Why Gothenburg, Sweden Part 1: Whet the Appetite

When talking to friends about this transition plan, a common early question: Why Sweden?

The first little tiny seed that took hold was hearing an NPR interview with Steven Hill in 2010, talking about his book “Europe’s Promise”.  He shared this little anecdote from the book:

Interestingly, while Europeans supposedly are taxed to death and have a lower per capita income than Americans, almost by magic they have managed to maintain a much higher savings rate than Americans. The French and Germans have a savings rate of around 12 to 14 percent of their income, compared with a lower or even a negative savings rate among “lightly taxed” Americans.  Americans can’t save in part because they are spending so much of their disposable income on purchasing these other necessary workfare benefits and services out of pocked.  Unfortunately, most Americans are only vaguely aware of these complexities and nuances, having been barraged with the stereotype of the “poor overtaxed Europeans.”

Even American leaders at the highest levels of government and business display a shocking degree of ignorance. A few years ago, an American acquaintance of mine who lives in Sweden told me that he and his Swedish wife were in New York City and, quite by chance, ended up sharing a limousine to the theater district with then-U.S. Senator John Breaux from Louisiana and his wife. Breaux, a conservative, anti-tax Democrat, asked my acquaintance about Sweden and swaggeringly commented about “all those taxes the Swedes pay,” to which this American replied, “The problem with Americans and their taxes is that we get nothing for them.” He then went on to tell Breaux about the comprehensive level of services and benefits that Swedes receive in return for their taxes. “If Americans knew what Swedes receive for their taxes, we would probably riot,” he told the senator. The rest of the ride to the theater district was unsurprisingly quiet.

That seed was “Hmm, I wonder what they do receive”.  It then lay dormant for some time.

 

In early 2011, the OECD released a website called Your Better Life Index. After navigating the fairly confusing index (the flower petals make reading the chart more challenging than helpful), it gave me some sense of where in the world I might be happy based on the things I value:

  1. Australia
  2. Sweden
  3. Norway
  4. Denmark
  5. New Zealand
  6. Finland

For me, the United States (depending on how I tweak the settings) generally lands in the 10-20 range.

By a whole host of other metrics, Nordic countries, Australia, and New Zealand continue to perform quite highly:

For climate reasons, a few personal reasons, and just the sheer distance, we really wanted to stick to European countries.  We’re also pretty big believers in social safety nets through strong (and smart) governance.

The Nordic countries definitely are a strong fit based on data measures for what we might want. In the next post, I’ll cover what led us to focus in on Sweden from the Nordic region.

About the author

Jeremy Vyska Jeremy is a technology enthusiast and often plays the part of “wise old man” to his friends and peers.