Swedish elections put Palme back in driver's seat
The creators of Sweden's ''great social experiment'' have returned to continue their work.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
After a six-year intermission, Olof Palme's Social Democratic Party is back in power with a decisive victory in Sunday's general election. Its 45.9 percent of the vote gives it 166 seats in Parliament and a clear majority over the nonsocialist parties, which won 45.1 percent (163 seats).
As the furthest left and most powerful of all the Western European socialist parties, Sweden's Social Democrats are still dedicated to the dream of jamlikhet - total equality. Deemed impossible in a climate where there has been a clear drift to the right in recent years, this dream was the guiding force behind the great social experiment interrupted when the party lost power in 1976 after an unprecedented 44 years.
The renewed pursuit of jamlikhet in the changed conditions of the mid-'80s could eventually even lead Sweden out of the Western democratic family.
The ''brave new world'' Palme promises to usher in frightens even many of those who helped his predecessors carry out the early phases of the great social experiment. A combination of world recession and governmental mismanagement and indecision has emptied the coffers that financed it.
Beneath the surface affluence of Sweden in 1982 there are cracks in the edifice that can no longer be hidden.
The foreign debt is increasing at the staggering rate of $3 billion a year, financing a vast public sector and, ironically, Swedish aid to the third world, still 1 percent of gross national product in line with a United Nations recommendation.
Astronomic labor costs have priced many Swedish goods off of the world market , and laws guaranteeing almost complete job security have dulled the competitive edge of the nation's work force.
Taxation, which can reach 85 percent on incomes over $40,000, has led to a mushrooming ''black'' economy and to an exodus of talented men and women.
A disillusioned youth rebels against the security provided by a welfare state that seeks to look after them ''from the cradle to the grave.'' Stockholm's House of Culture has become a hangout for drug addicts and alcoholics.
Buildings are vandalized. The roads need repair.Litter blows forlornly through streets once the envy of other Western capitals for their cleanliness.
Sweden appears to be in both fiscal and spiritual crisis.
To finance the pursuit of this great social experiment, the party has pledged to introduce so-called wage-earner funds allowing for a gradual trade union takeover of private industry. It will restore public spending cuts made by the nonsocialists and finance this with new taxes, including one on production, and a hike in value added tax.
There is some doubt whether Palme will actually carry through with this program. On election night he offered industry ''an outstretched hand'' in negotiations on the funds proposal. Industrial leaders see it more as a clenched fist.
Even within the party there is doubt. One month before the election the Social Democrats were rocked by the defection of their leading economist, Prof. Assar Lindbeck, from the party.