As immigrant riots in Sweden extended into their sixth night, spreading for the first time beyond the suburbs of Stockholm to outlying towns, Swedes are beginning to ask themselves what’s gone wrong with their famously generous welfare state.Adrian Wooldridge, in a February Economist special report on the Scandinavian countries’ efforts to reinvent themselves, pointed to an answer:
Mass immigration is posing serious problems for the region. For the Nordic countries to be able to afford their welfare states they need to have 80% of their adults in the workforce, but labour-force participation among non-European immigrants is much lower than that. In Sweden only 51% of non-Europeans have a job, compared with over 84% of native Swedes. The Nordic countries need to persuade their citizens that they are getting a good return on their taxes, but mass immigration is creating a class of people who are permanently dependent on the state.
Sweden’s famously progressive redistributionist model, with its high taxes and high rates of spending, seems to be failing its immigrants. Unemployment among the foreign-born is persistently high and upward social mobility remains elusive. A recent study pointed out that up to a third of the youth in Sweden’s poorest regions are neither employed nor studying. Entire communities are stagnating rather than integrating.High immigration societies need to be high opportunity societies. Immigrants and refugees come in search of a better life, but blue model societies like Sweden are more focused on providing welfare rather than opportunities for growth. The blue model social worker mind sees ‘excluded youth’ and thinks about programs: more midnight basketball, more food stamps, and the like.But what might be needed instead are things like less restrictive zoning laws to promote the kinds of construction jobs that young immigrants can get without a lot of paper qualifications. Less regulation and protection (though not zero!) means more opportunity. And creating opportunity ends up being the ultimate welfare program.[Swedish flag on a fractured brick, photo courtesy Shutterstock]