Two very interesting articles during the week, one from the United States and the other one from Australia, both in reaction to the Swedish election, and both making essentially the same valuable point about the relationship between social democracy and ethnic/religious homogeneity. The left, of course, wants both a generous welfare state and a generous immigration policy. But you can’t always get everything you want. In this particular case it is not even the fact that bringing in large numbers of people from the poorer parts of the world and different cultural backgrounds, which makes them difficult to assimilate and therefore over-reliant on the social safety net, is driving the costs of the welfare state to the unsupportable levels (although that’s true). It’s the fact that the social compact on which the welfare state is built fries when exposed to overwhelming new redistributive demands.
People will tolerate large, invasive, redistributionist states so long as they think people more or less like themselves are benefiting; that is, provided that the public sector is perceived as an overlord of a large family.
However, when conditions change, and the population loses its collective demographic characteristics, people don’t like their tax dollars funneled to people too much unlike themselves. They will fight that one of two ways: dismantling the welfare state or kicking out those perceived to be interlopers.
In short, all data indicate that the mix of the two – high diversity and high welfare – is not politically sustainable. Again, this is not my opinion much less my wish; it is what all the available literature indicate. This is a gigantic if largely unmentioned problem for social democratic ideology, perhaps its largest single failing.
It goes a long way toward explaining the politics of Europe today. What’s being described as a shift to the “right,” in other words, might be best understood as an attempt to restore not only the unitary state and its traditional demographic of native beneficiaries but also to sustain redistributionist policies against popular resentment. The political expression of that tendency usually trends toxic for a reason: it is only realized by rallying people based on identity politics against some groups who are considered the enemy. And this is what introduces a different brand of collective consciousness, one more nationalist than equalitarian but less liberal than both.
And specifically about Sweden, where as of the latest count one parliamentary seat separates the ruling centre-left block from the centre-right block (both on just over 40 per cent of the vote), with the populist Swedish Democrats having received 17.5 per cent and elected 62 MPs (their highest vote ever but much lower than the expected 25 per cent), Henry Ergas:
Having lost Finland to Russia in 1809, then separating from Norway in 1905, Sweden entered the 20th century as one of the most ethnically, religiously and linguistically homogenous countries in Europe.
Drawing on the population’s shared Lutheranism, the concept of a Swedish “folk” — viewed as a family rather than a race — gained extraordinarily wide acceptance and played a crucial unifying role in an otherwise fractious transition to democracy…
That combination of inclusiveness within Swedish society and constantly reaffirmed distinctiveness from the rest of the world allowed the Social Democrats to forge links first with Sweden’s strong independent farmers and then with its expanding middle class, while stifling the development of the extremist movements that blossomed elsewhere.
The concept of a home whose roof spanned the Swedish folk also provided the political base for widespread redistribution, effected through social benefits that — instead of being means-tested — were universally paid out, underlining the welfare state’s inclusiveness.
That the degeneration of the folkhem was already well advanced by the end of the 20th century is undeniable.
Secularisation took its toll, undermining the community-based churches that had sustained grassroots involvement in the local authorities that provide most public services. As that happened, government became increasingly centralised and technocratic. Ninety per cent of the local authorities that existed in 1950 were abolished by 1975 in the quest for greater efficiency. All that remained was a high tax burden and the promise that Sweden’s famously competent bureaucrats could fix every problem.
But one problem they could not fix was that of absorbing a rapidly growing migrant population. Generous spending on integration programs, it was assumed, would transform foreigners into Swedes; but even before the refugee crisis, a detailed study, funded by the EU, of the Swedish-born children of Turkish migrants in Stockholm found myriad signs of trouble.
As well as relatively high unemployment rates, these young people had few native friends, largely intermarried and more often than not felt neither strongly nor clearly Swedish — indeed, many were hostile or indifferent to Sweden and its national identity.
The 350,000 refugees who flooded into Sweden as anarchy gripped Syria and the broader Middle East then added to that population a group that had virtually nothing in common with ethnic Swedes and was not imbued with their norms of restraint and civil peace.
Far from encouraging mutual respect, the result has been explosive resentments.
Bitter about the amounts being spent on the new arrivals and angered by the government’s tepid response to mounting violence, native Swedes have swung to the Right. As for the migrants themselves, they have not only brought Islamism but virulent anti-Semitism, which previously played no part in Swedish life, and have fuelled the growth of a fanatically anti-Israel hard Left.
The most common tactic on the left when faced with the revolt of the locals is to brand them as racists and push through. After all, the more migrants you admit the greater constituency you create for your redistributive politics, and a constituency that is clearly more electorally reliable than the natives, who might not want to share as generously with others.
There are lessons here for all of us, which as all good lessons, will likely remain unheeded.