My kind of place
The other day J was on a discussion forum for a Swedish games company, Paradox Interactive. Paradox’s field is big, ludicrously complicated, historical strategy games: Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron are probably their best-known titles. Anyway. He was on this forum, reading a thread where some people were discussing a particular Victoria II bug with a member of the dev team who was on the creative, rather than the technical, side of things. And at one point it came up that this guy wasn’t actually allowed to program for this particular project – union rules. And at that point the thread turned into a string of flabbergasted English and American posters going “Wait, programmers have a union in Sweden?”
J told me about this, and I was like “Yeah, Sweden is awesome,” and cited the two things I knew about Sweden’s political/economic system: they have an astounding welfare system and it’s bloody expensive to live there. And then I reminisced a bit about holidays in Norway and Denmark as a kid, and how wonderful the Norwegian scenery was – whether it was the cliffs over Lysefjorden, or the sun going down over the jellyfish-laden sea.* Or Sonderborg Castle in Denmark – we saw five wedding parties there, just on the one afternoon. Strange blancmange-y desserts in tetrahedral packets. The glacier we visited where I (all of eight years old) drank straight out of a runoff stream to prove it was clean, and it was.
Suffice it to say, I have very fond memories of Scandinavia.
We looked up Sweden (and later, Norway) on Wikipedia, and followed a few links. The more I read about them, the better places they seem. The fond memories, formed as a kid and therefore rooted very much in physical impressions of the place – the cold but very crisp air, the blue skies, the golden raspberries that I’ve never been able to track down anywhere else – have now been supplemented with the sense that these are not just beautiful and strange places; these are places I could live.
Swedish law recognised fully gender-neutral marriage in 2009; gender-neutral domestic partnerships exist alongside. The tax rate is 30%, going to 50-55% on income over 320,000SEK (~£30,000) and that huge helping of tax money goes straight back into the system. Education is free. School dinners (including salad! I don’t think I ever saw a salad leaf at my school) are free, for all children. Paid parental leave runs at between 9 and 12 months, and can be divided as the parents please.
Eighty percent of workers are unionised and the unions are strong enough that there has never been the need to legislate a minimum wage. Unions elect representatives to the board of any company employing more than 25 people.
The birth rate is low – 1.67 children per adult woman – and the infant mortality rate minuscule. The state pays 98% of all healthcare costs, and there is a cap of 800SEK (~£80) on how much any one patient may pay in a year. Sick leave is always paid, either by the employer or by the state.
They don’t have nukes. They don’t want nukes. The army is small (60,000-ish), integrated, and all-voluntary.
Wikipedia can’t tell you everything, of course (and, if government employees have been at it, probably won’t), and the only conclusive litmus test as to whether you’d actually want to live in a country is to go and live there. But I have to say, if I took over the planet, my benevolent dictatorship would look a lot like this. That Sweden can manage it with the most democratic system in the world is a rather good counterpoint to the people who claim that liberalism is essentially a pipe-dream, unachievable in a real state.
I wonder how they’re doing for medievalists over there?
*Seriously. There are zillions of the things – very lacy, floaty orange ones, which look intimidating but are apparently safe, and weird spacey clear ones with ultraviolet-glowing rings, which don’t look like they’d have anything to hurt you with, but can apparently make you pretty ill.