Monday, August 20, 2012

Socialism, bro. Can't become a millionaire.

“Socialism, bro. Can't become a millionaire.” That was his response. Incredibly nuanced, simple, straightforward, well-researched, I’m sure.

I was walking to work a while back when the tall kid in a group of guys in front of me muttered that sentence. Being a graduate student and also teaching at the university means I am surrounded by a whole lot of young(er) people. And it means I overhear a whole lot of things I don’t necessarily want to overhear (late night drunken revelry is usually rehashed loudly on cell phones the morning after). Now, everyone says stupid things. It happens. We all know I’ve done it. Especially because I am even more stupid than most and recorded plenty of those thoughts in writing on a blog for people to refer back to. Sometimes those stupid things are overheard and posted on blogs by other people though. It’s essentially the idea behind

So when this group of guys started discussing Scandinavia, my ears perked up just a bit. Discussing Scandinavia in the Midwestern United States is not all that uncommon. There’s been a whole lot of immigration to that area since the middle of the 1800s and that immigration has left its mark. It’s a mark that is filled with interesting questions of identity and culture and what it means to be Scandinavian. But this kid in front of me wanted to go big. He wanted to move to Scandinavia. Somewhere. Finland, Norway, Sweden. I’m quietly cheering this turn of events and damn near ready to try to recruit him to taking some Swedish classes. That’s when his buddy spoke up. Some buddies are the kinds of buddies who support you when you have plans for an adventure. They’re the ones you keep around since you met them in third grade. They’re the ones you call a few days before the Rose Bowl and convince them to drive 17 hours to California on New Year’s day. This guy was not one of them. This guy was the buddy who cheats off your test and blames you when he gets caught. This guy was the buddy who takes the last sour gummy worm without offering you the orange half, even though he knows you love the orange half. He sucks. He should not be your friend.

He’s also the guy though that knows everything. Knowing everything can be problematic because sooner or later, you’re not going to know anything because you stopped listening long ago to anyone who might have something interesting to say. It often results in comments like, “Socialism, bro. Can't become a millionaire.” Which, surprisingly, isn’t true.

I think the tax rate in Sweden is too high. I thought that when I moved there, I thought that when I worked there, I think that now. That being said, it’s asinine to argue that just because the tax rate is high, that there are no millionaires (not  to mention how asinine it is to shoot down an idea because of your chances of becoming a millionaire. Here’s a secret, that’s hard no matter what country you’re in.).

I’m not a socialist. I know, surprising. My political beliefs have changed quite a bit over the course of five years, but I am far from being a socialist. But I cringe at the way the word is used in the United States when referring to Sweden and Scandinavia. Scandinavian societies have socialist aspects. Absolutely. In fact, Sweden can best be described as a social democracy. But even the United States has some of those socialist aspects – the United States Post Office for example. Scandinavian societies tend to have a bit more of those aspects, but both are mixed market economies that depend heavily on capitalism.

Turns out that through 2011, there are 61,100 people in Sweden who are considered to be millionaires. Ten are considered to be billionaires. Forbes magazine and Capgemini do annual reports on this sort of thing using US dollars to measure the number of millionaires and billionaires. There are way more in the United States, obviously, but also as a percentage of the population. Over three million (less than one percent of the population), but that number has decreased recently. However, the number of millionaires in Sweden is actually increasing, since 2009, they are in the top 10 of countries that are seeing a percentage increase of millionaires.

Now whether this is a good thing or is slowly eroding the social makeup of Sweden’s prized social democracy is up for debate, but if you don’t want to move to Sweden, fine. Just don’t blame it on your chances of becoming a millionaire.

Welcome to Swedish America. And “socialism, bro.”


  1. Saknat dina inlägg för du skriver så bra.Hoppas lillebror kommer att trivas.

  2. Hade det inte också varit intressant att kommentera det motsatta? Hur många fattiga finns det i Sverige kontra USA.

    Härligt att du är tillbaka. Håller med fg kommentator, du skriver så bra.

  3. Of course, the notion that Sweden is socialist is a ridiculous one, at most social liberal, which is essentially liberalism with some aspects of social welfare to keep the very poorest at a minimum level, but still very much coddling the capitalist class.

    I would like to argue that even within a truly socialist economic system however, it is still possible to become a "millionaire", it's just that you have to do so off your own work, and not from capital accumulation. Of course, even in a capitalist economy, becoming a millionaire from capital accumulation is difficult, because that would require that you actually own a significant amount of capital in the first place, it is only once you have already accumulated a significant amount of capital that it becomes easier in a capitalist economy to become even wealthier by way of interest accumulation, or "letting your money work for you".

    Although there are literally dozens, perhaps hundreds of different branches and opinions, what all branches have in common is the worker ownership of the means of production, this does not mean individuals cannot own their houses or other personal affects as it is commonly misconstrued in propaganda, but essentially that workers own what they produce at work and there's no ownership (capitalist) class to take a part of that production simply because they happened to already have a vast amount of capital to invest.

    Socialism also doesn't mean everyone has to be paid the same, all it requires is that people be paid based on the effort that they put in, not based on the current balance of their savings account (grossly simplified, in actuality stocks, bonds, etc. but you get the point).

  4. This was a great piece to read. I love your writing style and humour. Reminds me of what i am trying to do with my blog. Thanks!

  5. I hope this guy ended up moving to Scandinavia. And I hope he becomes a millionaire.