05 February 2008

Sweden and San Francisco: Liberal Utopias or merely business as leftual?

Sweden and San Francisco both share the distinction of being particularly well known for their progressive policies. One in the realm of westernized nations, the other in the realm of US cities. So should liberals go streaming to these bastions of all that is left, in the search of post-graduate utopia? The short answer is no as is the long answer.

I admit, I've been fooled. First living in Sweden and now living in San Francisco. One might think the lesson would have been learned the first time around, that liberal bastion does not equal utopia, though it has taken a move to the Bay Area to really figure it out.

So why immigrate to one of these areas? Beautiful blonds, universal health care, progressive taxes, open borders, workers rights. Hot transexuals, gay rights, liberal homeless policies, highly educated population, electric buses, paper bags. Sweden sounds like what America's Kucinich supporters desire and San Francisco sounds suspiciously like a hotbed for progressive
activism and policies. Like a vulture drawn to carrion it is only natural for a newly minted liberal arts graduate to be drawn to an area such as these (or NYC). Unfortunately, while the kill may be waiting, the meat isn't particularly sweet. Not bad, just not as good as the optimist might hope.

Liberal Zeitgeist
Imagine a Cartesian plane, the x axis political leanings, the y population. Bell curves will represent the political leanings of a population. Let us draw two curves. The first will be that of the United states. Front and center. The second will be that of a more American liberal or left socialist country (USSR?). These two cold war enemies overlap a bit on the fringes. Now Sweden is somewhere in the middle, as represented by the red bell curve. In this configuration I have put it directly between the two, though Sweden with its strong social system has the vast majority of the population practicing capitalism with fringe socialist benefits rather than vice versa. Those benefits being free child care, education, health care. And a minority of the population receives unemployment, fixed wages, vodka for work. So I would argue the Swedish curve should shift in the conservative direction. Anyhow, to satisfy the skeptics, we will keep it where it is. So, the overlap between the mainstream population of Sweden sits squarely upon the American-progressive left. And what does that mean for you? Well, if you travel in Sweden don't expect many conservatives like we have in the fine state of Texas. Beyond that, imagine your liberal university, friends, and/or community. Majority of them somewhere on the left end of America? That's about where the people of Sweden stand, though with one important difference. Not everyone in Sweden cares deeply about politics the way an engaged leftual feels. (Go unsubstantiated claims. Just roll with it. After all, what percent of the US cares the way you wish they would. And multiply that by three. You have a majority yet?) So the mainstream Swede, though happily left, is not going to necessarily match your joy in understanding the world. In the end, you have a bunch of leftuals who are not as engaged as the professors, students and intellectuals found in a place like McClellan Street in the fine town of Amherst, Massachusetts.

Allegiance to the American Dream.
Sweden is great and a fine place to live. Like minded individuals can be found in this country or theirs, so one need not emigrate from the US though. America, as a majority stakeholder of power on the international playing field has the opportunity to significantly improve the global landscape which Swedes simply do not. Take international aid giving. In 2006 Sweden led the world, giving away over 1% of GDP. The United States on the other hand led the world in dollar value, though gave away a paltry 0.18%, of which about 80% went to Iraq. (This ignores the fact that Americans much prefer individual philanthropy whereas in Sweden it is the state which is the agent of good.) It is about time our country realized the global playing field is not flat, stepped up to the elevated plate, stood behind our UN Millenium Goal commitment (0.7% GDP donations) , hit a few home runs and used our zamboni to flatten some of the bumps out.

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