Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What the Swedish public really thinks about immigration

Sweden takes more immigrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and similar countries in a per capita basis than any other nation. Each year about 100.000 immigrants move to Sweden, mostly from the third world, with most not formally qualifying for refugees status. They get to stay because they are relatives of other immigrants, and because Sweden often gives permanent residency to people on a "humanitarian" basis, such as your child being stressed from deportation.

I got to stay in Sweden because of humanitarian reasons, not because we had any legitimate case that our lives were threatened in Iran (my mother was ill). But what benefits me privately is not necessarily what is good policy for society.

Non-western immigrants in Sweden do not integrate well. Their employment rate is about 50%, compared to 80% for native Swedes. They are extremely over-represented in crime and other social problems.

So why does Sweden continue this policy? Because of support amongst Sweden's' liberal voters?

The answer is no. The reason Sweden does this is firm support for immigration among the elite, and the fact that Swedish voters really trust their elite (the media, academics, to a lesser extent politicians).

Every year Swedish population views on a range of issues, including immigration, are measured.

The question asked is: "Is is a good proposal to take in fewer refugees" or "a bad proposal to take in fewer refugees".

If you go to the early part of the 1990, the support was strong for taking fewer immigrants. But massive mobilization of elite opinion, violent crimes committed by racists, and the collapse of the anti-immigration party made the country more pro-immigration 1990-2000. I should add that the early 1990s in Sweden were very bad times economic , because the country had a recession deeper and longer than the one the U.S had recently.

Note though 2 other effects: Immigrants, especially non-western immigrants, are themselves a larger part of the sample now than 1990 (14% are foreign born, with another large chunk second generation. A little more than 10% of the population is first or second generation immigrant from a non-western country).

Also the subject became taboo in Sweden, with everyone who is against immigration currently considered a racist. Thus people are averse to stating or having such opinion. Swedes are exceptionally conformist.

Nevertheless, notice that the declining trend stopped in 2000, and is followed by an increase of opposition to immigration, due to manifestation of problems such as crime and welfare dependency.

If we take only those who have an opinion, the division is 62%-38% for taking fewer immigrants (and on a taboo issue such as this, people who state no opinion are not exactly likely to be especially pro-immigration).

The report also asks people what worried them about the future. In the 1993 survey 38% said "increased number of refugees" was one of the things that worried them. In 2000, only 17% said "increased number of refugees". In 2008 the number had increased again to 26%.

Yet, of the 7 parties in parliament, 0% support cutting immigration. 2 out of 7, the green and the former communist, want completely free immigration from all the world, combined with maintaining the generous welfare state. Good luck with that one...

The result of this political cartel has been the rise of a small, anti-immigration party, with a racist history. The elite has responded with a united front against them.

Sweden has the most pro-immigration public in Europe, but even Swedish opinion is on balance anti-immigration. Only through firm elite-support combined with the Swedish public's blue eyed(sic) trust in their institutions and the elite that runs them has the policy continued. Over 99% of newspapers (weighted by readership) and 100% of television and radio supports current or even more generous immigration policy.

I want to show my non-Swedish readers how the elite manipulates public opinion for their pro-immigration agenda.

The research institute in charge of this data (SOM) released it a couple of day ago as news, as they do every year. Last year, the share who oppose immigration declined. Thus their new-release was titled "increasing support for immigration".

This year however, the share who oppose immigration increased slightly from 45 to 46%, perhaps because of the debate surrounding the growing anti-immigration party.

But the headline did not change, it was presented in Sweden's most important daily newspaper as "Swedes are becoming increasingly positive towards immigrants" (!).

How in gods name did they achieve to give this impression, with the figures being what they were?

Because they are not comparing with 2008, or 2000. They decided to compare 2009 with 1993, as if that was news!!!

The trend that stopped and perhaps was reversed 9 years ago is "news", when it suits their agenda, and when the last year trend does not. They also choose to focus on a different question (something about attitudes toward immigrants, rather than immigration), instead of the standard, policy relevant question they have been asking every year for decades.

All the newspapers and television has reported this as a major news story. Swedes are becoming more pro-immigrant (even though the data suggest otherwise). Since Swedes are conformist, it is very important to bully them into not having dissenting opinion.

Intellectually, I believe demography and culture are underestimated and policy overestimated.

If you live with Scandinavians you soon realize they are a completely unique people in terms of producing positive social externalities (their niceness, cooperativeness, trustworthiness and their naive trust in other people makes them have with the best individual norms and some of the worst collective norms in the developed world).

I am thus bothered by the fact that the American left attribute the high quality of life that results with the extraordinarily good norms, evolved informal institutions and well functioning culture of Scandinavians to the welfare state (which is just a outcome variable among many).

Immigrants who lack Swedish culture but live under the same welfare state have extremely bad social outcomes.

So from an merely scientific point of view the best thing would be if the Swedish left and libertarians gets its wishes, and Sweden completely opens the borders, while maintaining the welfare state.

The subsequent collapse of this well-functioning society would be a good lesson to other countries not to take demographic factors for granted.

And who knows, maybe I am wrong, and filling Sweden with semi-skilled Muslim immigrants will produce some sort of hybrid, well functioning state.

PS. I will also, based on this data, make the prediction that the racist anti-immigration party will get into Parliament this election (they need 4%, they are currently polling 3%). I predict 5-6% of the vote.

However I will definitely not vote for them, due to their racist past.


  1. Tino,

    Great post. However, you are using the word "compact" in a way that doesn't make sense in American English. Perhaps you meant "heavy" or "deep"?

  2. thanks, I changed the Swenglish.

  3. I think the word he meant to use is "intense".

  4. Are you sure you have the labelling of the graph correct?

  5. On your key point about Swedish social outcomes, agree entirely. It is a point I have been making against attempts to get Australia to simply adopt Swedish policies for years. (If you want an example where extensive government provision without the cultural commonality fails, indigenous policy in Australia is an extremely revealing example.)

  6. Could you write a post about costs/gains from immigration in Sweden?

  7. Ranew:

    There are only two major studies in this, and both are flawed (in different directions).
    The most cited one is by Jan Ekberg:


    He finds that immigration is currently a net cost (costs minus taxes paid in) of about 50-60 billion SEK, or 6-8 billion USA.

    There are 3 reasons Ekberg underestimates costs:

    1. Immigrants are much younger than Swedes. That is good now, but they too will one day retire. This future retirement cost in not included in his snapshot.

    2. He assumes that immigrants use welfare services as much as Swedes. Since they have more social problems, I suspect immigrants use welfare services more (he does accounts for transfers, which immigrants get more off).

    3. He bundles the two immigrants groups in Sweden together: the well educated, western immigrants who move there for work or by marrying a Swede (from Denmark, Germany, U.S etc.) with the third world immigrants.

    There is no policy discussion about the first group, so it is misleading to include them. And if the first group is a net contributor to the welfare state, which I strongly suspect, it makes the second group look much better.

    The same aggregation problem is why American immigration policy looks OK. All the super-smart Indians raise the average of the low-skilled Latin's. But critics of immigration policy are not interested in evaluating over the board cuts in immigration, we want to raise the first group and reduce the second group.

  8. Great article! But what do you mean by this:

    "makes them have with the best individual norms and some of the worst collective norms in the developed world."

    What are the worst collective norms? Conformism?

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  10. Conformism, including its extremes (child and adult bullying) is indeed a problem in Sweden.

    The biggest problem is the extreme trust in the establishment, combined with bad ideas dominating the elite. This, and of course conformism, creates what I can best describe as periodic waves of mild mass-hysteria sounding some new ideas. It is both true for the Scandinavians and their German cousins.

    Not only do they believe in weird ideas, they believe in them strongly, and allow little dissent. Furthermore, because they are so efficient and have such low transactions costs in cooperation, even bad ideas that would fade away quickly in other countries are often carried out to their extreme

    (The most extreme example of course being Nazism. Would Nazism have been a problem in Greece or Italy? Of course not. There, it was just a joke.)

    Extreme ideological ideas very easily take hold in Sweden, which therefore suffers from bad policy. I guess the most obvious example is the near-collectivization of all private industry in the 1980s. They wanted to gradually give the firms to the unions. A recent examples is marxist, post-modern feminism (I am sympathetic towards standard feminism).

    Our 75% effective top marginal tax is a crazy idea. Without the welfare state Sweden would probably be the richest (non-oil) nation in the world in per capita terms.

    A few weeks ago a Palestinian immigrant killed a 78-year old woman because of a fight over a parking space. He got 1 year and 3 months in prison, and will not be deported. Without current crime and immigration policy it would probably have had the highest quality of life in the world.

  11. "a problem"

    for the rest of the world I mean of course.

  12. "fade away"

    "fizzle out" would be a better phrase.

  13. Thanks for your answer, it is always nice to read informed analysis about a country that is very fascinating for reasons the Swedes themselves probably do not realize themselves.

    But your answer leads to new interesting and big questions: Why is the Swedish elite suspectible to bad ideas? One would assume that the consenus oriented politics of Sweden (lets discuss until we find a solution) would act as a antidote against bad ideas? Or does the striving for conensus act as facilitator for bad ideas as the aggressive seller quickly silences the sheep and creates a formal consensus even if individuals have doubts? I have noticed that privatley and on the net Swedes voice opinions that they would never dare to voice in public.

    The wealth of Sweden probably "allows" the current crime and immigration policy - the bad ideas came after the wealth, indeed the economic growth of Sweden after the war gave room for "innovative" policy.

  14. My theories for why the elite went crazy is similar to yours.

    1. Too much prosperity between 1940-1970 when they were building the welfare state. Now in most Swedish peoples mind the two are causally linked: they think the are prosperous because they expanded the welfare state 1940-1970.

    Escaping the war did not help (compare Finland, who became "adults" because of the experience). Sweden as a nation is still like a 12 year old girl.

    2. Egalitarianism was very strong for historical reasons, this made them lean left (but they were clearly not crazy yet in say 1950).

    3. Kinder-garden morality. In kinder-garden, every child is nice deep down. If they act bad, it is probably because they are having an emotional difficulty, and talking to them will solve the problem.

    Swedes think that is true for all life. They are surrounded by nice, good normed people, and become very native. This combined with the equality axiom, or the mirror effect ("everyone is like me") is catastrophic. They simply don't have theories for predators and opportunistic people, such as people who exploit the welfare state, thugs, Islamic terrorist etc.

    4. White guilt. When Finland and Italy were poor in 1960, Swedes had been rich and prosperous for 30 years. Swedes hobby is to every night watch TV and look at misery in the rest of the world.

    One effect of this is to make them believe extremely strongly in their social model (which they, understandably but wrong, believe is why they don't starve or have wars like Africans, corruption and a soft state like Italians or crime, inequality and social problems like Americans).

    5. Secularism. When you don't have religion, your mind looks to substitutes. This can be ideology or things like new-age, both popular in Sweden.

  15. 6. Small Size increases variance. The elite in Sweden is exceptionally small. They all know each other. In the late 1960s the elite of all the west was ideologically radicalized for complex reasons, including Vietnam and innovations in leftist theory. In Sweden the effect went further than every other nation.

    Most young, educated people became what we today would call extreme left. Even the right became left.

    In other nations there were other elites that could compensate. When the liberal elite went crazy in America in the 1960s the people turned to the conservative movement and to centrist democrats. But not so in Sweden. These people have aged, and now completely control the media. (I should point out that they also have moderated.)

    The 1968 movement in time radicalized the media and the Social Democratic party. They used to be socially conservative, and quite rational (they stopped immigration in order to keep up wages). No more.

    The 1970s is the point in which taxes and government intervention went insane, and Sweden started to lose ground.

    Even in Sweden, there was 1 part of the elite not fully influenced by the post-Marxist wave, which is the business elites. They were already well organized, because corporatism had solved the collective action problem for them. As the Social Democrats and the rest of the political elite went insane, they to some extent saved the country by aiding a ideological counter-movement. Collectivization of the private export industry was stopped, at least.

    The problem here was that the ideological streams they tapped into were not founded in the Scandinavian ethos. They just copied Anglo-Saxon classical liberalism.

    There is a strong limit to the appeals of this ideology in Sweden. Also, they did not import any social conservative theory, so that the social-liberals and the far left are completely unopposed in this important arena (which for examples regulated immigration policy).

    A last part of the chapter is that Reinfeld-Borg fixed some of the problem by designing a new center-right ideology that better suits Swedes. It especially taps into Swedish work ethics. But again nothing on immigration, crime etc.

    " Or does the striving for conensus act as facilitator for bad ideas as the aggressive seller quickly silences the sheep and creates a formal consensus even if individuals have doubts?

    Yup. Very strong effect.

    "I have noticed that privatley and on the net Swedes voice opinions that they would never dare to voice in public."

    Yes, the internet may save us yet. Like Finns, Swedes are privately shy, intellectually curious, and thus love the internet. (also the country is cold so people are always inside.)

    " after the war gave room for "innovative" policy."

    Read my paper about welfare state entrepreneurship (just the part about Sweden is sufficient).


  16. Mancur Olsen also had an important point: When the Social Democrats "owned" the country, they had incentives to take better long term decisions. The cost of bad decisions was internalized.

    Now, when there is tight political competition, they just made the decision that they think helps them in the short run in the elite struggle. Using immigration as a political baseball bat is an example.

    I nevertheless think ideology is more important.

    The Swedish organization of labor unions, LO, has opened offices to represent and aid illegal immigrants, even though they depress wages for their members!

    This is the same organization that for a while stopped immigration back when they were still sane enough to protect their own self-interests.

    The Social Democratic party as an organization is aided by immigration (even if their voters of course are not). 75-90% of immigrants vote left.

    But LO, the most powerful labor union in the world, will slowly fade away because of immigration. Middle eastern immigrants don't give a shit about voluntarily working hard for a labor union.

    Their current, Swedish born members who live in the areas that are becoming ghettos are moving toward the anti-immigrant party.

    Why are they doing these absurd things, such as being apologists for radical Islam which their members instinctively dislike? My only explanation is ideology.

  17. 75-90% of NON-EUROPEAN immigrants vote left (75% in 2006, 90% in 2002).

  18. In the Netherlands it is calculated that taking in 25.000 non-western-immigrants per year costs the country about 7.2 billion euro (

    That number will probably be the same for Sweden.

    There are only some 10m Swedes and taking in 100.000 NW-immigrants will bankrupt the country very quickly. My guess: Your welfare state is coming to an end in 5 years.

    Just sit back and enjoy the view.

  19. Thanks again for your very illuminating take on Sweden and its history. All your points deserve an article of their own, maybe some (scientific) social psychologist could do an study on the Swedish "insanity" from 1968 onwards. As a Finn I especially enjoyed the second half of point one, even if it was a bit harsh.

    You are also correct in pointing out the similarities in behavior between the Finns and Swedess, even if Finns probably come across as very shy from even a Swedish perspective. In Finland Swedes are seen as extremly nice, but Finns sometimes become dissapointed when the realize that many Swedes are not sincere in their "friendliness". I guess this phenomenon also affects the realtionship between Swedes and the immigrants - the Swedes look down on the immigrants and treat them like children, "the kindergarten morality".

    I will read your paper and I look forward to reading more posts on Sweden on your blog. Hopefully you can get exposure in Sweden as I am sure many Swedes would find your thoughts intellectually stimulating.

  20. Tino,

    I have shown your post to a couple of folks. They (like me) don't understand what you meant by

    "If you live with Scandinavians you soon realize they are a completely unique people in terms of producing positive social externalities (their niceness, cooperativeness, trustworthiness and their naive trust in other people makes them have with the best individual norms and some of the worst collective norms in the developed world)."

    We get (and agree with) the part about "best individual norms". However, what are the "worst collective norms" you are referring to?

    Thank you

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  22. See above. In collective decision making, Swedes are terrible. This includes:

    * Crime policy (results starting to show)

    * Extreme feminism

    * Top tax marginal rate of 75% on anything you
    produce above every paycheck above 66000 dollars per year (I include the VAT in the top tax)

    * Labor market policy. You are not allowed to fire people by law, even if they are incompetent or act insane on the work. And when firms cut down, they can't choose which worker they want to keep. Result is very high unemployment for the young and unskilled.

    *Last and Not Least: Immigration policy. What exactly is Sweden suppose to gain by taking in 1 million non-refugees every decade?

    More importantly, Swedish national character makes debate impossible on important issue. You are not allowed to question generous immigration policy not to break with social consensus.

    Best individually in the world, worst collectively, and for the same reasons.

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  24. Thank you for this valuable post and commentary.

  25. Brilliant post, as well as your analysis of the Swedish mentality.

    However, I think you're diagnosing the symptoms more than the disease.
    What started this and what gets it going is our media situation. It's controlled by very few families who have the same agenda.

    In any democracy, the media is the final power.
    Read Blair's book: it was clear when you read him that he wasn't really afraid of the people.

    But he was *terrified* of what the press would say. Politiians are always slimy cowards: this has (almost) always been the case and will continue to be so.

    If a politician went aside from the multicultural dogma, he/she would be crucified.

    So it's the media, at the end of the day, which sets the agenda for mass immigration/multiculturalism. I don't think things happen almost out of pure situational reasons(forgive me, but I think that's a bit simple).

    That isn't to say the causes you mentioned might have had an amplifying effect, but I doubt they were (or are) the main driver and cause of this. That's the media.

  26. "PS. I will also, based on this data, make the prediction that the racist anti-immigration party will get into Parliament this election (they need 4%, they are currently polling 3%). I predict 5-6% of the vote. "
    If the point of science is to make predictions, Tino is a scientist.


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