08/25/2019

Commentary: How Sweden Overcame Socialism

Nearly half of millennials say they prefer socialism to capitalism, but what do they mean? “My policies most closely resemble what we see in the U.K., in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told “60 Minutes.” Yet Sweden’s experiment with socialist policies was disastrous, and its economic success in recent decades is a result of market-based reforms.

Until the mid-20th century, Sweden pursued highly competitive market-based policies. By 1970 Sweden achieved the world’s fourth-highest per capita income. Then increasingly radical Social Democratic governments raised taxes, spending and regulation much more than any other Western European country. Economic performance sputtered. By the early 1990s, Sweden’s per capita income ranking had dropped to 14th. Economic growth from 1970 to the early 1990s was roughly 1 percentage point lower than in Europe and 2 points lower than in the U.S.

Before its socialist experiment, Sweden had a smaller government sector than the U.S. By the early 1990s, government spending and transfer payments ballooned to 70% of gross domestic product, and debt had increased to 80% of GDP. Between 1966 and 1974, Sweden lost some 400,000 private jobs—proportionate to 16.7 million in today’s U.S.

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