In a weeks time Swedes will go to the polls to elect a new parliament, and all parties are currently doing their best presenting a case for why we should vote for them. The discussion is predictably centered on economical issues; higher or lower taxes on this or that, and more or less money to this and that. The pledges roughly follows the usual left-right arguments.
What really impacts society? I don't think Sweden will look much different in the future if the taxes go up or down a few percentages either way. No, major changes that impact peoples lives are structural changes that come from new ways of thinking, like the Swedish model, "offentlighetsprincipen" or "allemansrätten". They don't have to be radical shifts, they can be small, inexpensive changes that have big effects. I hear very few of those, so as a good democratic citizen (and professional society builder), I thought I should offer up my own ideas, for any party, left or right to adopt.
Comprehensive emergency take over laws.
The economic crisis has shown that, while politicians hate to admit it, sometimes the state is forced to go in and take over private banks in order to secure financial stability. Everybody hates it, but when things are going down fast, it's the right thing to do. The problem is that everybody hates it so much, and are so adamant that they will NEVER let it happen, that no one ever plans for it. Governments end up giving away massive amounts of money, in an uncontrolled and haphazard manner, just because there is no legal framework and time is too short to truly consider long-term implications, you end up just giving away money. Isn't it time to write proper bankruptcy laws that allows the state to take over vital private infrastructure in an emergency? Yes, we talk a lot about banks that are too big to fail, but our society is complex enough that we need the same type of laws for other areas. In Sweden mailmen have limited strike rights simply because, if the mail stops arriving, no bills get delivered and the entire society is affected. Shouldn't we have the same protection against disruptions of major telecommunications companies, or other vital utilities?
Lets get rid of cars in inner cities.
Stockholm is my home and it happens to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world (you should come!). The city was built about 650 years before the first cars started popping up, so it wasn't built with them in mind (and as someone who has been in LA I'm very happy about that). The streets are too narrow, there is no parking and since the city is so condensed, bikes or even walking is not just more healthy but also convenient. The fundamental problem with cars is that they take up so much space that in order to fit them in to a city you need to space out all the houses. However spacing out the houses means that the city becomes too large to be navigated by foot, so more people take the car, and you are back to square one. So my suggestion is to just dump cars altogether within the inner city limits, and only allow transport of goods, emergency vehicles and the disabled to use motor vehicles.
This is one of those suggestions that people would say is completely unrealistic, but just like the law making it illegal to smoke in restaurants and road tarrifs (that people when bonkers over before it happened), once you actually implement it most people will realize that a city without cars, would be wonderful. They would notice how quiet the city would become, the open spaces, and soon we could plant lanes of trees where once cars dominated. I think Stockholm would become a model city that people from around the world would come to admire. If you think a city like Stockholm can't live without cars, remember that Stockholm did just fine with out cars for 650 years.
Let the addicts sleep in.
Sweden has a state run monopoly on selling alcohol. Special stores ("systemet") dedicated only for selling alcohol, paired with very high taxes has been very successful in curbing alcohol abuse, but is also an infringement on peoples liberties. Most people can handle alcohol just fine and to them, this system is a major inconvenience that is fairly pointless. On the other hand, alcohol is involved in about 80% of all violent crimes, a huge portion of traffic fatalities, and is responsible for the abuse and neglect of tens of thousands of children. The problem of course is how do you discern the people who can handle alcohol from the ones who can't?While many in sweden argues whether the alcohol stores should be open on Saturdays or not, I can tell you that the people waiting outside 10AM Monday morning is a very good sample of the people whose alcohol intake should be restricted (I used to pass one by on the way to work before.). No one in that line needs to buy alcohol on a Monday, or even before noon any day of the week. How about we open a little later and let everyone sleep in?
Self imposed energy crisis.
No one really knows when peak oil will happen, some say in fifty years, some in ten, and yet others say it has already happened. If and when it happens it will be a major problem for the developed world. No one knows where the oil price will be in a year or ten, and if you did you could make a lot of money, because the problem isn't just if it will happen but that no one knows when it will happen. As a general strategy we need to stem our reliance on fossil fuel for economical, security and perhaps most of all environmental reasons. While others try to secure the access to fossil fuel, I suggest we do the opposite, we create our own energy crisis. If we would impose a tax on fossil fuel, or imported power derived from fossil fuel that would guarantee a rising oil price at a predictable rate we could in an orderly way transfer to a low carbon economy. If investors could predict high oil prices it would become far safer and more attractive to invest in alternative energy production and energy savings. Would this negatively affect the economy? Yes, but only in the short term. In the long term we would become world leaders in alternative energy, and then when inevitably uncontrollable factors create a much worse energy crisis for everyone else, we will be years ahead, and be able to sell our technology.
Tax breaks for the non-existent.
Every tax break you give cost money. You want to promote new endeavors, but you don't want to show favoritism. Some people for instance argue that game production in Sweden should receive tax breaks. I can't really see why game production is any more important than any other industry and since Swedish game development is so successful, why does it need special support? Any time you start to give tax breaks to any specific industry it's an invitation for corruption since all industries will vie for special treatment. My suggestion is instead to support industries that doesn't exist. Nano machines, space tourism, wave energy, airship transport, none of these industries exist in Sweden, but they could, so why don't we give them a huge tax break for the next 10-20 years? It's a tax that won't cost us anything, since we aren't gathering any of it anyway. It just means that if somebody wants to start companies doing these things, Sweden would be a good place to go. Ideally you would put together a panel of people who each year would propose a few new areas of possible future development to be exempt from tax.
Let's bring back money.
I think it's fairly practical that the government is in charge of printing money. A commonly agreed design that a single entity has the monopoly on creating and that is free to use, creates trust, and promotes business. However money in the form of bills and coins have a number of limitations; they are expensive to handle, they break easily, and you can't perform transactions over the phone or the internet. Therefore I suggest there is a government backed digital form of out currency. A government issued debit card of some sort. I find it amazing that if you raise VAT with a point or two people go bonkers, but they don't mind paying substantially more to use their plastic cards. I find it hard to think of something to promote business the making transactions free.
Do I need to say much more? If rail and roads were the greatest stimulus of the last century, surly free internet access over all major cities must be this century's equivalent.