO, who are party members. They have been granted the privilege by law to do perform union assignments during working time. Translation: employers are forced to pay for 35,000 Social Democrat campaigners. The value of this has been estimated at $60 million - thus five times the election campaign budget of all the other parties combined.

In return, the Social Democrats give the unions what they want from the state. Just since the last election, that have stopped immigration of foreign workers, made the membership fee to unions tax-deductible, and raised the levels of contributions from the government to the unemployed. This dependency explains most of why the Social Democrats are so unwilling to adopt any necessary reform policies: LO has stated that they "stand in the way" of any market-oriented reforms.

The phenomenon that a party after many years in power becomes one with the state, and creates an election machinery which is paid off in policy, is not unique to Sweden. It is probably one consequence of a lack of restrictions - by a Constitution, for example - on political power. Now it has gone too far.

The author is Program Director of Timbro, a free-market Institute in Sweden.



it wil be interesting to see where the scands land after the socialism
wears off.

It seems they have realised their systems only worked when their cultures were homogenous.

Re: it will be interesting...
It's not good for any country to have the same political party in government for so long - it's an open invitation to sclerosis and corruption.

I'd say the US has it about right with its term limits on presidents. However much anyone may dislike a particular president, and however much dominance a president may exude, everyone knows they'll be off after eight years max - and that also helps ensure a degree of renewal in terms of injecting new people and ideas into the system, I think.

You forgot...
I would say there are at least three more disturbing pieces of One Party State in Sweden.

1) 1/3 of research grants are made by people directly appointed by the government. Most of the people appointed are members or affiliated to the Party. Thus, the Party have a powerful tool to see to that "science" delivers the results the Party want

2) Thanks to some 80000 new regulations, there is not a single legal enterprise left in Sweden. They all exist at the will of the different government branches that look after them. Beside breeding corruption, it obviuosly disencourages entrepreneuors to speak out (at least until they are economically independent). Especially if you consider that government employees tend to support the Party.

3) Subsidies for newspapers tend to support those tossing the Party line. The terrestrial TV monopoly is given its monopoly for a specific period of time, through absolute discretion by the Government. It is hardly a coincidence that the state TV and the monopoly both support the technocratic world view.

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