On The 6th of May 2011, the Swedish Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Ingemar Dolfe, treated us to a talk on the SMU campus. Mr Dolfe began with an introduction to Sweden, giving us details and statistics on various topics, including gender equality, taxes, and a brief history of the Nobel Prize, which originated in Sweden. Sweden provides free education and childcare to all its citizens, and mandates parental leave for both parents when a new child is born. Such is the strong belief in family harmony and gender equality in Sweden.
Mr Dolfe then moved on to talk about the politics of Sweden, which is a constitutional monarchy; meaning that there is a ceremonial King and Queen, but the people still vote for proportionally represented Parliament. Historically, the ruling party in Sweden has been the Social Democrats, which advocates social welfare policies, which tend to distribute wealth from the rich to the poor. This can be seen in many of the state policies, such as a progressive tax system, and a generous eldercare system, where the state takes care of the needs of the elderly. There are also strong trade unions, which are closely linked to the Social Democrats, protecting the interests of the average employee, and ensure that corporations do not exploit them. Voters support this perspective, and show their support by democratically electing the Social Democrats. This illustrates the strong belief in equality, by the average person in Sweden.
Moving on to a macroeconomic perspective, Mr Dolfe elaborated on some of the challenges facing Sweden in the near future; Migration, overly generous welfare spending, and a falling birth rate. Most developing countries face the problem of low birth rates (less than 2 children per couple), and Sweden is no exception. Furthermore, then nature of the welfare system is such that the young pay high taxes to support the elderly, and with declining birth rates, this problem is set to threaten the social stability in the near future. Interestingly enough, a large portion of the Swedish budget is spent on welfare spending, referring to medical, educational and social support costs. Only 2.1% of the GDP is spent on defense, as compared to 4.7% is the USA, and 5% in Singapore. Mr Dolfe explained that threats are relative, and the Scandinavian nations, along with NATO, form a stable and interdependent power balance within the region, and each country can reduce individual defense spending in times of peace, since there is less of a need to constantly prepare for war with one’s neighbors.
Sweden is also proud of its heritage, with the famed Nobel Prize being presented by the Swedish King in Oslo each year. Sweden also has an allemansrätten (lit. “everyman’s right”) law, which gives every person the right to explore or camp for one night in any area of the countryside, provided it is not a private garden or intrudes on personal territory.
The Swedish policies are reflective of its strong history and culture, and are an example of a country that has preserved its roots even past the industrial revolution. Like many developed countries, the strong belief in democracy and equality is evident in Sweden, and will help Sweden move with the times, while not losing its core values.
– Ho Bao Yuan