I have long argued that socialism should not be understood as a “system” operating in some particular country, at some particular point in its history, but as a set of set of values – some of which are expressed in every human society. If, however, someone insists on a “systemic” example of socialist values at work, the best place to look was never the former Soviet Union, but Sweden. There we would find some of the lowest levels of economic inequality in the world, combined with an advanced, industrial economy, high levels of worker unionization, and robust support for public health care and education.
This week in the New Republic, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig provides an excellent example of Sweden’s socialist culture in the context of the current U.S. measles outbreak. Bruenig notes that the resistance to vaccination on the part of some U.S. parents is driven by a culture of radical individualism, leading to reckless disregard for the wellbeing of others. By contrast, she quotes a study of vaccination in Sweden showing its connection to concerns for the heath and wellbeing of others. This does not mean that Swedes are self-sacrificing, but that their culture recognizes the value of community – not just individual – wellbeing.
We all do better when we all do better. This is what socialism looks like.