Saturday, July 02, 2005

Catching up to Sweden?

Left-liberals often look to Sweden as their ideal. They like the Swedish model of a high-taxing welfare state. We are often told by leftists that Sweden is the kind of society, in which the individual is provided for by state welfare, that we need to catch up to.

But what is there in the Swedish model to prevent the abuse of welfare? This is one of the problems which is now catching up with the Swedes.

For instance, in Sweden workers who take sick leave get paid at least 80% of their wage, with the first two weeks paid for by their employer and the government paying for the rest indefinitely. Generous? Yes - to a crazy degree.

The result of such an ill-considered welfare scheme is that whereas US workers take an average of 6 days sick leave per year, Swedish workers take 32 (2002). At any one time the government is paying sickness benefits to 10% of the work force.

Now the Swedes are having to take remedial measures. If workers on long-term sick leave don't return to work, they will be required to resign and seek alternative positions. The Swedish Government is even willing to create an alternative labour market to get those taking long-term sick leave back into active work. Workers who refuse to join in this special "transitional" labour market will have their sickness benefit terminated.

Reality wins out in the end. A welfare system has to be designed intelligently so that it doesn't undermine natural forms of society such as the family and so that it doesn't remove normal work incentives.

Sweden is only just now learning its lession - namely, that you can't offer people an ongoing wage without the requirement to actually turn up to work. This was a policy destined to fail.

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