In American election campaigns, candidates pledge to keep taxes low, balance the budget and stop credit card companies from robbing consumers with high fees. Swedish candidates pledge to offer citizens a butler service. For the subway.
It’s the kind of news piece that sounds like a prank, especially to the ears of a cynical American. U.S. states are battling unemployment, dismally low budgets and in some cases are tearing up paved roads so maintenance costs can be saved. But Sweden, which has had a relatively easy road back to normalcy after the recession, doesn’t face the kind of basic issues with which the U.S. grapples. Its citizens are fully taken care of by the government and its debt is 43 percent of the country’s GDP, compared to the U.S. with 93 percent.
So the Social Democrats, who are considered the underdogs before national elections next month, have proposed to offer Stockholmers “butler” services. No, sadly, this doesn’t mean there will be a kindly older gentlemen in a tailcoat with a towel over his arm offering you afternoon tea. Though that would be a serious bang for your tax buck (or kronor as it were). They are proposing a system of services that would include leaving your dirty laundry at a subway station and picking it up at the end of the day; ordering groceries online and picking them up outside your station; and offering public transport butler services that function like concierges at an airport.
This insane proposal, which was unveiled Monday in an editorial in daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter by two party members, is supposed to give people more time with their families. The amazing thing is that they actually care. Or pretend to. Their flowery editorial is full of trite and sentimental phrases that one wouldn’t expect from a failing novelist, let alone government officials:
“We want everyday services for both those who drink lattes and for those who serve lattes.”
“Everyone’s dreams are unique and different. But we locals are often united around a central factor: time. How do we make enough time for everything we want, and must, do?”
“When should we love? When will we laugh? When should we talk? When should we play with the children? When will we have time to live life as it appears in our dreams?”
Oh boy. This exaggerated sentimentality and seeming alarm about the “suffering” of Stockholmers is either the product of a frantic party behind in the polls or of a city so spoiled it doesn’t know the difference between necessary assistance and indulgence. I can tell you that the people of Stockholm want for very little and enjoy the generous benefits of this social welfare state with its low property costs, free health care and 13 months paid paternity leave.
And though it is very generous for the city to offer to wash my delicates, I think that’s a job I can continue to handle on my own. Thanks.