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If Sweden Can Do It . . .

. . . the United States can reform entitlements, too.

Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By ROLAND POIRIER MARTINSSON
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How was such a transformation possible? Almost every major reform in Sweden over the last 20 years would have been described as a third rail issue in the United States, on exactly the grounds that make Democrats so eager to put Ryan’s plan for Medicare reform at the center of debate—yet voters accepted and embraced the need to make changes.

One reason was that the whole political spectrum acknowledged the failure of the system, which gave voters a sense of confidence. If any major party had decided to embrace fear, with an eye to winning the next election rather than fixing the system, it is quite possible that the Swedish success story never would have occurred.

It is not easy to say whether all of this happened because of good political leadership, or if it was a case of popular sentiment forcing politicians to take action. Either way, a retirement reform with clear similarities to the Ryan plan for Medicare stands as the symbol of a remarkable development in a country that only 30 years ago was on the brink of socializing corporate profits so as to continue down the road to ruin. It is all the more remarkable considering that Sweden was the paradigm of a European entitlement society.

Thus the real question is not whether Erlander’s misgivings about the discontent of growing expectations applies also in the United States—it does, everywhere, most of the time. The question is whether 2012 is one of those rare years when conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to voter behavior. As Sweden has shown, such moments can not only swing elections, but change the course of a nation.

Roland Poirier Martinsson is a Swedish author and philosopher.

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