Sweden

Prior posts here mention a recent trip I took to Sweden. I was fortunate to have close relatives put me up and show me around so, in addition to experiencing the “must see” tourist attractions, I also was exposed to day-to-day Swedish life and regular people.

Sweden struck me as an affluent, technologically forward place. It was more diverse than I thought, with many people of color, though not as many as in the US. People’s basic needs appeared to be met (I saw very few homeless people, and those I did see my cousin called professional mendicants). I was told that medical care is readily available to everyone for a modest co-pay, and that people generally are satisfied, though there is a wait for non-essential procedures and dental and vision care services are not covered. The cost per capita, infant mortality and other statistics seem to bear out the success of the program. Two of my cousins are doctors, and they did not complain about the amounts the government paid them for their services, and they appeared to me to enjoy a level of affluence similar to that of doctors here.

Despite the high taxes, I saw a lot of evidence of wealth in the form of yachts, private aircraft, luxury housing, and the like. Apparently, there still is enough left after paying taxes to make it worthwhile to try to make some money.

It is not fair to compare Sweden to the US, a much bigger country, with a much bigger role in the world. However, it seems clear that Sweden’s ability to invest its tax revenues in its people has paid off — they seem healthier (though they looked well-fed, I didn’t see the scooters and oxygen tanks driven by morbidly obese people that are common here), the absence of the wolf at the door allows them to be very interested in healthy eating and promoting environmentally sound practices and policies, and the public infrastructure is in good shape with adequate services, such as police, fire, education and transportation.

Sweden is the most technologically advanced place I have seen. It seems like everyone has an i-phone, and every gadget I’ve seen here, plus more.

Land use appears more reasonable, with rural and urban areas not separated by miles and miles of sprawl. Most suburban development centers around railroad stations, and is more dense than ours. In the cities, my cousins did not use their cars, and we found the transit services in Stockholm and Gothenburg safe and reliable, with very frequent service, even at night.

Except for the small differences noted above, and a few others (more expensive gasoline and higher prices, to name some), life for the upper and middle classes in Sweden is not that different from those of similar classes here. I suspect life is better for the poor, though I did not see any what I would regard as “bad” neighborhoods (my cousin said there weren’t any, and he claimed there was no place he was afraid to walk alone after dark).

Of course, the quality of life is not determined only by economic factors. The environment in Sweden is pristine (though they do have many nuclear and waste-to-energy plants), it’s cosmopolitan, due to its proximity to the rest of Europe, and there’s lots to do, both outdoors and in the cities, which have very high-end museums, theaters and concert halls.

In sum, I was very impressed, and from what I saw, I could easily live in Sweden (which would help me learn the language, which I found very difficult, despite some prior study), provided I could find a way to make a living. In many ways, it’s a better place to live than the US, though I think the US still offers great opportunity (at least for some), and a more richly diverse population.

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