A good but abandoned book idea

In 1998-99 Hans L Zetterberg planned a book with Greta Frankel on the Swedish welfare state. Here is the preliminary synopsis:

An Escape from Community and Market
Swedish Welfare Lost and Not Yet Regained

The humanitarian values of the Western civilization have not been on top of the public agenda in the last decades of the twentieth century. Everyone is said to be out for himself or herself and for the immediate family. There have been many calls to curtail public welfare expenditures, and people in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand seem less inclined to accept government-run, generous welfare systems. The public debate, however, has failed to address the underlying assumptions of welfare. And so far the solutions to welfare issues are a patchwork. A first task of this book is to examine the idea of welfare, not only its economic and political but also its moral nature.

The authors have a method that is both general and concrete for the study of any welfare state. It starts with a notion of "welfare populations", that is, candidates for assistance. These may be the sick and handicapped, the very old, the very young, that is to say, rather universal categories who cannot fend for themselves. Or, they may be categories specific to a given society and period such as war veterans or recent refugees or immigrants. Which welfare populations should be given priority? And who shall have responsibility for what in this process: the central or local agencies of the government, the families or associations with a charitable agenda in the civil society, the insurance companies or service providers in the market? These are practical, political, and moral questions that need to be answered.

There are many types of welfare societies. The types and organization of aid given to welfare populations define them.


In the United States one tends to thinks of welfare as schemes that temporarily enter into some people's lives. A typical book title is Protecting Soldiers and Mothers. American welfare policy emerged when the state helped returning veterans of the Civil War and foreign wars, and when widowed (or single) mothers received a kind of state pension so that they did not have to leave their small children and go to work.

In Europe one usually thinks of state welfare as more permanent schemes that are a part of all people's lives. A typical book title is Not for The Poor Alone. European welfare policy emerges around the needs of male breadwinners, primarily industrial workers, who, unlike their American cousins, were considered less able to fend for themselves in times of adversity. Within this tradition Europe has developed three different systems of welfare, the Anglo-Saxon, the Continental, and the Nordic systems.

The Anglo-Saxon system provides uniform local bureaucracies for welfare, housing, and health. The central government has a key role in their financing and control. Charities supported by business and private gifts play a part. The market also offers many choices in the Anglo-Saxon system, but not as many on the British Isles as in the United States and some other former colonies.

The Continental system, like the Anglo-Saxon, has national welfare programs, but more sizeable ones than the Anglo-Saxon system. Most welfare decisions on the Continent, however, are taken at lower levels and welfare services are normally coopted by the financial and legal involvement of the civil society or local community. The implementation of national welfare schemes thus rests not only with local governments, but also with legally established roles for unions, churches, and community agencies. Or, it rests or with subsidized insurance plans for health care, sick pay, and pensions that may be specific for major occupational groups.

In the Nordic system, financing, decision-making, and implementation are matters for the government. The system is huge, comprising about half of the public budget. It represents both a flight from the community and a flight from the market into the supposedly more equitable aegis of government. In the name of "justice" and "equality," the state, and the state alone, is seen as responsible for individual welfare from the cradle to the grave. When sickness strikes, when a child exhibits asocial behavior, when grandmother is not getting enough nourishment, the citizen is not expected to turn for assistance to his family, to his parish, to his neighbors, to volunteer agencies, or to his own insurance provider. It is the government that is to remedy such ills.

The main topic of this book is Sweden’s all-embracing vision of state planned cradle-to-grave welfare that enters into the nooks and crannies of individuals’ lives. In this time of worldwide experimentation in finding new solutions to welfare issues, we believe that examination of the Swedish model can contribute to fuller understanding of the unplanned consequences of state planned welfare. We describe how the system came about through a political struggle driven by both idealism and rent seeking. We depict how it works today. We shall also suggest how the Swedish welfare creed and the structures underlying it have affected the mentality of the citizenry how being soaked from birth in a marinade of subsidies has made many a Swede accept this marinating as a natural condition of life.

A passion for equality marks the Swedish nation. The choice of social insurance is instructive. When adversity strikes, should social insurance deliver the same income coverage for all, or should it protect an existing accustomed income level, whether high or low? Sweden has vacillated between these positions, and provides a much food for thought about their respective advantages and disadvantages. In the end the country has opted for social insurance that favors not only equality among the citizens on the staring line at birth but also equality of outcome among adults.

Redistribution in Sweden probably costs as much or more than the actual assistance given to welfare populations. A reduction of income inequities is, however, no substitute for compassion in helping children, the sick and handicapped, the elderly. The Swedish belief that that equality and welfare are inexplicably intertwined is false. We argue that the welfare budget (on which there is much consensus) ought to be separated from the redistribution budget (on which there is a deep political cleavage between left and right). The forced marriage of welfare and income equalization has made Sweden a high-tax society with unintended hindrances for entrepreneurship and for a diversity of life styles.

In delivering welfare services the division of labor between laity, professionals, and bureaucrats is essential. We discuss the merits of each. 


We also try to fit the welfare establishments into the gross picture of modernization. In the beginning of the 20th century Max Weber expressed his disbelief in Marx’ prediction that the capitalist modernization would result in a dictatorship of the proletariat. Rather, he held, the future would be a dictatorship by the officials of the state bureaucracies. The outcome can now be specified for the Nordic welfare states. Legislators, welfare bureaucrats and social workers try with limited success to join rational and humanitarian values. (The sterilization legislation and practice is a sad example.) They have established a kind of beneficial dictatorship rule over the entire proletariat, and they reformed the Lumpenproletariat out of existence. They have also established a colonial-type regime over the middle classes in which the latter the have freedom only within the rules set by their colonizers and the taxing power of the latter.

We are not uncritical of the flight from community in official Swedish welfare policy. It is our contention that the spirit of humanitarianism can best thrive in the civil society. Here one human being can reach out to another out of compassion and/or out of a feeling of moral obligation, but not because the individual in need belongs to a category designated as "weak" or "needy" by the authorities. The civil society also provides full expression of the principle of reciprocity that has, in one form or another, guided much of community life throughout the world. A functioning modern welfare system must work with the civil society, not against it.

We shall lastly put forth our thinking in respect to the future of the Swedish welfare system. Will it, for example, change because of fault lines immanent in its own logic, or, will it be forced to adapt to the dynamics of external circumstances, such as the increasing impact of the Continental or Anglo-Saxon systems and general global competition.

Although Swedes have been accustomed to look to state institutions for assistance with personal social problems great and small, there is evidence that they nevertheless have untapped potential for a stronger sense of mutual aid in the civil community. The road ahead may be a road to a trimmed Continental home: to a humanitarian community organized as comities in towns with ample welfare alternatives, where the state intervenes only when both the civic humanitarian impulse and the market have failed.

The co-author:

Greta Frankel, MSW from City University of New York and MA in applied social anthropology, University of Stockholm, has worked as a family therapist in both New York and Stockholm. Her present research deals with the culture of the elderly.


To the research project "The Swedish Social State" at the City University of Stockholm and its administrator Carl Johan Ljungberg. He earned his Ph D in Politics from Catholic University of America. He was formerly associated with City University of Stockholm and is presently working as a consultant in education, research, and the media.

To Murray Gendell, professor emeritus of sociology at Georgetown University, who has assisted the authors by helpful comments and by translating large portions of research from the final report of the project on the Swedish Social State previously available only in Swedish.

This book project is at present suspended as being of lesser priority. Most of its ideas have previously been published by Zetterberg in Swedish, and  will eventually be entered into the index to this web.