Sweden has long been regarded as a ‘model’ for societal development. Recently, with the rise of an anti-immigrant party and negative news coverage of crime, the image of a progressive Sweden has frayed. Positive models for societal development have existed in the past and included the United States during the heyday of modernization theory. This paper argues that positive models are useful, partly to crystallize options among the much-debated varieties of capitalism, and partly as ideals which can be held up by social thinkers and publics as aspirations for the good society. This paper reviews the evolution of the Swedish model from a ‘middle way’ between Soviet communism and American capitalism to a welfare state under strain. It also examines how the Swedish model has been reinforced by its high international standing. The perceptions of Sweden abroad and domestically have changed in recent years. While these perceptions have correctly identified challenges not just for Sweden but also for other countries with similar problems, Sweden's government and civil society may be able to address them. The paper explores the lessons that can be learned from the current shortcomings and potential renewal of the strengths of the Swedish model, including its wider influence.
- Policies should be identified to reconcile strong welfare protections with continuing immigration pressures, including policies that can gain strong electoral support.
- Populist anti-immigration parties are often strong when they are in opposition in democracies. When they contribute to government policymaking, they should be made responsible for policies that work – and so held accountable.
- Compared to traditional media, social media often have more critical voices with outsized effects. They deserve to be heard, even if the views of the population or the leaders that voice online grievances should not be exaggerated or unduly amplified. This applies especially to how countries (in this case, Sweden) are criticized from abroad, which often reflects domestic grievances more than the countries being criticized.
- Models of societal development, such as the Nordic and Swedish models, should not be idealized uncritically. But neither should they be abandoned; they can continue to provide valuable guideposts for progressive social policies.
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