Is Sweden a socialist country?

You probably already know that Sweden is a cool country, with stunning scenery, oodles of islands and a trendy Scandi art and design culture, but do you know anything about its government and politics?

Is Sweden socialist?
Stockholm / chas B (CC)

Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries are often touted as successful socialist states. But, is Sweden really socialist? Or is this just a myth? We look into the background of Sweden’s political make-up and underlying ideology and find out once and for all: is Sweden a socialist state?

What is a socialist country?

So, first things first: what is a socialist country? Well, a true socialist country is one where everybody has an equal share of the society’s resources and economic output, and the community is valued more highly than the individual. 

In successful socialist countries, healthcare, education and economic support are all provided free to every citizen, regardless of how much they earn. Sounds great, huh?

Childcare and education are state-funded in Sweden
kemorgan65 (CC)

Well, yes in theory, but there are downsides: for example, it’s difficult for entrepreneurs to flourish in a socialist system, so some say that individuals may feel a lack of motivation to work hard.

Also, in socialist states, the government holds a huge amount of power over many aspects of an individual’s life – and that power, of course, is open to abuse.

The countries where socialism works best tend to have a hybrid system whereby socialism works hand in hand with capitalism. These countries often have a capitalist free-market economy combined with a strong state-funded welfare system. So, is a Sweden socialist country?

Is Sweden capitalist or socialist?

Traditionally, Sweden’s wealth was built on a capitalist system. Up until the 1960s, Sweden had a free market economy, low tax rates and relaxed regulations. And it became a pretty wealthy country under this system. 

Sweden became wealthy under a capitalist system
Tony Webster (CC)

How long has Sweden been socialist?

So, when did Sweden become socialist? Well, during the 1960s, Sweden decided that, although it was a rich country, its wealth was held by a relatively small proportion of the population. As a result, they introduced a number of measures aimed at redistributing some of this wealth to the poorer members of scoiety.  

Income tax was raised, so that the level of taxes that people paid was linked to what they earned. And in return for paying higher taxes, welfare benefits, state education, healthcare and a raft of other social benefits became free for all.

The Swedish monarchy is purely ceremonial
The Swedish monarchy is purely ceremonial / Frank P. from Pixabay (CC)

In addition, in 1974 the constitution was changed so that the king no longer ruled the kingdom alone. The new constitution stated that “all public power in Sweden derives from the people” – a true socialist principle! 

It’s true that the monarchy does still exist in Sweden today, but it has no political affiliation and no formal powers and is purely for ceremonial purposes.

What is the difference between socialism and democratic socialism?

Under a socialist system, the government has a high degree of control over all aspects of society and how the people live.

In democratic socialist countries, basic services are provided free to all residents, but the government is democratically voted in, and so the people have more influence over the bodies that run their services.

Is Sweden still socialist?

This is a question that has caused much debate amongst politicians and philosophers. Bernie Sanders famously singled out Sweden as one of the democratic socialist countries that he felt the US could learn from. 

However, many commentators point out that Sweden is much more of a market economy, and that the regulations for companies are fairly loose. Moreover, although personal income taxes are high, corporation taxes are relatively low, allowing businesses to thrive and contribute to the overall economy.

Why is Sweden no longer a socialist country?

Well, if you look at the make-up of its parliament, it is still a socialist country – just! The party with the largest number of seats is the Swedish Social Democratic Party (formerly the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Sweden) and the prime minister of Sweden until 2021, Stefan Löfven, represents this party. 

Sweden's government is a coalition of left-leaning MPs and greens
Sweden’s parliament building / Erich Westendarp from Pixabay 

But they don’t have a majority, so are supported by a coalition of left-leaning and green MPs. And even with a coalition, the right-wing and centrist parties combined having almost as many seats. 

Moreover, in terms of its economy and general policies, most commentators would now argue that Sweden is not socialist. The country’s economy is very much based on low regulation for businesses, free market policies and capitalist principles. 

Does Sweden have socialized healthcare?

It’s true that Sweden does have socialized medicine, which is an important aspect of a socialist country. Its healthcare is run by regional health bodies and funded by regional and local taxes.

The government also contributes to Sweden’s medical bill, spending about 11 percent of the country’s GDP on healthcare.

While much of Sweden’s healthcare is completely free, individuals have to contribute a small fee for some services.

The healthcare system is both public and private. Public health bodies can pay private providers for services, which are then free to the patient, and individuals can also chose to pay for private services if they wish.

What is the Nordic model?

Sweden, like most of the other Scandinavian countries, follows the Nordic model of government, also known as “cuddly capitalism”! In reality this means that they are capitalist countries, but with strong publicly-funded services and good workers’ rights. 

For example, Sweden has no minimum wage, so employers can pay their employees the market value for any job, which is typical of capitalist countries. However, the country does have a strong system of powerful unions, so that workers are protected and supported in their jobs. 

This may seem like a contradiction, but it seems to work in the Nordic countries, which have strong economies and good public welfare systems. 

See also:
Sweden vs Norway: which one should you visit?
The best time to visit Sweden
The cost of living in Sweden

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