Today is Noam Chomsky’s 85th birthday. The most important intellectual leader on earth has reached a mature age and is still an active forerunner in the struggle for an equitable, humane and reasonable world in which he wants theÂ well-beingÂ ofÂ humankindÂ to be in the center of our efforts. I sent him myÂ warmestÂ congratulations, adding a few notes on the current situation in Sweden, an excerpt of which follows:
On this day one year ago I wrote you a few words about the deconstruction of the concept â€œSwedenâ€ as it usually has been known by many people. Iâ€™m afraid that the decline has continued since then, even manifesting itself in further disastrous developments.
But today we of course remember Nelson Mandela. For us his memory is tied to an era when â€œSwedenâ€ was a different society. This was then my country to which Mandela made his first foreign visit, just one month after his release from Robben Island. That country had given more financial support to ANC than all the large European countries together. It was furthermore a policy supported by a substantial majority of Swedes and agitated by numerous solidarity movements. But a key decision maker was naturally Olof Palme.
Only one political party here opposed the support of ANC, thus in fact backing apartheid, namely the Right Party, at that time a rather insignificant party on the remote flank of the bourgeoisie. Today that party – now (naturally) calling itself â€œThe Moderatesâ€ – dominates the government and provides our Prime Minister. One renowned left wing commentator recommends their ministers to stay away from the Mandela funeral because â€œtheir partyâ€™s breath stinks from dead viperâ€ when it comes to ANC and Mandela.
To pick another shock that hit us the other day: the 2012 PISA report. Swedish scores in math, science and reading are falling like stones, in a speed not matched by any other OECD country. Itâ€™s now widely held that the reason can be directly derived from the neoliberal excesses, starting with free choice of schools in the 1990s, accelerated by anarchistic privatizations and erupting in robber capitalism with dismantling of resources in private schools resulting in huge profits transferred to tax havens.
The dire consequence of this experiment is that schools in Sweden have become extremely segregated, this in turn being the basic explanation behind the disastrous performance. We who grew up in the old Sweden (Iâ€™m 72) can hardly believe our eyes. Our country once had the most homogeneous schools in the world, a property now considered by many experts to be the foundation for good performance. Itâ€™s not just that the least talented kids are hit by the segregation; the performance by the top students is also declining!
All the neoliberal reforms are enforced on pure ideological grounds, based on the religious belief that market principles are infallible. Thus regulatory bodies usually havenâ€™t been set up, let alone effective regulations carried through. Politicians seem to have shown the most naÃ¯ve confidence in their religion, but perhaps they just donâ€™t care (â€œif we privatize as much as we can manage weâ€™ll leave the problems to the next government, since we know that people wonâ€™t put up with us for much longer anywayâ€).
If I were to say a few words on another neoliberal experiment and some democratic paradoxes I could choose an exotic welfare measure for the rich called RUT. In short it means that the government (tax payers) picks up half the bill when people buy domestic services of different kinds (including homework assistance for their kids, and hiring of butlers).
As one would expect itâ€™s only ten percent of households that are entitled to this welfare check, since the rest cannot afford the services in the first place. In a democratic society it would seem self evident that the 90 percent of voters abolish an absurdity like this. But no way! The Social Democrats donâ€™t dare to touch the â€œreformâ€ which was pitched as a means of â€œgender equalityâ€ and a way to reduce black work. (The last argument is just too wonderful: rich criminals should be bribed to stay legal!)
Although Sweden isn’t business run to the extent the US is, â€œdemocracyâ€ seems to work in the same way. The RUT absurdity is not in any way the only example where a large majority has no say. One way itâ€™s made to work is through media. Itâ€™s said that we are obedient here, donâ€™t want to stand out, feel safe with social conformity etcetera. But if thatâ€™s an explanation, the same seems to be the case in all (so called) democracies.
In polls 10 percent say that they are fully content with the present form of profit-making in schools and welfare businesses. The rest want some kind of restrictions, from banning dividends to prohibiting profits altogether. The only party whose program deals in at least some way with the wishes of 90 percent of voters is the Left Party, which nevertheless is supported by only about 7 percent in polls. It would have been a paradox if you hadn’t taught us that democracy in our sense is just a marketing procedure.
Well, crisis and opportunity are synonyms, as the old Chinese teach us. And there are more and more signs of a change in politics here. The impediments should just inspire to do more work (I try to contribute verbally in a blog). And in this work, dear Noam, you are the most inspiring person on earth. You demonstrate that rationality is the fundamental way to progress. And as you often point out there is constant progress going on, with one or other setback here and there, of course. So if my report seems depressing, I myself am filled with optimism regarding the development in the longer run. And this optimism is something I gain from listening to your talks regularly.
Nelson Mandela was a hero and a model for humanity. In my world you are even more so!