During his first US trip since his appointment last October, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven visited NYU Law to discuss the much-lauded Nordic Model of democracy, which boasts growing economic competitiveness, open-mindedness, and good living conditions. He was the guest of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and its faculty co-director, Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, engaged Löfven in a Q&A.

Löfven laid out the three pillars of the Nordic model: an economic policy focused on full employment, a universal and generous welfare system, and an organized labor market. The pillars support each other, he said. For example, Sweden aids the unemployed by providing training and a welfare system to asist the job search. Helping the unemployed in turn backs the country’s goal of full employment, which is needed to fund Sweden’s hundred-year-old welfare system. 

Being employed and having a safety net also give individuals power, putting them on better negotiating terms with their employers. As a result, national collective agreements between trade unions and employers regulate Sweden’s various industries; state laws merely provide social protection. (Löfven himself chaired one of Sweden’s largest unions, IF Metall, from 2006 to 2012.)

The picture is not completely rosy, however. Like much of the world after the 2008 recession, Sweden now struggles with its share of ailments. Challenges include high unemployment (eight percent, compared to the US’s current rate of 5.8%). A changing demography also led to race riots in May 2013.

“I can see the headlines in Sweden tomorrow,” Alston joked. “‘Prime Minister concedes Sweden is not a paradise, but claims that all Swedes love the tax office.’” In fact, Löfven said that 69 percent of Swedes regard the Swedish Tax Agency as doing a good job.

Despite setbacks, Löfven remains confident in the system. The riots, he told Alston, were a product of a “lack of hope” caused by the economic crisis, which the old conservative government failed to alleviate by refusing to provide job training. In fact, Löfven proposed that many of the fixes to the current state of affairs will come from putting more worked hours into the economy—by, say, connecting immigrants and students to jobs, and improving the work environment so people can remain employed until age 65, the official pension age.

“This is not a perfect system, but we believe in it,” he said. “We have to adapt it to a new situation, constantly, constantly, to make sure that it will not only survive but will develop.”

December 2, 2014

Watch the prime minister’s talk below (49 min):