The Welfare State is Tearing Sweden Apart
Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.
The Swedish Welfare State and Multiculturalism
Swedes do not toil under a Communist yoke. We are thankfully a market oriented society, and particularly in rural areas, Swedes are ruggedly individualistic and responsible citizens. But we do have an enormous welfare state with which to contend — and it poisons our nation much in the same manner that full blown communism would; if perhaps not to the same degree. Doubtlessly; it sets the stage for some rather dystopian developments, both in terms of its steady consumption of productive capabilities — but also in its toxic effects on our culture. On top of this, Sweden has accepted a considerable amount of immigrants (to put it mildly) from cultures that differ wildly from the Swedish. In this text I will take a look at the welfare state through the prism of Sweden’s current multicultural challenge.
First and foremost, is multiculturalism a good thing? When multiculturalism emerges through voluntary interactions it is apparently valuable — otherwise it would not occur in a free society as it so often does. Again: in the marketplace there is, over time, the beautiful possibility that the identity of the tribe expands by including, assimilating and adapting to previously unknown things. Adaptation and cultural appropriation by means of voluntary associations cannot be a bad thing! But in such a situation; isn’t multiculturalism a misnomer? I would rather call it an emergent convergence towards a shared culture, in a pace that participants set. All in all: a desirable thing, especially compared to the alternatives.
Forced multiculturalism, on the other hand, increases polarisation and tribalism along the most basic, and most easily recognised dividing lines. In times of flux; easily distinguishable traits tend to become elevated and adored, uplifted to a place of high honour. They become a substitute for truly shared cultural values and norms, which under healthy circumstances are necessary for cooperation. In times of rapid and involuntary change; they become a superficial false bulwark against the unknown. Instead of engaging in market opportunities across divides, we tend to spend time fortifying our positions. Craving security, we start leaning towards the totalitarianism of simplistic purism.
Forced associations, such as outright invasion and conquest, will fuel embitterment and conflicts along cultural/ethnic lines and maybe even usher in the rebirth of old conflicts. The welfare state is another type of attack vector in the a matrix of forced associations. It merely has different particular properties. The end result is the same: people that do not wish to tango are forced to jot each other down for the next dance.
Spontaneously emergent cultural change through win-win situations on the one hand, and forced associations on the other, are two radically different ways in which societies evolve. These mechanics often overlap in history. In any given situation it may be hard to untangle which has primacy.
When a welfare state offers upkeep and support to large quantities of people from cultures that differ enormously from the predominant culture, despite the wishes of the current residents, we have a clear cut case of forced association. It's a powderkeg that inevitably will get packed with resentment. People who would like nothing better than for the whole thing to blow up will inevitably start to congregate, with torches at the ready. Cultural homogeneity to some degree smooths over and props up the inherent fault lines that ripple underneath any redistributive scheme, while cultural heterogeneity rapidly exposes fissures. Why is this exactly?
E Pluribus Unum
In his 2007 study “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” liberal Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam showed that there is an inescapable correlation between diversity and social distrust. He also concludes that racism seems to have very little to do with it. He shows that people living in multi-facetted communities tend to distrust their neighbors, regardless of their skin colour, and that they tend to pull back from even close friends. They expect the worst from society and its leaders. They volunteer less, give less to charity, vote less and agitate more for social reforms - but have less faith in any positive outcomes from those reforms. People living in ethnically or culturally diverse areas appear to retract, like turtles into their shells..
Putnam himself appears to be no great fan of his own findings, and his study is replete with well-tempered and stringent attempts to poke holes in his own conclusions. But no, multiculturalism seems to have an unbending negative impact on civil society.
That a Harvard Professor needs to spend years to reach such an obvious conclusion is baffling. In homogenous communities, there is more trust and more social capital. People who share language, tradition, religion, institutions and history can cooperate more easily and work through disputes without resorting to violence or furtively eyeing the categorical abilities of the state.
People who do not share language, tradition, religion, institutions and history have a harder time cooperating and finding trust. Is this not self-evident? One would have to marinate for a very long time in some potent reality denying ideological soup in order to be able to reach any other conclusion. There is no need to invoke racism as an explanation whatsoever.
In his study, Putnam also speaks warmly for the end-game: that multicultural communities can bridge fragmentation by embracing new social norms and broader identities. I can only agree. Humans have to do this, because we live in this world together. And when we do expand the notion of “us” voluntarily, over time, we tend to be relatively successful at it.
Putnam uses the examples of the early migrations into the United States. Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans for example, are no longer at each other’s throats. These groups suffered friction between themselves, and towards the ruling WASP-culture despite sharing skin colour and most religious sentiments. Putnam puts forward the notion that if groups can bridge their differences, the self evident good of diversity will start to shine. I am unconvinced. Again yes, humanity has bridged cultural and ethnic divides many times in history, and this is certainly better than outright conflict. But is “diversity” really a self evident good in of itself? How so?
The progressive penchant for the inherent strength of diversity is entirely unconvincing. What does a slogan such as “diversity is strength” mean exactly? Is it any truer than “unity is strength”? These two statements look roughly the same to me in some fundamental way: they are equally scary. Neither “diversity” nor “unity” can be strengths in any universally true way, any such conclusion would have to depend on the component parts of any given situation. It would also depend on how you define strength, and diversity, and unity. Clear definitions are paramount when trying to reach truth.
Would it not be preferable to aim for a culture which is capable of discriminating against bad ideas, and open to adapting to good ideas — as negotiated through free speech and voluntary association? Would not such a culture be desirable to build and maintain? A culture which is capable of change towards the better, sometimes due to contact with other cultures, would indeed be strong.
Diversity zealots however seem to believe that all it takes in order to reach the utopia of good intentions is to cram all manner of people together on a rainbow road of love and (severely bounded) tolerance. Together (and with implicit bias training) we shall prevail against the hate! This is nuts.
In contemporary discourse, the US and especially New York are put forward as successful cultural and ethnic melting pots. There is a lot to that sentiment which is perfectly true. But to the degree that New York has been successful, it has not been thanks to simply mashing people together willy-nilly and then forcing them to like each other. People who came to the US had no choice but to bite the bullet and attempt to contribute with something of value. Even this did not take place without friction and conflict (often via labour unions and political shenanigans) but in the end cultural appropriation occurred and above all: assimilation to the predominant culture — not the other way around.
There were still cultural clashes, and these were solved, or at least mitigated over time, because people were not explicitly forced to interact or to contribute to each other’s upkeeps. There was definitely enclavisation and segregation, many times voluntarily so, but always coupled with ample opportunity for people to willingly and voluntarily approach one another, given time and for reasons of self-interest. At least in the long run people became adherents to one overarching American culture. Voila: peace.
With a welfare state as a punching bag between groups however, cultural divides become much harder to bridge. Large scale immigration will always be culturally demanding, even when there is access to market mechanism to bridge cultural differences. But the welfare state largely nullifies such avenues.
- The attractive welfare state lures non-productive economical migration, deters labour-market entry for migrants who do want to contribute, and cements welfare dependency. Beyond cultural effects, we therefore must add resentment fueled by the predominant culture having no choice but to fund absolute strangers.
- While not specifically related to the welfare state; minimum wage requirements and other protectionistic union regulations exacerbate this mechanic. In Sweden, hardly a day goes by without some enterprising tax-paying immigrant getting a deportation notice because of having “taken too few vacation days,” or having “accepted too low a salary.” Yes, migration authorities actively enforce union edicts! In the face of this, who can blame a migrant who simply decides to play it safe and remain on welfare?
- In Sweden, the welfare state is enormous and encompasses everything; from a plethora of transfer payments, to schools (including university), and health care. There is literally no way of escaping its grasp if you wish a lead a semblance of a normal life.
When a welfare state subsidies migration we get a direct burden on existing net taxpayers, who tend to be ethnically and culturally Swedish, above and beyond the burden already imposed by native welfare-recipients and rent-seekers. The added demand for already strained welfare services from new — perceivably alien groups who perhaps have never “contributed to the system” — makes it obvious that any welfare withdrawals for people who may have tilled the soil for generations, are severely discounted. People are inclined to have an opinion in this matter, and do not necessarily deserve to be labeled racist for daring to utter it.
Sweden’s rampant welfare state is sick to the core. And it must therefore be questioned to its core, perhaps even allowed to perish. It isn’t immigrants on welfare that should be crushed; although certainly a lot of welfare recipients and rent-seekers, among them immigrants, would have a hard time during a transition before they can find productive roles in civil society, and will have to leave on their own accord. This is a crying shame - but Swedes have chosen the welfare state for everyone and therefore ultimately: no-one. Combined with euphoric virtue signalling it has been shown to have a profoundly detrimental effect to the fabric of civil society. And now we must pay the price, one way or the other.
These dynamics are playing out with full force in Sweden today, and it is heartbreaking to watch.