Utopia Doesn’t Really Exist

Yesterday The Weekly Standard posted an article about life in Sweden. It seems that many Americans on the political left view Sweden as the ultimate example of successful socialism.

The article reports:

Instead, Sanandaji shows, the root of Scandinavian success can largely be found in culture. These countries, and Sweden in particular, have historically had remarkably high levels of social trust, family values, a strong sense of work ethic, and social cohesion. The notion of the “Protestant work ethic” goes back far longer than the modern welfare state. Scholars like Max Weber, Sanandaji shows, long ago noted that the Protestant countries of northern Europe had an overall higher living standard and economic success than most. The often-celebrated equality of Scandinavian countries, too, began well before the welfare state was developed.

Again, these traditions and values by no means came with the welfare state. Sanandaji shows that these Scandinavian values follow people as they move abroad, even for generations: Americans of Scandinavian descent, whose ancestors left way before modern welfare states were established, tend to carry many of their norms with them. The median incomes of Americans with Scandinavian heritage is 20 percent higher than average income in the U.S. as a whole, and poverty rates in this group is roughly half of that of average Americans.

We could learn from this. The American welfare state has destroyed the family–not strengthened it. The “Protestant work ethic” has been thrown under the bus as second and third generation Americans find it easier to collect welfare checks.

The article concludes:

But that tradeoff still stands. If anything, the Scandinavian countries are good examples of how important it is to uphold social values and virtues that work. When Swedes voted a center-right coalition into government in 2006, they did so based on a platform that emphasized hard work and individual responsibility in a society where all too many healthy people of working age were living on welfare. This tradition of individual responsibility goes back all the way to the time when Sweden was largely a rural, farming-based country with individual tillers, Sanandaji points out.

The lesson isn’t only that the Scandinavian model is difficult to copy, but that it would even be outright unwise of a country like America to do so. What left-leaning people in America and other countries should ultimately learn from the Scandinavian model is that for redistribution of wealth to be possible, there must first and foremost be enough wealth to distribute. 

Poverty has much more to do with culture and behavior than it does with money.