Swedish equality fades away as rich get richer

Wed Mar 21, 2012 11:22am EDT
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By Mia Shanley

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Fredde and Mickan own a waterfront mansion in the Stockholm suburbs, hire Polish help and have endless cash to spend on state-of-the-art barbecues and designer labels.

They are only characters in "The Sunny Side", a popular Swedish television series, but they drew so much attention to their wealthy neighborhood that an activist group called "Everything for Everyone" chose it for a class war safari.

The tour of the "rich man's ghetto" promised to "cultivate your class hatred". It was a one-off and participants were pelted with eggs but it sparked a soul-searching over growing income disparities in a country known for egalitarian values.

"I think many people would say this is the loss of one part of Swedish identity," said Michael Forster, a senior policy analyst at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Sweden has seen the steepest increase in inequality over 15 years amongst the 34 OECD nations, with disparities rising at four times the pace of the United States, the think tank said.

Once the darling of the political left, heavy state control and wealth distribution through high taxes and generous benefits gave the country's have-nots an enviable standard of living at the expense of the wealthiest members of society.

Although still one of the most equal countries in the world, the last two decades have seen a marked change. Market reforms have helped the economy become one of Europe's best performers but this has Swedes wondering if their love affair with state welfare was coming to an end.

The real tipping point came in 2006 when the centre-right government swept to power, bringing an end to a Social Democratic era which stretched for most of the 20th century.   Continued...

People participating in the class war safari observe buildings at the upper class district at Solsidan in Saltsjobaden near Stockholm in this January 28, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Anders Wiklund