Friday, April 13, 2012

How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’

From the Indypendent, courtesy of Occupy Wall Street's facebook presence:

While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA
World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

More here.

People from time to time ask me what style of government or economics is ultimately the best for the United States, and I usually respond that, for me, American Utopia would look a lot like the social democracies of Northern Europe. Universal health care, a very strong safety net, true citizen participation in governance and the workplace, lots of vacation time. In short, a nation that expends its resources on making its citizens' lives better and more fulfilling, rather than a nation that uses its wealth to enrich and empower an elite few--yeah yeah, I think we're seeing now that enriching a relative few does not lead to enriching the nation as a whole; neoliberal "trickle down" fantasies are now obviously bullshit to anybody who thinks about it for, like, five seconds.

But why do the Scandinavians have it all while we don't?

Turns out it's not much of a secret, nor is it terribly complicated. Noam Chomsky has often replied with one word over the years when asked what we can do to redress all the fucked up shit he writes about, "Organize." And that's exactly what the Swedes and Norwegians did. Okay, I say it's simple, and in theory it is. But the problem is how to get organized, especially in our nation where the wealthy elite has become extraordinarily adept with playing us against each other, black against white, suburban against urban, bourgeois against working class, North against South, employed-but-scared against unemployed, and on and on. That's the rub, at least here in the US in 2012. How do you successfully combat a ruling class with great expertise in divide-and-conquer techniques? I don't know, but it seems entirely possible.

The Nordic countries did it on a much smaller scale, but they did it. And so can we.