How socialist is Sweden, really?

4:18 min

The notion of Sweden as a collectivist and even more so, socialist, state is quite a common thing to hear in international discussions of Swedish politics.

A famous and fairly recent example of just how ingrained this image is, is when the American comedian Jon Stewart of The Daily Show ran a sketch roughly five years ago where Sweden was referred to as a socialist nightmare. It ran as a response to how TV commentators and columnists had expressed concern that the US was turning socialist, or "becoming Sweden", after the government had taken partial ownership in car companies, banks and insurance companies in order to resolve their financial crises.

But how socialist of a country is Sweden, really? How much ownership and influence does the Swedish state really have over the economy? To find out, Radio Sweden's Markus Landén spoke to Swedish historian and author of several books on the Swedish model, Lars Trägårdh.

"I think Sweden is very much a market society... a capitalist society. Swedes like to own things," says Trägårdh.

While Sweden has "an extensive system for social investment or welfare measures", according to Trägårdh, he says that "to call that socialism is rather misleading."

Many of these social rights and investments were established between 1930 and 1970 under a social democratic rule and were funded by high taxes.

Social democracy dominated politics in Sweden for the most part of the 20th century, but since then the public sector has been reduced by several neoliberal reforms.

Income and real estate taxes have since been cut and the railroad, postal service and drug stores have all been deregulated and are no longer state-run monopolies.