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John Lapidus

Dec 16, 2021

The Quest for a Divided Welfare State

Sweden in the Era of Privatization

Palgrave Macmillan 2019

Generous welfare states are losing their key characteristics, not least in Sweden, where privatisation of funding has proceeded privatisation of provision, beginning in the 1990s. Supplementary exclusionary sources of welfare in healthcare, education, and social care, have proliferated throughout European welfare states under the neoliberal agenda that has dominated debate across the developed world. Rather than full privatisation, we see semi-private solutions, in which the citizen becomes the consumer, but remains subsidised by the state in their pursuit of private welfare, via tax breaks that benefit the richest in society most, rather than those with the greatest need. At the same time, private providers have been able to free-ride on the state, for example by hiring like doctors and teachers trained on state-funded courses, whilst the divided welfare state erodes the more generous, universal system by undermining the trust in it and the willingness of people to contribute to it. Ultimately, it replaces one view of social policy as an investment, something that generates wealth and contributes to the future, with another, of social policy as a cost, that takes up resources rather than generates them.

John Lapidus' The Quest for a Divided Welfare State: Sweden in the Era of Privatization (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) charts the development of this process in Sweden, beginning with the privatisation of provision, such as private hospitals and tutoring, and how it lays the groundwork for private funding, which puts pressure on existing generous and universal welfare systems sustained by the public sector. In our discussion, we identify the methods through which neoliberal advocates promote privatisation, and how ongoing privatisation becomes self-reinforcing to nullify opponents, win over ambivalent actors, and dominate the debate in the political sphere. We end on an optimistic note, looking at the education sector and discussing what we can learn from debates in this area to promote and restore equality throughout the welfare state.

John is currently a Research Fellow at the School of Business, Economics and Law within the University of Gothenberg in Sweden, where he earnt his PhD in 2015. Prior to John’s academic career, he spent several years as a journalist, and also spent time working in Nicaragua for the Swedish-Nicaragua Friendship Association, an international NGO that helps communities build self-help organisations and tackle poverty.

Leo Nasskau is an expert on the future of work and interviews authors writing about public policy and political economy — particularly how capitalism can be reformed to deliver sustainable prosperity for all. To join the discussion about this book, visit leonasskau.co.uk, and to give Leo anonymous feedback, go to bit.ly/Feedback-Leo.

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Leo Nasskau

Leo writes and thinks about leadership and change, exploring how leaders can build societies fit for the 21st century. We face change in our economic, social, and political worlds; it is the role of leaders, in business, society, and politics, to ensure that this change manifests as opportunities rather than challenges. He blogs at empoweredbelonging.substack.com.
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