Life will be Swede when I pen my allegorical bestseller
It’s every hack journo’s secret fantasy to pen a novel.
Given that it can only be a matter of months until some upper-management genius develops a business model for the ailing print media industry that involves we human content providers being replaced with 100 monkeys (uncomplaining langurs based in a Mumbai cubicle farm, no doubt) sat in front of 100 typewriters, I’ve decided to start work on a book that will generate me some J.K. Rowlingesque coin.
It’s going to be what we literary types call “allohistory” (aka alternative history). In this genre it’s traditional to write about how things would have turned out if the Nazis won WWII but that particular mule has been whipped to death, so I’m spinning a yarn about would have happened if Sweden, following the economic shocks and stagnation of the ’70s, had lurched to the Left.
Here’s the plot (so far). In 1980, the Swedes elect Rasmus Hagen – an erstwhile film-studio head turned progressive firebrand. Hagen abandons the Keynesian settlement, which had involved a relatively fair distribution of wealth and power between the labour and capital and resulted in Swedes of all classes growing slowly but steadily better off, and announces all Sweden’s problems are down to greedy businesspeople.
Economic policy now becomes refreshingly straightforward. Whatever the problem — economy overheating, economy tanking, pickled herring not as tasty as it used to be — the solution is the same: better wages and ever more lavish conditions for the workers, higher taxes on corporations and high net worth individuals.
When business groups dare to complain, Hagen introduces a raft of laws to hobble them and proclaims, “It is now the season of 24 hours a day of summer sunshine in Sweden,” (it sounds more stirring in the original Swedish).
Hagen appoints Andreas Grensen to head up Sweden’s central bank. Grensen is a failed cowhorn player turned disciple of Agneta Olivetti, author of Odin Sighed, a rousing if interminable morality tale of wage slaves who get sick of being exploited by The Man and create a perfect society without parasitic bosses.
Grensen assiduously promotes the theory that central planning is an unimpeachably efficient allocator of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
Sure, it all sounds a bit wacky, but here’s the weird thing – at first it seems to work. A tsunami of taxpayer money thrown at grandiose infrastructure projects kickstarts the economy. The morale of the Swedish people lifts.
Hagen even works out a solution to the problem that has beset socialist leaders down the ages – running out of other people’s money to spend. The Swedes start borrowing big from their longtime rival Russia.
Sure, the proudly progressive nation has to hold its collective nose about its creditor’s gangster capitalism and human right’s abuses, but as long as those sweet rubles keep flowing, Swedes are happy not to think too much about how far in hock they’re getting to the despised Russkis.
Anyway, long story short, for three decades, no matter which side of politics is in power, the orthodoxy is rigorously adhered to. Funnily enough, parties of the Right are even more terrified of being branded “anti-worker” than their Left opponents and devote an enormous amount of effort into reassuring union leaders that they’re not going to do anything to reverse the inexorable transfer of national wealth from profit to wages.
Some weird things start happening. A large section of the conservative parties’ natural constituency — ex-Trotskyites, grumpy old men, potato farmers enraged at the thought of anyone other than deserving rural folk receiving a krona of government money — become passionate supporters of The Left Party.
Despite or because of this, the right-leaning intelligentsia spends all its time getting worked up about increasingly obscure social policy issues (such as whether the continued existence of the monarchy in Sweden is an affront to the principle of meritocracy and couples should be forced to marry after two years of cohabitating). Best-selling books such as Moose Hunting with Marx and What’s the Matter with Kiruna? are published seeking to explain the peculiar machinations of Swedish democracy to bemused foreigners.
A 100 trillion-kronor war is launched to bring nudism, gender equality and bubblegum pop to the oppressed citizens of Pakistan at the same time a 99 per cent tax rate is imposed on all private businesses, leading to the beleaguered Swedish economy spectacularly imploding in 2007.
On the Right (but not nearly as on the Right as he initially appears to his most wild-eyed supporters) the charismatic figure of Bjorn Olsson emerges, promising to lower the top tax rate from 99 per cent of total earnings to 97 per cent and reign in — a little bit anyway — government spending (Swedes will have to wait until they are 40 to qualify for cosmetic surgery to be provided free of charge by the health system, for example).
Olsson’s campaign has a few hiccups – Johan the Plumber thunders his economic policies are the first step on the slippery slope to fascism, plus he’s accused of being a closet Lutheran by Sweden’s politically powerful Pagan movement — but is ultimately successful.
Once in power, Olsson manages to implement a small fraction of his agenda (after many months of negotiation, the tax rate is lowered to 98.5 per cent and the age for free facelifts raised to 30) but, despite their general pissweakness, Olsson’s reforms enrage the Left and a populist movement – the Absolutist party (named in honour of Sweden’s world-famous vodka) springs up demanding 100 per cent tax rates, the abolition of private enterprise and documentary evidence proving Olsson doesn’t secretly believe in the Protestant work ethic.
Ratings agency Svensson and Pettersson declares the country a basket case and an increasingly smug Russia starts muttering about forcing the Swedes to get their economic house in order.
And the big climax comes when… well, I haven’t quite managed to figure that out yet. Maybe you Punchers have some suggestions? There’s a share of the royalties in it for the person who comes up with the most likely endgame.
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