[WIDE INTERVIEW]Koreans get a glimpse of ‘Swedish model’

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[WIDE INTERVIEW]Koreans get a glimpse of ‘Swedish model’

Bjorn von Sydow, the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, is visiting Seoul April 7-12 with six other members of Parliament, five of whom are floor leaders of different political parties. Here at the invitation of National Assembly Speaker Kim One-ki, they will speak at a panel discussion on the topic, “Democracy and the Welfare State” at Seoul National University today. Mr. von Sydow, in an interview with the JoongAng Daily on Monday, explained the Swedish model of development.

Q. Korea is interested in the national development model of your country, the so-called “Swedish model,” because Sweden has achieved both economic growth and welfare. What is the secret of its success?
A. One characteristic is women’s participation in the labor market ― most women aged between 20 and 65 are in the labor market, in about the same proportion as men. That has important repercussions on the whole social system ― on social services, provision of care for children, nurseries and awareness about care for the elderly, among other things.
Another aspect is a labor market with prevailing peaceful relations between labor and employers. But of course, there are differences in views among the different political parties. Some might argue that this model should be somewhat modified, or there should be an increase in the supply of labor to the market. Others may say that there should be some reduction in the tax rates. Political leaders who work in coalition with the Social Democratic government will probably argue that flexibility in the labor market is okay but high taxes ― as we have now ― can be justified.

In labor market participation, it seems that women are equal to men in Sweden. In terms of the quality of their participation, are women equally treated?
They dominate in some areas of the labor market, such as hospitals, child care, care of the elderly and the sick. Within that context, there is continuing discussion in the country between the political camps on how to make the position of women better, because no one is completely satisfied with the situation. The average woman earns 92 percent of what males earn. That is not acceptable to anyone, I think. But, [on the question of] which mechanisms should be used, they have different opinions.

How about the status of female members of Parliament?
In the last elections nearly four years ago, almost 45 percent of the elected members of parliament were women. Four of the seven floor leaders and two of Sweden’s party leaders are female parliamentarians. So, do women have standing? Yes. However, there’s more to do in order to enhance ― really to establish ― female MPs’ influence on the same level as men’s. Achieving 45 percent is good, but it is not yet sufficient in terms of quality.

President Roh Moo-hyun once said that the Swedish model is the ideal system for Korea to follow.
Every foreign statesman who believes in the Swedish model is viewed [by us] as very positive acknowledgment of the model. Swedes are proud of what we can inspire. On the other hand, the model is, of course, always criticized at home. The opposition parties have criticisms on some points of the model. So, it’s not that the model is a unified system that could be implemented anywhere. It’s a broad mindset shaped by consensual attitudes, the labor market experience, discussions on the tax ratio or the supply of labor.
Sweden has always been influenced by other systems, for example by our emigrants in the United States and others who have been influenced from other parts of the world. I remember vividly when Swedish carmakers understood how Korea and Japan carmakers could gain productivity by modern methods. There is ― all the time ― some kind of interchange. The reason why it works is that most Swedes are able to speak English. That is a very important factor.

The Wallenberg Group, one of Sweden’s best-known conglomerates, has led Sweden’s economy for five generations and 150 years. Swedish people are said to think favorably of the group, unlike Koreans who tend to take a dim view of conglomerates. What are the reasons for this?
On the political level, there aren’t many critical views about these conglomerates. If you ask ordinary people, you may not hear criticisms against structural decisions, as long as people understand them and know that there are programs for further education or mobility for work in different fields.
But there are criticisms against corporate management ― when workers are not able to enjoy compensation other than salaries, such as participation in a profit-sharing program. We know from surveys that the Swedish population is deeply unhappy with the disparity in levels of payment for corporate management. But it doesn’t matter whether management is the Wallenberg Group or any other group, private or government-owned.

The JoongAng Ilbo, the mother newspaper of the JoongAng Daily, ran a story on the Swedish economy a few years ago. According to the article, Sweden’s tax rate runs as high as 50 percent, so it discourages the entrepreneurial spirit. As a result, none of Sweden’s top 50 companies was established in the last 30 years or so. Is that true?
The issue of taxes and entrepreneurial spirit is a matter of debate. It’s fair to say that most people accept there can be a relation between taxation and the entrepreneurial spirit. However, the issue with big corporations is somewhat more complicated. For the past 30 years, most of them have changed in substance and markets. Most of them, including Ericsson and ABB, are concentrating on research and development; investments tend, however, to be made abroad due to increased internationalization. Many of the barriers before 1980 have been broken down. It’s not easy to draw conclusions.

Do you have any personal message to our readers?
I would like to stress optimism and democracy ― these are the two pillars of individual as well as collective well-being. I think you have made tremendous achievements in these two areas already but you can keep achieving even more.

by Park Sung-ha
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