Nordic pragmatism as a recipe for success

The Nordic countries, those up there at the top of Europe often called Scandinavia — Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway — came out on top of all the countries in the world in the Fragile States Index for 2014 published the other day.

Finland came out at the very top, the only country described as “very sustainable,” with Sweden, Denmark and Norway as the top three “sustainable” countries of the world, with Iceland, the fifth Nordic, in eighth place, and with the United States on twentieth place, part of a lower group of “stable” nations.

What do these five nations in northern Europe have in common? They are democracies with clean governments and a highly educated population. They value stability, common sense and results.

Maybe this can explain, at least in part, the unusual “December Accord” — even for Scandinavia — last Saturday, when six of the eight political parties in the Swedish parliament came together and cancelled a snap election scheduled for March and instead worked out a deal under which the minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, only three months old, will be able to govern, albeit on the basis of a budget hammered out by the four opposition parties.

The accord has not been well received by a number of different reasons, both on the left and on the right. But it did avoid a dreaded snap election, a seldom used ingredient in Swedish politics — 1958 was the last time that happened. The next Parliamentary election will now be the ordinary election in 2018.

The “December Accord” also served to continue to hold the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats on the far right at arms length, not including them in any deal, keeping them out of any government, and preventing them from dictating the composition and policies of the Swedish government.

As so many times before in the modern era, the Swedish politicians came together in a serious political crisis, “came to their senses,” as the leading newspaper Dagens Nyheter put it the other day. It was pragmatism for the good of the country, to achieve stability, get results, avoid chaos.  Here is the latest main editorial for those who can read Swedish!

Maybe this overarching pragmatism is the secret behind the success of those small Nordic countries, and a recipe for success for others? Maybe there is even something that those fighting forces in the U.S. Congress can learn from all this? Maybe, as I said.

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“God fortsättning” in the New Year — that’s doubtful…

In Sweden, my old home country, we used to say “God fortsättning” after the holidays — “good continuation” in the New Year. That’s not an expression you hear in America, which is perhaps as well, particularly in these times of the financial cliff, the debt ceiling, and the political disharmony in Washington.

Yes, the cliff was avoided but at what price? Was it worth it?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently wondered if the deal was a “Pyrrhic victory,” a tactical victory that could pave the way for a major defeat later this year. Yes, the victory was tactical in the sense that the Republicans in Congress for the first time since 1993 voted for a tax increase. But what else? It did nothing to resolve the country’s major economic problems, the debt, budget deficit, unemployment. The settlement contained no new stimulus money to invest in the woefully neglected infrastructure or to create new jobs. Remember, the U.S. still has almost eight percent unemployment. Last Friday’s figure of 155,000 new jobs during December was certainly acceptable, but not more. Many more jobs are needed, every month, to seriously tackle the unemployment crisis.

In the deal, President Obama had to give up on his campaign pledge to raise taxes for everyone earning more than 250,000 dollars per year. Instead, the limit was set at 450,000 dollars, meaning than less than one percent of American tax payers will see their taxes increase. Those are not middle class figures. These are high income earners, who will now be exempted from paying their fair share at the same time as more revenues are needed but when Americans are paying less in income tax than the populations of other developed countries. As Stephan Richter pointed out in The Globalist:

“In all the other countries that come to mind, protecting such levels of income is the sole preserve of conservative parties. In the United States, it is a matter of bipartisan consensus.”

Yes, America IS different from Europe –it’s certainly more conservative. In America, taxes are toxic in a way they don’t seem to be in Europe, maybe because Europeans feel that they get something for their taxes, like universal health care, good public transportation, and affordable education all the way through college?

Washington is also similar to Brussels, if you read The Economist, which called the cliff deal an “abject failure” — “Washington’s pattern of dysfunction is disturbingly similar to the euro zone’s.”

But Europe has also made progress, averted disaster and come together around the euro, as Floyd Norris recently wrote in the New York Times, wondering: “Will the United States follow the European path in 2013? Let’s hope so.”

That’s not likely to happen. With the debt ceiling crisis and the resolution of the automatic spending cuts looming in a couple of months, the Republicans seem primed for revenge after the cliff deal, which could make the cliff deal negotiations come to seem like child’s play.

“Good continuation…” well, the New Year actually doesn’t look that good.

“There is a guy called Mitt Romney…”

I know Mitt Romney’s disastrous start on his European trip is already all over the Internet, but it won’t go away, and I can’t resist showing it, too. I just love the way London mayor Boris Johnson says, “there is a guy called Mitt Romney…”

And, of course, the Democrats could not sit idly by. Romney’s bumbling was just too good to be true, so here is a spot released by the National Democratic Committee!

Now, on to Israel and Poland — I can’t wait!

Mitt Romney to Europe with little to offer

Mitt Romney won’t have much to offer his as he heads to London, Poland and Israel today for a bit of foreign policy. The trip belongs to the tradition of American presidential candidates, seeking foreign policy credentials before the election and there is no other reason for the trip.

The trip may in any case act as a breather after weeks relentless political TV-attacks by the Obama campaign. According to the blog The Fix, advertising spending on both sides is already up in the fantasy figures — $179 million for Romney against $128 million for Obama.

The trip follows Romney’s highly critical speech last night in Reno, Nevada before for American war veterans of President Obama’s foreign policy. He will  be asked about that in Europe. But he will also bring in his baggage the knowledge that foreign policy is Obama’s strong suit leading up to November’s presidential election. The traditional image of a weak democratic presidential candidate when it comes to foreign policy, an image that the Republicans have for decades used to their advantage, is no longer true in Obama’s case – all opinion polls show that – so, here, Romney is not likely to gain many votes, if any at all.

The speech in Reno mirrored this problem. It was thin and lacked specificities. How does he really differ from Obama?

“What Romney is offering voters on American security is neither impressive nor convincing,” said the New York Times main editorial today.

Here is Mitt Romney’s speech in its entirety. Judge for yourselves!

Oh, those terrible European socialist welfare states…

Mitt Romney on the stump often talks about Europe and the “European socialist welfare states” as something dreadful. That’s not what he — unlike president Obama — aspires to for America, Romney says.

Romney did it again in his victory speech last night in New Hampshire. Europe — that’s not what we want, he said.

Well, well. I say you can do worse. Just take a look at recent news coverage about maybe the leading “European socialist welfare state” of them all, Sweden. The editorial board of Bloomberg News recently praised it in a comment called, “Sweden Shows Europe How to Cut Debt, Weather the Recession.”

“Sweden faces a difficult year, like every other European economy, but unlike the rest of the European Union, it’s equipped to cope. There are lessons here, especially for the EU’s other non-euro countries. “

Sweden, “the rock star of the recovery,” Washington Post wrote last year.

“This Scandinavian nation of 9 million people has accomplished what the United States, Britain and Japan can only dream of: Growing rapidly, creating jobs and gaining a competitive edge. The banks are lending, the housing market booming. The budget is balanced. Sweden was far from immune to the global downturn of 2008-09. But unlike other countries, it is bouncing back. Its 5.5 percent growth rate last year trounces the 2.8 percent expansion in the United States and was stronger than any other developed nation in Europe. And compared with the United States, unemployment peaked lower (around 9 percent, compared with 10 percent) and has come down faster (it now stands near 7 percent, compared with 9 percent in the U.S.).”

Not bad, not bad, at all, for “a socialist welfare state”…