Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
This chapter begins with a contention dating back more than twenty years (see Milner 1989): in Sweden, social democracy is not merely the programme of a party, but constitutes a way of life incorporated into the institutions of society. Despite some overreaching in the 1970s, and the ensuing backlash in the early 1980s, the social democratic way of life had become entrenched in what had come to be known as the ‘Swedish model’. The model consisted of a logically coherent set of policies and institutions instituted over half a century by the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) and its allies in and beyond the labour movement. The model withstood the wide-reaching challenges to the welfare state identified with globalisation, the neo-conservative policies of Reagan and Thatcher and the public choice ideas underlying them (Milner 1994). Adaptations to these challenges, not only in Sweden but also in Finland, Norway and Denmark, did not undermine the fundamentals of the model. Indeed, the policy choices effectively defied the stark logic of public choice: supporting the welfare state constituted a rational choice for Scandinavians.
While, as we shall see, it was never only a matter of having social democrats in power, the predominance of the SAP during this period was an enduring and seemingly eternal part of the Swedish landscape. This is no longer the case. In the last decade a significant change has taken place in Sweden, the cradle of twentieth-century social democracy, with possible repercussions elsewhere in Scandinavia and beyond.