EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 17, 2012

Column: U.S. should consider following the Swedish path

Jay Ambrose
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It would be nice to think this country could continue to amount to something, to assume we have a future despite the recent presidential election, but if nothing much gets done to reverse policies, forget it. Instead of suffering, move to Sweden.

That country is looking at a promising economic future while ours has reason to fear disaster. Signals include jumps in the use of Medicaid and food stamps, the dramatic loss in middle-class income during a supposed recovery, multi-millions who still cannot find jobs and four more years of a president who worked mightily and effectively if not intentionally to give us this state of affairs.

Considering Sweden’s reputation as one of the foremost welfare states in the world, it may come as a surprise to some to learn that while the United States has been adorning itself with European-style, semi-socialist garb, Sweden has been shedding that clothing.

It has reformed old-age pensions, cut taxes, said hallelujah to property rights, deregulated left and right, reduced spending, balanced budgets and is thriving as a result.

Now, as an unblushing lover of America, I am not seriously suggesting that anyone skedaddle from spacious skies and purple mountains majesty even if red ink is beginning to reach that high. I am hoping that wiser and more politically adept Republicans might be able to stymie some of the worst of President Barack Obama’s misbegotten purposes and that long-term rectification of our turn toward self-destruction can win bipartisan support.

There has, of course, been some terribly bad news. The presidential election indicates that this country is now more center-left than center-right. We’ve reaffirmed that malicious campaign ads can sway millions while governmental giveaways buy votes. The regulatory mishmash known as Obamacare seems here to stay. It is already being cited along with anti-coal enthusiasm as a reason for layoffs that will crush some of the most disadvantaged among us even as the confused left says compassion has won the day.

The good news is that Republican House Speaker John Boehner has indicated willingness to compromise to avoid an automatic event at the turn of the year: an immediate raise in taxes and large cuts that could invite the recession back for a disastrous visit.

He naturally enough wants long-term restructuring of entitlements — there is absolutely no other way to solve the debt crisis — and is agreeable to tax reform that will entail hikes for some. It seems to me at least possible that Obama and the Democrats will go along with such terms, though it’s always hard to depart from demagoguery that has served one’s political ends remarkably well.

The pretense has been that something important will be achieved by little more than the rescinding of Bush-era tax reductions on individuals making over $200,000 a year and couples making over $250,000. That would hurt hiring while doing next to nothing to lower deficits, and if you don’t address entitlements constituting 66 percent of the budget, you’ve just told your country to go burn in Hades.

I do think Democrats may opt for reason. And I believe still more serious reform seems possible as it becomes ever clearer that runaway government is the problem, not the solution.

The fiscal crisis, after all, was in part engendered by the easy-money policies of the Federal Reserve, efforts to put house mortgages in the hands of people who could not afford them and governmental hand-holding with businesses in search of special favors. The recovery was slowed down to a sluggish crawl by a ceaselessly worsening debt threat.

It’s not unheard of for nations to sidestep self-imposed mishap. It happened in Sweden. While that nation has not abolished its high-tax welfare state, it did begin a remarkable turnaround in the 1990s, and that has led to stability in difficult times. If inveterate Scandinavian lefties can learn how flowers bloom when government lets the sun shine, so can we.

Jay Ambrose is the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers.