Now, somebody is usually responsible for a happy state of affairs. In the case of Sweden, that person is Göran Persson, the Social Democratic prime minister for more than 10 years and finance minister before that. A brilliant autodidact, he never quite finished college, moving instead into politics as a working class teenager. He’s never looked back.
A legend in his time, Persson nonetheless runs the risk of being booted out of office in general elections on Sunday as voters contemplate a lurch to the right.
Are they ungrateful? Or merely bored?
There’s a puzzle here.
Even Persson’s opponents privately concede his formative role in hauling Sweden from the depths of depression, bank crashes and soaring indebtedness in the '90s into a happier world of trade surpluses and booming business. Annual growth in 2006 is currently running at 5.5% in the second quarter - highest in the developed world, according to economic indicators in The Economist.
The joy is boundless. A global "attitude" poll by the Pew Institute says the 9 million Swedes are among the happiest people on the planet. Observers ranging from the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) to the Financial Times view Sweden as one of the world's most successful societies because of its potent mixture of welfare and economic growth.
So it's understandable that Persson, with these kinds of rave reviews, should be a shoe-in for another four year term. But polls in recent months almost consistently show the center-right opposition in the lead, though the gap has now narrowed to razor-thin margins.
A poll released on Wednesday showed the opposition with a lead of 1.3 percent, while another poll yesterday found the Social Democrats and their allies leading by 48.7% against 47.2% for the opposition - a four-party coalition calling itself the Alliance for Sweden. Uniquely for a European coalition, they have adopted a common electoral platform or "manifesto."
Commentators say it’s too close to call. The Alliance is led by the relatively youthful Fredrik Reinfeldt of the right-wing New Moderates Party commanding about 25% of voter sympathy. It has spun itself into the center of Swedish politics by pointing to persistent unemployment while endorsing the welfare model. It pledges continued high taxation to pay the tab. Reinfeldt has even rebaptized his party, now called the New Moderates instead of merely Moderates - shamelessly aping Tony Blair’s New Labour Party in Britain.
Reinfeldt may well be prime minister by next week.