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Be Like Sweden: Irony in Minnesota

Updated: May 20


The NBC News Headline reads Lockdown protestors shout “be like Sweden” ---but Swedes say they are missing the point (Modig, 2020; photo from Glenn Stubbe, AP)”


It is quite likely some in the protest out in front of the Minnesota Governor’s residence have Swedish (and, certainly, several would have Viking/Nordic) ancestry. The irony is that it is quite likely that the Viking Economics represented in Sweden, which is a balanced Market&Government, with more Government involvement than in any US State, including Minnesota, would not be tolerated. So, it is one of those “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” ideas. That is, “be more like Sweden” is to give freedom and liberty to choose in the Market, but it is a freedom and liberty given much more context by the Community in general, as represented in the Government: Self&Other in-balance. Viking Economics (see Lakey, 2017, and the Blog herein https://www.metaeconomics.info/post/viking-economics-nordic-model-or-not ) sees things quite differently than US Economics,which sees almost exclusively the Self (as in Chicago School Libertarian Economics, which is "...fiercely opposed to any ethical reflection whatever..." from McCloskey, 2019, p. 93, and, as a result, does not facilitate a truly humane liberalism based, good capitalism. Ironically, Viking Economics can and usually does).

Viking Economics is especially different from that represented in Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s call for the US to be like Sweden. Also, Libertarian Senator Rand Paul, a close relative of the Chicago School of Economics Libertarianism, too, like Carlson, is not talking about Viking Economics (the T. Carlson and R. Paul URLs are in the Modig article; see the Reference list below). The Right Isle (what used to be mainly Conservatives, but now has a seemingly growing contingent of extreme right liberal statists and neo-liberals, including Nationalists, than perhaps ever before) politics in the US clearly is not seeing a Viking Economics. Intriguingly, the Left Isle (what used to be mainly Progressives, but now has a growing number of left liberal statists, and lots of Cosmopolitans) does not see Viking Economics, either. On statists on both right and left, see McCloskey (2019, esp. pp. 14-15).

So, how do we make sense of all this? Here it comes: You make easy sense of it all through Metaeconomics. Reason? Well, it does not favor Right or Left, Conservative or Progressive (and certainly not right liberal statism or left liberal statism) and, actually, points to something more like what is actually going on in Sweden. It is a balance that would likely work better in the US, too: Empirical question, that needs to be addressed. Metaeconomics easily puts content to the claim by the Swede(s) who said, about what were perhaps some of their distant Minnesota relatives, “..they are missing the point.” And, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, as well as Senator Paul, too, are very much missing, if not distorting, the point.

So, what is the point? The point is, one needs to jointly apply Science&Ethics to deal with something like a Pandemic (and, also, such things as over-use and abuse of the Spaceship Earth’s capacity to hold and process greenhouse, including carbon dioxide, gases, but that is another story). And, the related point is: To do Science&Ethics, one must jointly recognize the essential need for balance in the dual interest of each person, as in the Ego&Empathy, Self&Other-interest, within our Own-self, which when successful also gives good balance in Market&Government, building on the strengths of each. The tribal fighting over Market vs Government has to stop: The Swedes don’t fight about it, at least not in such vitriolic ways, as represented especially in nasty tweets and crazy conspiracy theories, coming from across the political spectrum, that also have no basis in fact.

The Swedes, the Viking Economies, instead are very pragmatic. They work to find, pragmatically, what works, and what works is Science&Ethics, Self&Other, Market&Government. It is essential to see the absolute jointness, interdependence, and nonseparability of same. It is why, as the Viking Economies make clear, we need to use the “&” --- to ensure we are not using some casual “and”, and, definitely are staying away from “vs”, “or”, TribeConservative vs TribeProgressive, TribeRight or TribeLeft, and, at a very personal level, Ego vs Empathy, Self vs Other within Own-self (which leads to mental instability---which is going around, like a virus itself!). In fact, the US really needs to consider Problem Solving, and, stop fighting over Unproductive Ideology.

So, it would look more like this---like it already looks in the Viking Economies, which on average are addressing the Pandemic in far more reasonable ways than in the US---from my forthcoming book, see Chapter 9 in: Lynne, G.D. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, in press (available late-summer, 2020), see https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030506001 with the reference to “happy and efficient path 0Z” made in several of the other Blog entries herein:

Limit (Government sets Caps) the amount of toilet paper and beans a person can buy and evolve the Market Price (Trade) for each. Limit (Government) the number workers on the meat packing line, give them protective gear, and put the Market to work to produce the meat product. Finding happy and efficient path 0Z also would mean doing substantive testing and tracing in order to obtain the data needed for a science-based management on the meat line, as well as all other aspects of bringing the economy back on-line. The Government would mandate testing (the Cap) and the Market would do it (the Trade). The Government would bring the science and data; the Market would implement based on that science and data. The Market would do the food production and keep the distribution systems running, and producing the protective gear and ventilators (unless the nudge from Government to produce said items fails; Government mandates sometimes are necessary, when the Market cannot make enough profit): Trade. The Government would mandate the wearing of the protective gear in certain cases, like on meat packing lines, not so much in other places, like large shopping malls. Use common sense, else you get Liberty and Death. Use common sense coming out of empirical reality, science and, ethics: Noone has the liberty, freedom, and right to infect someone else. There are social costs (sorry, Libertarian Think Tank, the Cato Institute: You missed a key point in common sense). So, trade&cap, cap&trade. And, perhaps most importantly: Pour lots of Government money into both private&public-research, to fund the science needed to develop the vaccines, the medicines, while the Market helps with the research too, but most importantly makes and distributes same (while paying the Government back, through paying the Price/Taxes, for the research costs).

Now, could happy (even in a Pandemic) and efficient path 0Z also be found by the Market alone? Theoretically, sure. A distillery shifting from the profit path to producing hand sanitizers, and to giving away the product, is approaching a path 0Z choice. Markets could produce all the personal protective gear with reasonable profits. A Chief Empathy Officer (Bersin, 2020) would operate on path 0Z, seeking balance, avoiding the excessive Greed path 0G. It would take far more Empathy to offset the Ego (the Chief Ego Officer, which is the dominant kind in the US) than currently is operating in the US. Could it happen with Government-only? Theoretically, yes: Pragmatically, realistically speaking, not. It takes both.

So, how is the US doing, overall? How is it comparing with actions in other areas on the Spaceship (including in the Viking Economies)? The analysis is not yet in, but it appears to be unwrapping substantial Market-failure and Government-failure. One case in point: China produced over one-half of the Spaceship Earth masks prior to the Corona outbreak, with several US factories involved in production in China (Bradsher and Alderman, 2020). Problem is, China nationalized all the personal protective equipment manufacturers early in the outbreak of COVID-19, and hoarded the masks (Sutter, Shwarzenberger, and Sutherland, 2020, p. 11). It seems Ego based Self-interest was also the main force in China, both in the Market and the Government, just like it will likely be proven to be the case in the US: Empathy, anyone? It represents a clear failure on the part of Government to put in place a shared Other-interest between China and the US that banned hoarding. The shared Other-interest in personal protective equipment would have meant far more attention to same than a profit seeking Market would generally provide, but something that public-health concerned Government could easily have provided. Balance, please.

So, in contrast to the standard story on the Right (Fox News’ Tucker Carlson; Senator Rand Paul), the Market instead did a lot of bad, e.g., moved virtually all N95 mask manufacturing capacity to China. The Government which can do good, especially in public health, was stopped from doing so with substantive failures, mainly driven by the Right, in not funding the public health system after the 2008 financial crisis. The Government had invested little in masks and other protective equipment. It seems, too, that perhaps “deep state” and “administrative state” conspiracy theories had a bad effect: Pandemic response team resources were cut heavily (Sun, 2018). In addition, significant numbers of scientific experts have been removed, otherwise discounted, by the Government. One can make Government fail by not respecting what it is good at doing, such as in helping with key actions needed in a Pandemic, e.g. using data-based (lots of sampling through testing) science for nudging social distancing and controlling it when it does not come forward from the nudge.

Is the Left doing any better? Not really. The Left fails to recognize the powerful role of the Self-interest in coming up with creative ways that just naturally evolve in the Market to deal with any kind of issue, as long as there is profit to be made, including producing more N95 masks and manufacturing vaccines. It also fails to fully appreciate the massive information problem: Dispersed information on how to best deal with a Pandemic, thousands of persons each trying to find the best way, provides decentralized sources of experience which cannot be centrally planned. The idea of spontaneous order needs to be respected. And, as long as each person in the Market also pays full and adequate attention to the empirical reality, the science, and, does it with the moral and ethical dimension in mind. And, said dimension evolves out of Empathy: Walk-in-the-shoes-of-others-and-ask-how-you-would-wish-to-be-treated, please. Ethics comes out of said walking. And, then, an Empathy (Ethics) tempered Ego, an Empathy tempered Market, can be powerful in solving real problems. No conspiracies, please. Facts, not ideology, please. Science&Ethics.

Both Right and Left miss the essential need to see the jointness in Self&Other-interest, which is what Metaeconomics makes clear. And, the Viking Economies, including Sweden, regularly demonstrate: The jointness in Self&Other, Market&Government, each needing the other, is what the Minnesota protesters seem to be missing.

Most important lesson from Metaeconomics: Do the empirical work. Stay with the facts. Pay deep attention to the science, including the deep behavioral science about the need for balance within Own-self. Encourage expert assessments and interactions. Do not squelch the scientific input. Be and stay ethical: No lying, distortion, please. No conspiracy theories, which are all non-scientific and unethical. Recognize the unique abilities of both the Market&Government. Look for balance in Science&Ethics, Self&Other-interest, Market&Government, with attention to the shared Other-interest playing a key role on the way to each person maximizing their Own-interest (not Self-interest) . And, overall, do what works: It is the Swedish (and Viking Economics, in general) way. Metaeconomics based empirical assessment, which also puts the moral and ethical dimension at the core of it all (no sneaking around the Law: No injustice, please), would likely point to a similar path.


References

Bersin, Josh. "What the Coronavirus Teaches Us About Leadership: A Lot." Business Trends/Leadership Development, 2020, accessed March 28, 2020, joshbersin.com/2020/03/ceo-the-chief-empathy-officer/.

Lakey, George. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right - and How We Can, Too. Kindle ed. Brooklyn, New York: Melville House Publishing, 2017, 2016.

McCloskey, D. N. Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All. Kindle ed. New York: Yale University Press, 2019.

Modig, Karolina. Sweden Adopts Different Approach to Battling Coronavirus. NBC News, Digital, May 15, 2020 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/lockdown-protesters-shout-be-sweden-swedes-say-they-are-missing-n1207566

Sun, L. H. "Top White House Official in Charge of Pandemic Response Exits Abruptly." Washington Post, May 10, 2018.

Sutter, K. M., Schwarzenberg, A. M., and Sutherland, M. D. . Covid-19: China Medical Supply Chains and Broader Trade Issues. Washington, D. C.: Congressional Research Service, 2020.

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