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    The Swedish Dream
    By Randall Mayes | January 2nd 2013 04:01 PM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Randall Mayes is a policy analyst specializing in biotechnology. His areas of expertise include technology based economic development and public...

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    These days Sweden is better known for its design exports than its blonde bombshells. IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, has developed a brand using a business philosophy that incorporates economics, society and the environment. Through mass production, delivering disassembled products in flatpacks, eliminating the middleman, locating stores in industrial areas with low overhead costs; IKEA can pass their savings on to consumers. Using recycled and renewable products makes IKEA an eco-friendly company. With the focus of providing its customers with affordable, stylish, and sustainable furniture, IKEA has developed a successful business model.

    IKEA also has a home building partnership in Europe using the same business philosophy. In 1996, IKEA began a joint venture with construction company Skanska called BoKlok, Swedish for smart living, using modular, pre-fabricated components which reduce construction waste. More recently IKEA ventured into the hotel business, where sustainability is of high priority. This business philosophy is part of the slow movement. For example, slow food advocates using local, healthy foods and shopping at farmer’s markets. 

    By 2050, demographers project that 80 percent of the world’s population, estimated to be over nine billion, in contrast to 60 percent and seven billion today, will live in urban areas. Combined with increased energy demands and a need for stewardship of the planet, it is imperative that city planners are proactive in preparing cities for the future. At least that is one vision for the future.

    HammarbySjostad is a new urbanism or smart-growth community in Stockholm using slow design concepts. The Swedish government purchased private land in order to efficiently coordinate transportation and land-use. It is a transit-oriented, high-density development with reduced dependence on automobiles and designed for light-rail public transportation and walking to shops and open spaces. In addition to reducing emissions from electricity and automobiles, the community recycles nutrients from waste to farmland, and extracts biogas and biosolids from waste and converts them into heating and electricity.

    Sweden, a socialist democracy, relies on centralized planning, providing a stark contrast to the United States which is decentralized and values privatization. 
    So, will this concept work in the United States? Our socio-economic system is based on hard work and the hope for upward social mobility. After World War II, prosperity led to more homes in the suburbs with station wagons. Prosperity also changed food consumption patterns with the proliferation of fast food restaurants and high-end kitchen appliances. This lifestyle soon became known as the American Dream, the envy around the world.

    WorldWar II, American household size has decreased while home size has increased. More successful baby boomers have replaced station wagons with gas guzzling mini-vans and SUVs, and built McMansions. Low-density, large lot suburbs designed for automobiles and commuting have led to traffic congestion and energy dependence with more pollution. These lifestyle changes have led to urban sprawl.

    The progressive community of Portland, Oregon has experimented with smart growth. But, according to Jane Shaw of PERC and Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation, the Portland project has not achieved what it meant to do. Land-use planning through zoning affects the supply of single family homes and artificially drove up prices and actually prevents homeowners from realizing the American dream. Consequently, zoning practices played a role in the recent housing bubble.

    Infrastructure requires large upfront costs and municipalities cannot always provide adequate maintenance
    through user fees. Randal O’Toole of the American Dream Coalition points out that tens of millions of dollars in government subsidies, through grants and tax breaks, were necessary to finance Portland’s rail transit. In this case, light rail did not significantly decrease the usage of automobiles.

    To address the housing sustainability issue, architects throughout the United States have offered prefabricated modular housing similar to IKEA’s European venture, but with much less success.
    IKEA has established a pilot program in Portland, Oregon with the architectural design firm IdeaBox. However, in the United States banks are not eager to finance prefabricated housing and some people still perceive prefab as mobile homes. Even with financing and educated consumers, prefab housing needs to comply with local building codes.

    Variations in building codes create problems and customizations offset any savings to consumers. Harvey Sachs of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy points out that advances in
    IT and industrial production now enable manufacturers to provide cost savings and customization. Mass customization using computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) borrowed from the boat building industry can mix and match modular components in various colors, sizes, and materials, similar to Dell computers and Herman Miller furniture.

    The American Dream depends on ingenuity. However, with all the advancements in renewable energy, there is no clear evidence that they will provide a solution to our increasing energy demands. The necessity to reduce emissions from transportation and electricity is based on the assumption that fossil fuels are the primary source of energy. This does not take into account changes on the supply-side through novel energy sources. Schumpeterian revolutions such as synthetic biology, which reprograms microbes to produce environmentally friendly fuels, can potentially lead to an infinite supply of energy. With a transition from finite natural resources to unlimited synthetic resources, society can then focus on how to best determine pricing with infinite supply and increasing demand.

    While new urbanists believe suburbanites spend too much time in their own private spaces and in their automobiles, Steve Greenhut of the Pacific Research Institute argues that smart growth is social engineering.
    The American dream also values individuality and the ability to make lifestyle choices. While some may prefer an urban or rural lifestyle, young adults married with kids may prefer cars and the suburbs. With a novel, clean source of energy, American citizens can then choose a rural, suburban, or urban lifestyle without the fear of participating in a culture war. 


    Correction: Sweden is not a socialist democracy, it is a highly democratic capitalist society and it does not rely on centralized planning more than the US. In numerous international studies it is also found that Sweden is more completive than the US and has more millionaires and global companies per capita.

    But Swedes, just like all Europeans, are more concerned about the environment than the average American and make life choices along those lines.

    Johannes Koelman
    I am not even sure what the term "socialist democracy" would mean. Is that a democratic country in which one of the ruling parties adheres to democratic socialism? What if such a party is in a coalition with a Christian or libertarian party? Would a country ruled by such a coalition be a "Christian socialist democracy" or a "libertarian socialist democracy", respectively?
    Socialist Democracy is a geopolitical term, a long-used one at that, even if the words outside that context don't make sense.  America is a Liberal Democracy, for example, though Conservatives in America will chafe at the classic use of the word liberal.

    And of course Sweden is socialist - 'highly capitalist' countries do not force toy companies to make their advertising gender neutral, nor do they implement obscenely high taxes and a bloated social welfare net. The government takes 52% of GDP, the highest of any industrialized country. Even France has nicer tax laws.

    That's not to say it doesn't work - it seems to work for Swedes, the economy is doing well.  It's still a socialist democracy and calling itself capitalist is no different than when all those communist countries called themselves Democratic Republics.
    Johannes Koelman
    That makes Denmark (higher tax rate than Sweden) a communist democracy? Joking aside, Sweden is as much a liberal democracy as the US.
    Today, I agree.  Geopolitically, a liberal democracy is one in which power is not centralized and the US has approached European socialist countries in terms of how much wealth and power the federal government controls.  We also ban Big Gulps, which is just as ridiculous as forcing toy catalogs to have pictures of boys playing with Barbie dolls. Denmark used to call itself a Social Democratic country, not a Liberal Democracy, though "socialism" as a formal term is now out of favor and they call themselves neo-liberals. Geopolitical terms outside specialists are increasingly subjective since, as you show, everyone not communist can apparently claim to be a liberal democracy now.

    Biology has the same problem. Automobile companies advertising that their car has 'evolved' colloquialize the term to an extent it has less meaning than it did historically and even scientifically. 

    On your first point, tax rate and government control of GDP are not the same thing.  Sweden is number one in the category I mentioned because that is the most relevant measure for a capitalist nation - if a country is the lowest industrialized nation in the key capitalistic measure, it is not capitalist...unless everyone is. And if everyone is capitalist, there is no need for more than one term.
    The 'Liberal democracy' definition you refer to in Wikipedia does not make any reference to renditions or extraditions on the basis of some allegation. But then, on the other hand, it does not say anything about the presumption of innocence either. The way I read this is that it is ok to grab or try to grab someone, anywhere (Julian Assange) lock him/her away for an indefinite period without due process until 'reformed' by whatever means (even prolonged judicial processes while in custody (Bradley Manning and others)) and then try to off-load him/her to a third country as part of a bargaining process (Gismo detainees). You seem to be pretty right about Sweden being as much a 'liberal democracy' as the US though - rendition flights galore passing through: 'Liberal' with flavours. Perhaps this one came from the Ministry of Truth.

    My purpose of using socialist democracy was to distinguish between true socialism. I have read that Sweden actually provides more civil liberties to its citizens than the US. But the founder of Ikea moved to Switerland to avoid taxes. So, labels are nice but what do they actually mean?

    In the the context of the future of housing, I read in a case study of HammarbySjostad that the politics of Sweden varies from socialistic to more in favor of privitization depending on who is in power. Also, a significant block of the electorate is pro-capitalism and privitization. There was actually a poll to determine how the citizens felt about the project, which revealed they were divided.
    Randall Mayes
    There's one thing to note, because of technology, a lot of us suburbanites can now work from home.
    Never is a long time.