Senator Bernie Sanders built his career on heaping praise on the democratic socialism found in Sweden and other Nordic countries. There is another point of view available, from a person born, raised and educated in Sweden. Sweden: Lessons for America? screened at the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival, part of FreedomFest, which took place at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas July 11-14. In it, Swedish author and historian Johan Norberg explores the history of Sweden and interviews Swedes about their country.
What Does Sweden Mean?
The film begins with Norberg describing a country with the lowest standard of living in the world, with the shortest lifespan, and the highest infant mortality rate in the world. The Congo? No, Sweden, 150 years ago.
Norberg then decides to find out what Americans know about Sweden. Answers include Volvo, Ikea, and Abba. My favorite was the gentlemen who responded, “Cheese. Oh, no, that’s Switzerland.” Bottom line, Americans don’t know a lot about Sweden.
He then moved on to exploring Sweden’s history and the development of the “socialist utopia.”
From Freedom to Socialism
The story begins on a bright note. Viewers learn about Anders Chydenius. He was a free-market, liberty-oriented philosopher in Sweden who fought for and won guarantees for civil liberties and economic freedom ten years before the American Revolution.
Sweden prospered. Then came the welfare state and escalating taxes.
As a film buff, I was surprised and saddened by the story about iconic Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. At one point, taxes were so high in Sweden, that Bergman was required to pay over 100 percent of his profits from a film in taxes. Swedish police pulled him out of a rehearsal to investigate him. He fled Sweden for Germany. His story was not atypical.
The film, which won Anthem’s Excellence in Filmmaking, Feature Documentary Award, then explores Sweden’s road back.
Talking It Out
After the film a panel, “Sweden’s Not-So-Socialist Success Story”, with John Fund, Veronique de Rugy, Hunter Hastings, moderated by Bob Chitester, explored the issues raised.
An audience member asked, “Has Bernie Sanders seen this?”
Director James Tusty explained, “He hasn’t seen it yet. We are trying to set up a screening and round table discussion with Sanders. We’ve been in touch with his handlers.”
Another audience question was directed at nationally syndicated columnist Veronique de Rugy, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and a native of France. The question was regarding her first reaction to the film.
“I was extremely impressed with quality and learned a lot of things,” she said. “There was a time when growing up in France we could say, ‘We are not like them.’ That’s not the case anymore. When you are fighting against the growth of government, you want to be able to say, ‘Even in Sweden they don’t do that.’ There are only three true socialist regimes in the world today: Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t dare say, ‘I want us to be like them.’ There has been a complete misappropriation of the word ‘socialism’.”
What About England?
Hunter Hastings was asked how he felt about this “as a Brit.”
“Much of Sweden’s reputation is based on propagandizing some very limited pieces of progress,” Hastings said. “The film talked about Sweden’s growth till 1850. In England we did the same until 1914. We went into a deep dive into socialism after the war because the unions were running the country. We had a brief movement toward sunshine with Mrs. Thatcher in the 1990s. She denationalized large parts of the economy, but then Britain fell back, not only to a high-tax socialist state, but also into a police state.”
Hastings continued, “Friedrich Hayek talked about politicians as ‘extractive’. Sweden is still an extractive state. Their spending on the welfare state has gone down slightly. What I saw that was promising was that there was a revolution of small business people, but they are running into the math. It’s unaffordable and unsustainable.”
The Un-Golden Gate
John Fund, national-affairs columnist for National Review, tried to explain the appeal of socialism despite all the facts that should make people run away from it. “The magician makes you look one place while he does something elsewhere to fool you. In Italy you see the beautiful fountains in Rome and Venice, but the tourist police make sure you don’t see other places and what is happening there.”
Perhaps the most socialist place in America is San Francisco. “I grew up in San Francisco,” Fund said. “I do not recommend you go as a tourist to San Francisco today. That breaks my heart. The largest medical convention in the country just pulled out. The public spaces are being invaded. If you allow small petty crimes to go unpunished, you invite more serious crime. We have lost the will as a civilization to enforce public norms.”
Veronique de Rugy summed up her position regarding socialism: “We need to reclaim our right to do whatever the hell we want with what belongs to us.”
The film was produced by Free To Choose Media, which 40 years ago produced the classic Milton Friedman series, Free to Choose. You can watch a preview of the film, posted below, and can sign up to find out when the film will be available for public view.
(Photos courtesy of Free to Choose Media, unless otherwise noted.)