Thomas B. Edsall In The NYT: "Why Can’t America Be Sweden?"
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1973: "Minnesota:

A State that Works"

Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times:

Why Can’t America Be Sweden? 

Daron Acemoglu, an eminent economist at M.I.T., has ignited a firestorm by arguing that contemporary forces of globalization bar the United States from adopting the liberal social welfare policies of Scandinavian countries.

Acemoglu ... uh-oh. Everything Acemoglu touches turns into mental fog. I agree with him a lot, but he's kryptonite to clear thought.

“We cannot all be like the Nordics,” Acemoglu declares, in a 2012 paper, “Choosing Your Own Capitalism in a Globalized World,” written with his colleagues James A. Robinson, a professor of government at Harvard, and Thierry Verdier, scientific director of the Paris School of Economics. 

Because we're not Nordics?

No ...

If the “cutthroat leader” – the United States — were to switch to “cuddly capitalism, this would reduce the growth rate of the entire world economy,” the authors argue, by slowing the pace of innovation.

Characteristically, the word "Swedes" does not appear in the text of the NYT article (just in a photo caption). In the comments, however:


Staten Island 

The main reason that America cannot be Sweden is that, unlike Sweden, America is not full of Swedes. We worship diversity in this country, but Sweden has been pretty much a textbook example of the blessings of homogeneity. 

Of course if Sweden continues with its current immigration policy, pretty soon it will no longer be full of Swedes either. Check out the recent (and under-reported) Stockholm riots to see where this is going.

The picture above is the cover (nominated by Time for Worst.Time.Cover.Ever) for the 1973 article "Minnesota: A State that Works" that troubled me as a 14-year-old true believer in Milton Friedman's columns in Newsweek. Minnesota was the most European social democratic state in the Union in 1973, but I had spent some vacations at my cousins' house outside St. Paul and could attest that, despite libertarian theory, it wasn't so bad. Some excerpts from the 1973 Time article:

The good life

If the American good life has anywhere survived in some intelligent equilibrium, it may be in Minnesota. It is a state where a residual American secret still seems to operate. Some of the nation's more agreeable qualities are evident there: courtesy and fairness, honesty, a capacity for innovation, hard work, intellectual adventure and responsibility. 

Politics is almost unnaturally clean — no patronage, virtually no corruption. The citizens are well educated: the high school dropout rate, 7.6 percent, is the nation's lowest. Minnesotans are remarkably civil: their crime rate is the third lowest in the nation (after Iowa and Maine). By a combination of political and cultural tradition, geography and sheer luck, Minnesota nurtures an extraordinarily successful society. 


Minnesota has its drawbacks. ... Unemployment outside the Twin Cities area is troublesome, and personal income taxes are the highest in the nation. ... Some argue that Minneesota works a bit too well and too blandly, that its comparatively open and serene population is a decade or two behind the rest of the U.S. ... 

Racial issues

Minnesota's people are overwhelmingly white (98 percent), most of them solidly rooted in the middle class. Blacks rioted in Minneapolis in 1966 and 1967, but with only 1 percent of the state's population, they have not yet forced Minnesotans into any serious racial confrontation. Or at least, not apocalyptic confronation. ... Two black state legislators were elected last fall from predominantly white middle-class suburban districts.

Business culture

Minnesotans sometimes point to themselves as the reason for the state's success.

"You just don't have people barking at you when you're walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant," says Jim Johnson, a former Princeton instructor and Muskie campaign worker who recently moved back home. ...

Is this the 1973 version of the Jim Johnson of later Fannie Mae notoriety?

Yes, indeedy.

The land ...

Such an abundance and accessibility of nature has much to do with the Minnesotans' sense of place and roots. More than almost any other Americans, they are outdoor people, and at least 50 percent of them customarily vacation within their own state. 

Civic duty

Part of Minnesota's secret lies in people's extraordinary civic interest. The business community's social conscience, for example, is a reflection of the fact that so many companies have their headquarters in the state. ... 

Even more important than corporate giving is personal fund raising. 

Political culture

Some of Minnesota's success can be traced to its ethnic traditions. ... In many respects, the Scandinavians, long the largest single group in the state, have shaped Minnesota's character. They, together with its large Anglo-Saxon and German strain, account for a deep grain of sobriety and hard work, a near-worship for education and a high civic tradition in Minnesota life. ... 

Arthur Naftalin, a brilliant mayor of Minneapolis during the '60s, points out that no single group — ethnic, religious or business — has ever been able to take control of the state. There were no Tammany machines to greet the immigrants. "With our great variety," says Naftalin, "we have always had to form coalitions." ... 

(In the late '30s, Gov. Harold) Stassen pushed through a comprehensive civil service law that abolished patronage. "By taking politics out of the back room and engaging thousands in political activity, from women to college students, Stassen made the governmental process in Minnesota a superior instrument of the people's will," observes author Neal R. Peirce in The Great Plains States of America. ... 

Closing thoughts

Other states have more dramatic attractions, of course. To be in Ely or St. Cloud or event Minneapolis on a Saturday night and looking for excitement is to be conscious that nights are for sleeping. But there is something in the verdict of Chuck Ruhr: "California is the flashy blonde you like to take out once or twice. Minnesota is the girl you want to marry."

By the way, do people (outside of a few industries) talk about California this way anymore?

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