Dear Mr. Marco Rubio, what is life like in Sweden?

Flag of Sweden and the United States
Flag of Sweden and the United States

Published with permission Copyright © 2016 Luis Vera

On January 28th, 2016 during the Republican presidential debate in Iowa, senator Marco Rubio (Fla.) said that Bernie Sanders is a “socialist” and a “good candidate for president of  Sweden. We don’t want to be Sweden, we want to be the United States of America.”  You can see the video here (00:38).

I would like to make a brief but accurate comparison of the U.S. versus Sweden, for those of you who have never been there and/or know little about democratic socialism and this Scandinavian country.

To begin with, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks Sweden in its Better Life Index as the second country in the world versus seventh for the U.S. This Index compares well-being across countries on 11 topics that it has “identified as essential, in the areas of material living conditions and quality of life.”

Here are some other general considerations:

Corruption

According to Transparency International,  Sweden is the third least corrupt country in the world, and the U.S. ranks number sixteen in the world. Politicians in Sweden are also not as rich as our politicians here and many people argue that Sweden is more democratic than the U.S. with a much higher voter participation, which according to the Pew Research Center it was 85.8% in 2014 of registered voters, and as low as 53.6% in the U.S. In addition, some experts don’t even consider the U.S. to be a democracy anymore, but rather, a corporate welfare oligarchy.

Unemployment

Unemployment in the U.S. is lower than in Sweden but not by much. In the U.S. it is currently at about 4.9% and in Sweden at about 6.7%. You might think that we really beat Sweden  but what does it mean to be employed in Sweden versus in the U.S?

In Sweden all workers enjoy a full 5 week paid vacation beginning in their first year of employment, with 16 additional paid public holidays. In the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average paid holiday per year in small private companies is 7.6 days for full-time employees.

Maternity leave for all workers in Sweden is 480 days, of which 90 days are reserved for men.  During that time, workers get paid 80% of their wages.  A Swedish worker can take this leave until the child turns eight years old. It can be taken in weeks, days, half-days and even by hours. The government there also gives you a monthly allowance for every child you have up until age 16. Swedish companies are also very flexible with their employees, who get up to 80% of their pay when they have to stay home due to illness of their children or dependents. Swedish employees enjoy up to 120 days of this type of additional parental leave per child.

Income

Sure, according to the OECD, the U.S. ranks number 1 in income, Sweden number 8; number 1 in Household Financial Wealth, Sweden number 9; number 1 in Household net Adjusted Disposable Income, and Sweden number 9.

However, in 2012 the OECD ranked the U.S. to be number 3 in the highest poverty rate and Sweden number 20;  it also ranked Sweden as number nine in lowest income inequality and the U.S. as number 29. This website reports Sweden to have lower real estate, rent and consumer prices, another website reports Sweden to have an overall higher cost of living.

Sweden scores number six in the OECD’s work-life index, and the U.S. number 29.

Health Care

Swedes believe that all their citizens should have equal access to health care. They have one of the best health care systems in the world and their average life span is 80.1 for men, slightly higher than in the U.S which is at 78 for men. Health and dental care are completely free for all Swedes up to age 20 and there is a limit on individual contributions to healthcare of 900 Swedish Kronor per year (about $107.22) for the rest of the population, meaning that once an individual has reached this limit, all other healthcare services and medical consultations for the remainder of the 12-month period are free of charge. Private health care is also available for Swedes, although it is reported to be uncommon due to the high quality of its universal state healthcare system.

Infant mortality in the U.S. is almost twice of Sweden being at 5.97 per live 1000 births versus 2.8 in Sweden in 2015.

Gender Equality

In 2015 Sweden was ranked to be number 4 of the world’s most equal countries for men and women, behind Iceland, Norway and Finland, all Scandinavian countries. The U.S. came 28th. Sweden is ranked number 5 in the world for the number of women in parliament with 45% of women representation at the national level. The same report ranks the U.S. as number 75 for the number of women in parliament. Representation of women in the U.S. congress is 19%.

Education

Like the U.S. Sweden is also a world leader in higher education. The biggest difference, however, is that college and university in Sweden are free. In 2005, Sweden ranked 6th in the world with the top 200 universities per million and the U.S. number 17. Univesitas 21, has consistently placed the U.S. as the world’s best country for higher education but in 2012 it ranked Sweden as the world’s second and in 2015, as number 6. Swedes are also encouraged to go back to college and/or university for a second degree, with free tuition, subsidized child-care, and low cost loans for living expenses. Employers have to hold their jobs when they enroll full-time, albeit without income.

Crime

Like other Scandinavian countries, Sweden is one of the safest countries in the world. The murder rate in the U.S. is 143 times higher than in Sweden. Homicides in Sweden are 0.7 per 100,000 and 4.7 per 100,000 in the U.S. General crime levels are ten times higher in the U.S. than in Sweden. Incarceration levels are less than 70 per 100,000 in Sweden and in the U.S. they are over 500 per 100,000, the highest in the world.  Unlike in the U.S. Police crimes and brutality are not common,  and mass shootings in Sweden are almost unheard of. It is true that rape is twice as high in Sweden but many people say it is because the definition of rape is wider. In addition, conditions in Sweden are such that women are encouraged to report any and all kinds of sexual assault and are not shamed for doing so. Some experts report that a higher gender equality may be a factor too. In the U.S. according to some accounts as many as 68% sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

Terrorism in Sweden is rare. There have been  4 terrorism related deaths since 1975.

Pollution and Toxicity

Sweden is a world leader in garbage management and recycling. Currently only 1% of their garbage ends up in landfills. In the U.S. as much as 55% of our waste ends up in landfills and our recycling rate in 2012 was 34.5%. Sweden’s recycling rate is currently 99%.  In Sweden people separate their garbage at home or in the building they live in and have recycling centers less than 600 yards from any residential area. Swedes produce about 460 kg of garbage every year per person and Americans 730 kg per person.

In 2012 the World Cancer Research Fund International  ranked the U.S. to have the sixth highest cancer rate for men and women in the world, and Sweden was ranked twenty-fourth. In the U.S. the amount of debris inhaled per person per year is almost twice of Sweden.

Sweden is also a more consumer friendly nation than the U.S. Being a member of the European Union they follow “credible evidence principles” to implement “protective action despite continuing scientific uncertainty.” In the U.S. however, we use the principle that harm must be proved before “regulatory action is taken.” For instance Swedes are wary of GMOs and have very large GMO free zones throughout their country. In the U.S. foods are not even labeled as GMOs. Another example is the case of food dyes such as a Red Dye No. 40, Yellow Dye No. 5 and Yellow Dye No. 6, which are suspected to cause hyperactivity in children, and are banned in Sweden but not the U.S.

Human Rights and Foreign Relations

Unlike the U.S. Sweden is a champion of human rights. In fact Sweden is reportedly the first country in the world to introduce freedom of press in 1766, 10 years before the U.S. was founded. The death penalty, which is considered by Amnesty International as “the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights” ceased in Sweden in 1921 and was officially abolished by its constitution in 1975. The U.S. executed 27 persons in 2015.

 Human Rights Watch world report of 2015 states that the U.S. “in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and national security, US laws and practices routinely violate rights.”  Its report on the U.S. is quite lengthy and thorough and in contrast, it does not have any report on Sweden because human rights violations there are not an issue. Regarding refugees, Sweden throughout history has been a leader in opening its borders to refugees. It remained neutral in the second world war and does not belong to NATO. It did not participate in the Iraq War. In 2003, Sweden’s prime minister stated “Sweden views a military attack on Iraq without the support of the UN Security Council as a breach of human rights.” Unlike the U.S. Sweden is a peaceful nation.

In short, comparisons between any two countries are not easy and one could spend years comparing statistics and accumulating research. And sure, not everything in Sweden is made of gold. They do have higher taxes and they have very long winters since their latitude corresponds pretty much to Alaska’s. But I am OK with higher taxes, considering the benefits, lack of corruption and its international policy.

Perhaps being like Sweden is a good thing.

Copyright © 2016 Luis Vera

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/major-study-finds-that-the-us-is-an-oligarchy-2014-4

http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/sweden/unemployment-rate

http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Sweden/United-States/Government

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/080515/5-developed-countries-without-minimum-wages.asp

http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/work-life-balance/

https://data.oecd.org/inequality/poverty-rate.htm

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/06/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/

10 things that make Sweden family-friendly

http://uk.practicallaw.com/1-503-3778?q=%22Joint#a632877

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_statutory_minimum_employment_leave_by_country

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-349-13188-4_12

Health care in Sweden

http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx

http://www.rccmsc.org/resources/get-the-facts.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_Sweden#Unreported_cases

Gender equality in Sweden

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/11/19/us-falls-28th-global-gender-equality-list/76018174/

Rankings
Gender equality in Sweden

http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

Higher education and research
While U.S. struggles, Sweden pushes older students back to college

http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Sweden/United-States/Education

http://country-facts.findthedata.com/compare/1-178/United-States-vs-Sweden

https://www.justlanded.com/english/Sweden/Sweden-Guide/Health/Health-Insurance

While U.S. struggles, Sweden pushes older students back to college

http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-pollutioncomparisons.htm

http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-cancer-frequency-country

The Swedish recycling revolution

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Look-at-How-Much-Waste-America-Puts-Into-Landfills-Compared-to-Europe

https://center.sustainability.duke.edu/resources/green-facts-consumers/how-much-do-we-waste-daily

Banned in Europe, Safe in the US
Sweden and human rights

http://www.thelocal.se/20120903/42972

http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate#UN_Sweden

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3 Responses to “Dear Mr. Marco Rubio, what is life like in Sweden?”

  1. Paul Norton Says:

    Strong post, Mr. Carbajosa.
    Some people recognize the facts you describe but they get all annoyed and start explaining why what works in Sweden can’t work in the US. I wonder how the hell they can know? We’ve never tried the Scandinavian model here.

  2. Rose Says:

    I’m not American but I live in Sweden and its not all roses and buttercups – you missed the part where the quality of education up to 18 years ranks amongst the worst in the developed world… U.S. is 28 and Sweden 25,cherry picking the good bits doesn’t really make for a balanced view point, cost of living is really high so can be difficult for students for poorer families at university as well. http://oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.se/2015/05/how-swedens-school-system-can-regain.html

    • jorgeluiscarbajosa Says:

      Thank you for your comments. The article is intended for an American audience and is somewhat selective in the information it presents. I am glad it is being read elsewhere and I will try to add more data for the European audience.

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