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Sweden: a spending reduction success story

Since 2006, when the current Swedish government was elected, government spending relative to GDP fell from 52.9 percent in 2006 to 51.8 percent in 2011, faring much better than the global average.

Anders Wiklund/Scanpix Sweden/Reuters/File
Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (R) shakes hands with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy at the Rosenbad government building in Stockholm in this May 4 file photo. Karlsson argues that Sweden has been successful in reducing government spending over the past six years.

Paul Krugman criticizes Senator Tom Coburn for using Sweden as a good example of a country that has reduced government spending and claims that this is false using a chart showing the change in real government purchases.

But this is misleading because first of all it doesn't put spending in relation to GDP and secondly and even more importantly because it excludes transfer payments such as unemployment and sick leave benefits. The Swedish centre-right government has in fact concentrated their spending cuts to transfer payments so any analysis using only government purchases is bound to be very misleading

If we instead look at total government spending as a percentage of GDP (called "government disbursements in the OECD database) you can see that since 2006, when the current Swedish government was elected, government spending relative to GDP fell from 52.9% in 2006 to 51.8% in 2011. By contrast, during the same period, the OECD average rose from 39.7%  to 44%, and in the United States it rose from 36.1% to 41.9%.

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