Friday, May 28, 2010

Sweden: Totalitarianism Lite

The bureaucratic machine lies outside the purlieus of the judiciary, pronouncing judgement on its own actions by a system of administrative law. Many issues concerning the liberty of the citizen are the prerogative of the civil service.  Exempt from parliamentary supervision, and immune from due process of law, the Swedish administrative machinery has been protected from the most prolific sources of delay, to become a most effective instrument of technocratic rule.

Planning in its widest sense is the kernel of economic progress, and in this field the Swedish system gives tremendous power to the expert. Town planning, for example, is the monopoly of local government, and the concern of a municipal bureaucracy. Expropriation, keystone of public control of land, is a simple administrative process, outside the jurisdiction of courts of law. An expropriation order may not be contested; once it is signed, it is final. Only the amount of compensation may be questioned, and decision is in the hands of the administrative courts.

The proper use of human resources demands a mechanism of control to regulate the supply of work and workers according to the oscillation of depression and boom. This is in the hands of a body called the Labour Market Directorate. It creates public employment, such as road construction, and all private building requires its endorsement. (…) Since the Diet cannot influence, or debate, the activities of the Labour Market Directorate, and since its director general has for long been a Social Democrat, its activities can be steered according to party policy. The advantages are manifold. Industry may be directed to chosen parts of the country by economic and political specialists working without extraneous interference. Building may be retarded or accelerated, and employment created or pared, according to whether the economy needs heating or cooling. If inflation or deflation are not exactly at the beck and call of a civil servant, at least he has the ability to encourage either at the stroke of a pen. A reversal of economic policy which, in England or America, would be the subject of parliamentary debate, and stand in danger of parliamentary sanctions, is simply a matter of administrative order in Sweden.

The Swedish planners have been fortunate in their industrialists.  In England and America, economic direction has been delayed, and sometimes frustrated, by the liberalism that gave political expression to the personal independence demanded by the capitalist ethos. Where control has been tentatively enforced, it has not infrequently been undermined by private sabotage without compunction. In the 1960s, for instance, the Labour government in England saw its financial restrictions undermined by private manipulation of a sophisticated credit system. A bank manager could then say to a customer that 'our aim is to protect our customers from the authorities', and remain honourable and honoured. None of this holds in Sweden. It is not only that the government has more power, but that businessmen want to submit.  Capitalism, in the sense of free enterprise and competition, has never existed in Sweden. The nineteenth-century entrepreneurs who built up Swedish industry believed in State help and control, a belated form of mercantilism. The firms that then grew up were, in all but name, monopolies. The Swedish economy has in consequence preserved a quasi-monopolistic nature. It has led to a degree of concentration which in the West is probably only equalled by Belgium.  Four or five families dominate Swedish economic life.  (…)

Under these circumstances, it might be imagined that the Swedish capitalists would profit by their strength to fight the government. In fact, this has never happened, because they have always by tradition identified themselves with the State, even after the accession of the Social Democrats and the ultimate threat they posed to the independence of the businessmen.

If the Swedish Central Bank exercises a unique and absolute control over financial affairs, it is not entirely due to its very extensive powers, which, in effect, make private banks its branches. It is also a consequence of the quasi-civil servant attitude of bankers.

'I admire the independence of English bankers,' said Mr Tore Browaldh, sometime managing director of Svenska Handelsbanken, one of the three major Swedish banks, 'but it could never happen here. Swedes like State control. It would never occur to a Swedish banker to help a customer against the State; his instincts are the other way: to carry out the orders of the Central Bank. He identifies himself with the State. I suppose it's a result of the Corporate State. I would lay there are no conflicts of loyalty; between the State and the customer, the State always wins. Even if we know we're cutting our own throats.'

This interplay of bureaucratic control, acquiescence and private identification with the State, smooths official control in most fields. Much of the development of Swedish society, for example, lies with the Directorate of Social Affairs which deals with social welfare, medicine and health services, housing and, to a certain extent, education as well. For some years, the director general was Professor Bror Rexed, who also happens to be one of the Social Democrats' leading ideologists. He frequently announced future policy, before his own minister had spoken, and before the party had officially made its decision. But, speaking as a senior bureaucrat, his words were accepted as a rescript which, in due course, would be formally endorsed. To take two important examples, he it was who announced in 1970 that the transplantation of organs was to be reviewed, and the law modified, and that, until the results of further research were available, the fluoridization of drinking water was to be suspended. Both were questions of public interest but, because he dealt with them, they were removed from political controversy. By the time the Diet was allowed to discuss these issues, what might have been a matter of parliamentary debate turned into the consideration of received truth. It is in this manner that controversial subjects are removed from politics.

The Directorate of Social Affairs enjoys untrammeled power in the custody of children. An administrative order issued by a petty official is sufficient to take any child away from its parents and have it brought up by any person (or institution) and in any way seen fit. This is no modern contrivance; it is an old arrangement brought up to date. (…)

Courts of law have no say in the matter, and there is no way that a parent can oppose an order depriving him of custody of his own child. (…) Custody of children, then, is in the hands of bureaucrats.  Child welfare officials may enter any home to investigate family conditions. They have power to order the police to force an entry and remove children without recourse to the judiciary. (…) Child welfare authorities are in contact with every citizen at one time or another. By law, every birth must be reported to the local child welfare centre. A representative will then visit the home to assess conditions and report findings to the doctors at the centre. It is unwise to resist entry, because that will arouse suspicions of maltreatment, with consequent danger of official action. Moreover, there is a legal compulsion on the citizen to report all suspicions of maltreatment to the child welfare centres. Anonymity is guaranteed, so that the suspected parent, like the victim of the Spanish Inquisition, need never know who his accuser is. (…)

Such is the control, and such the public mentality, enjoyed by the Swedish planners. The rulers of the Soviet Union, although favoured by despotic power, are not so fortunate. Obstructively resentful of officialdom, the Russian, in the words of the Spanish saying, has always known how orders are 'to be obeyed but not carried out'. To the Swede, that sort of compromise is downright immoral. His elected leaders have received those political blessings denied the autocrats in the Kremlin: compliant citizens and an unopposed bureaucracy.

(The New Totalitarians by Roland Huntford)

1 comment:

Free Speech Czar said...

Scary stuff. We've been discussing the limitations of free speech in Sweden, and your posts fit right in. Thanks.