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Banning Paralympic athletes to bash Russia

Innocent Russian Paralympic athletes are being banned to punish Russia on the basis of a profoundly flawed report.

Rick Sterling

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There is an ugly anti-Russian mood in various Rio Olympic venues.  When the Russian swimmers entered the pool for the 4 x 100M Freestyle team event, they were loudly booed. When the Russian team barely lost 3rd place, the announcer happily announced that Russian had been “kept off the medal stand”.

Last Sunday it was announced that the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had decided to ban the entire Russian team from the upcoming Paralympics to held in Rio in September.  Thus, 267 mentally or physically disabled Russians who have been preparing for the Rio Paralympics for years are now banned from competing.  On Monday Associated Press story opened as follows:

“After escaping a blanket ban from the Olympics, Russia was kicked out of the upcoming Paralympics on Sunday as the ultimate punishment for the state running a doping operation that polluted sports by prioritizing “medals over morals”.

In this article I will show how some big accusations based on little evidence have contributed to discrimination against clean Russian athletes and fostered a dangerous animosity contrary to the intended spirit of the Olympics.   

International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Attack

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) made their decision to ban all 267 Russian Paralympic athletes largely on the basis of WADA’s July 16 McLaren Report and private communications with McLaren.

IPC President Sir Phillip Craven issued a statement full of accusations and moral outrage. He says

“In my view, the McLaren Report marked one of the darkest days in the history of all sport.”

However, the McLaren Report is deeply biased. Here are some of the problems with the report:

* It relied primarily on the testimony of one person, the former Director of Moscow Laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov, who was implicated in extorting Russian athletes for money and was the chief culprit with strong interest in casting blame somewhere else.

* It accused Russian authorities without considering their defense and contrary information.

* It excluded a written submission and documents provided by a Russian authority.

* It failed to identify individual athletes who benefited but instead cast suspicion on the entire team.

* It ignored the statistical data compiled by WADA which show Russian violations to be NOT exceptional.

* It did not provide the source for quantitative measurements.

* It claimed to have evidence but failed to reveal it.

A detailed critique of the McLaren Report can be found at Sports Integrity Initiative, Consortiumnews, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, True Publica, Global Research, Telesur, and other sites.

The IPC explanation of why they banned the entire 267 person Paralympic team boils down to the accusation that

“the State-sponsored doping programme that exists within Russian sport regrettably extends to Russian Para sport as well. The facts really do hurt; they are an unprecedented attack on every clean athlete who competes in sport. The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised….. The doping culture that is polluting Russian sport stems from the Russian government and has now been uncovered in not one, but two independent reports commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency….. I believe the Russian government  has catastrophically failed its Para athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me. The complete corruption of the anti-doping system is contrary to the rules and strikes at the very heart of the spirit of Paralympic sport.”

These are strong words and accusations, not against the athletes, but against the Russian government. It seems the Russian Paralympic athletes are being collectively punished as a means to punish the Russian government.

But what are the facts? First, it’s true some Russian athletes have used prohibited steroids or other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The documentaries by Hajo Seppelt expose examples of Russian athletes admitting to taking PEDs, a banned coach clandestinely continuing to coach, and another banned coach dealing in prohibited drugs.

Another fact is that this problem exists in many if not all countries, especially since professional athletics is big business. WADA data shows that many countries have significant numbers of doping violations.

It is claimed that doping by elite athletes is pervasive in Russia but is this true?  To answer that accurately would require an objective examination not a sensation seeking media report. In the current controversy the accusations and assumptions rely substantially on individual anecdotes and testimony which has been publicized through media reports (ARD documentaries, Sixty Minutes report and NY Times stories) with very little scrutiny.  In contrast with the accusations , the scientific data prepared by WADA indicates that Russian athletes have a fairly low incidence of positive drug tests in international certified laboratories. 

The biggest question is whether the Russian government has been “sponsoring” or somehow supervising prohibited doping.  This has been repeated many times and is now widely assumed to be true. However the evidence is far from compelling. The accusations are based primarily on the testimony of three people: the main culprit and mastermind Grigory Rodchenkov who was extorting athletes and “whistle-blowers” Vitaliy and Yuliya Stepanov. The Stepanovs were the star witnesses in the Sixty Minutes feature on this topic. The report was factually flawed: it mistakenly reports that Vitaliy had a “low level job at the Russian Anti Doping Agency RUSADA”.  Actually he was adviser to the Director General, close to the Minister of Sports and a trainer of doping control officers. The Sixty Minutes story also failed to include the important fact that Vitaliy was directly involved in his wife’s doping.  According to Seppelt’s documentary “The Secrets of Doping” 

“First, Vitaliy even helps his wife with doping, procures the drugs, leads a kind of double life.”(5:45) 

Adding to the argument there may be a political bias in these accusations, all three witnesses (Rodchenkov and the Stepanovs) are now living in the USA.

The “proof” of Russian state sponsored doping rests on remarkably little solid evidence. The principal assertion is that the Deputy Minister of Sports issued email directives to eliminate positive tests of “protected” athletes. McLaren claims to have “electronic data” and emails proving this. However he has not revealed the emails.  If the emails are authentic, that would be damning.  How would the Ministry of Sports officials explain it? Do they have any alternative explanation of the curious directives to “Quarantine” or “Save” doping test samples? Astoundingly, McLaren decided not to ask them and he still has not shown the evidence he has.

Another controversial issue is regarding the opening and replacement of “tamper proof” bottles. The Rodchenkov account is that in the middle of the night, in cahoots with FSB (successor to KGB), they would replace “dirty” urine with “clean” urine. Rodchenkov says they found a way to open the tamper proof urine sample bottles. However the Swiss manufacturer Berlinger continues to stand by its product and has effectively challenged the veracity of the Rodchenkov/McLaren story.  Since the release of the McLaren Report, Berlinger has issued a statement saying:

  • To the statement in the McLaren investigation report that some such bottles proved possible to open Berlinger Special AG cannot offer any authoritative response at the present time.

  • Berlinger Special AG has no knowledge at present of the specifications, the methods or the procedures involved in the tests and experiments conducted by the McLaren Commission.

  • Berlinger Special AG conducts its own regular reappraisals of its doping kits, and also has its products tested and verified by an independent institute that has been duly certificated by the Swiss authorities.

  • In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open.

  • This also applies to the “Sochi 2014” sample bottle model.

  • The specialists at Berlinger Special AG are able at any time to determine whether one of the company’s sample bottles has been tampered with or unlawfully replicated.

McLaren says he does not know how the Russians were opening the bottles but he knows it can be done because someone demonstrated it to him personally. In contrast with McLaren’s assertions, Berlinger states unequivocally 

“In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open. This also applies to the ‘Sochi 2014’ sample bottle model.”

If McLaren’s claims are true, why has he not discussed this with the manufacturer? Isn’t it important to identify the weakness in the system so that doping test samples cannot continue to be swapped as alleged?  If his objective is to honestly find the facts, prevent cheating and improve the testing for doping violations, surely he should be consulting closely the certified and longstanding bottle manufacturer. The fact that McLaren has apparently not pursued this with the manufacturer raises legitimate questions about his claims, sincerity and “independence”.

McLaren further claims to be able to forensically determine when a ‘tamper proof’ bottle has been opened by the “marks and scratches” on the inside of the bottle caps. His report does not include photos to show what these “marks and scratches” look like, nor does it consider the possibility of a mark or scratch resulting from some other event such as different force being applied, cross-threading or backing off on the cap.  In this area also, McLaren has apparently not had his findings confirmed by the Swiss manufacturer despite the fact they state “The specialists at Berlinger Special AG are able at any time to determine whether one of the company’s sample bottles has been tampered with or unlawfully replicated.”

If the findings of McLaren’s “marks and scratches expert” are accurate, why did they not get confirmation from the specialists at Berlinger? Perhaps it is because Berlinger disputes McLaren’s claims and says “Our kits are secure”.

The IPC decision substantially rests on the fact-challenged McLaren report. The IPC statement falsely claims that the McLaren bottle top “scratches and marks” expert has “corroborated the claim that the State directed scheme involved Russian Paralympic athletes.”

Banning 267 Athletes instead of the Guilty Eleven

The IPC report includes data that purports to show widespread doping manipulation in Russia. They report

“Professor McLaren provided the names of the athletes associated with the 35 samples ….and whether the sample had been marked QUARANTINE or SAVE.” 

These 35 samples are presumably the same Paralympic 35 which are identified on page 41 of the McLaren Report as being “Disappearing Positive Test Results by Sport Russian Athletes”.  There is no source for this data but supposedly it covers testing between 2012 and 2015.  McLaren provided another 10 samples thus making 45 samples relating to 44 athletes.

It is then explained that 17 of these samples are actually not from IPC administered sport. So the actual number is 27 athletes (44 – 17) implicated. However, in another inconsistency,  the IPC statement says not all these samples were marked “SAVE” by Moscow Laboratory. That was only done for “at least” 11 of the samples and athletes.

If the IPC final number is accurate it means they confirmed eleven Paralympic athletes who tested positive between 2012 and 2015 but had their positive tests “disappeared” to allow these athletes to compete. These athletes should be suspended or banned.  Instead of doing that, the IPC banned the entire 267 person Russian Paralympic team!

The Rush to Judgment

The McLaren Report looks like a rush to judgment. The report was launched after the sensational NY Times story based on Grigory Rodchenkov and Sixty Minutes story based on the Stepanovs. Before he was half way done his investigation, Richard McLaren was already advising the IAAF to ban the entire Russian team. The McLaren Report, with all its flaws and shortcomings, was published just a few weeks ago on 16 July 2016. Then, on August 7, the IPC issued its decision to ban the Russian Paralympic Team from the September Rio Paralympics.

The IPC statement claims that they “provided sufficient time to allow the Russian Paralympic Committee to present their case to the IPC” before they finalised the decision.  While the Russian Paralympic Committee appeared before the IPC, it’s doubtful they had sufficient time to argue their case or even to know the details of the accusations.

In summary, the accusation of Russian ‘state sponsored doping’ by McLaren and Craven is based on little solid evidence.  Despite this, the accusations have resulted in the banning of many hundreds of clean athletes from the Olympics and Paralympics.  They have also contributed to the ugly “ant-Russian” prejudice and discrimination happening at the Olympics right now.  This seems to violate the purpose of the Olympics movement which is to promote international peace not conflict and discrimination. 

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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“I’m Not A Racist, But I’m A Nationalist”: Why Sweden Faces A Historic Election Upset

Sweden is set to have a political earthquake in September.

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Via Zerohedge


“Trains and hospitals don’t work, but immigration continues,” Roger Mathson, a retired vegetable oil factory worker in Sweden, told Bloomberg on the same day as the violent, coordinated rampage by masked gangs of youths across five Swedish cities.

We noted earlier that Swedish politicians were quick to react with anti-immigrant party ‘Sweden Democrats’ seeing a surge in the polls ahead of the September 9th election.

“I’m not a racist, but I’m a nationalist,” Mathson said. “I don’t like seeing the town square full of Niqab-clad ladies and people fighting with each other.”

Is Sweden set to have its own political earthquake in September, where general elections could end a century of Social Democratic dominance and bring to power a little known (on the world stage), but the now hugely popular nationalist party often dubbed far-right and right-wing populist, called Sweden Democrats?

Sweden, a historically largely homogeneous population of 10 million, took in an astounding 600,000 refugees over the past five years, and after Swedes across various cities looked out their windows Tuesday to see cars exploding, smoke filling the skies, and possibly armed masked men hurling explosives around busy parking lots, it appears they’ve had enough.

Over the past years of their rise as a political force in Swedish politics, the country’s media have routinely labelled the Sweden Democrats as “racists” and “Nazis” due to their seemingly single issue focus of anti-immigration and strong Euroscepticism.

A poll at the start of this week indicated the Sweden Democrats slid back to third place after topping three previous polls as the September election nears; however, Tuesday’s national crisis and what could legitimately be dubbed a serious domestic terror threat is likely to boost their popularity.

Bloomberg’s profile of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, echoes the tone of establishment Swedish media in the way they commonly cast the movement, beginning as follows:

Viking rock music and whole pigs roasting on spits drew thousands of Swedes to a festival hosted by nationalists poised to deliver their country’s biggest political upheaval in a century.

The Sweden Democrats have been led since 2005 by a clean-cut and bespectacled man, Jimmie Akesson. He’s gentrified a party that traces its roots back to the country’s neo-Nazi, white supremacist fringe. Some polls now show the group may become the biggest in Sweden’s parliament after general elections on Sept. 9. Such an outcome would end 100 years of Social Democratic dominance.

The group’s popularity began surging after the 2015 immigration crisis began, which first hit Europe’s southern Mediterranean shores and quickly moved northward as shocking wave after wave of migrants came.

Jimmie Akesson (right). Image source: Getty via Daily Express

Akesson emphasizes something akin to a “Sweden-first” platform which European media often compares to Trump’s “America First”; and the party has long been accused of preaching forced assimilation into Swedish culture to be become a citizen.

Bloomberg’s report surveys opinions at a large political rally held in Akkeson’s hometown of Solvesborg, and some of the statements are sure to be increasingly common sentiment after this week’s coordinated multi-city attack:

At his party’s festival, Akesson revved up the crowd by slamming the establishment’s failures, calling the last two governments the worst in Swedish history. T-shirts calling for a Swexit, or an exit from the EU, were exchanged as bands played nationalist tunes.

Ted Lorentsson, a retiree from the island of Tjorn, said he’s an enthusiastic backer of the Sweden Democrats. “I think they want to improve elderly care, health care, child care,” he said. “Bring back the old Sweden.” But he also acknowledges his view has led to disagreement within his family as his daughter recoils at what she feels is the “Hitler”-like rhetoric.

No doubt, the media and Eurocrats in Brussels will take simple, innocent statements from elderly retirees like “bring back the old Sweden” as nothing short of declaration of a race war, but such views will only solidify after this week.

Another Sweden Democrat supporter, a 60-year old woman who works at a distillery, told Bloomberg, “I think you need to start seeing the whole picture in Sweden and save the original Swedish population,” she said. “I’m not racist, because I’m a realist.”

Sweden’s two biggest parties, the Social Democrats and Moderates, are now feeling the pressure as Swedes increasingly worry about key issues preached by Akesson like immigration, law and order, and health care – seen as under threat by a mass influx of immigrants that the system can’t handle.

Bloomberg explains further:

But even young voters are turning their backs on the establishment. One potential SD supporter is law student Oscar Persson. Though he hasn’t yet decided how he’ll vote, he says it’s time for the mainstream parties to stop treating the Sweden Democrats like a pariah. “This game they are playing now, where the other parties don’t want to talk to them but still want their support, is something I don’t really understand,” he said.

Akesson has managed to entice voters from both sides of the political spectrum with a message of more welfare, lower taxes and savings based on immigration cuts.

With many Swedes now saying immigration has “gone too far” and as this week’s events have once again thrust the issue before both a national and global audience, the next round of polling will mostly like put Sweden’s conservative-right movements on top

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The Turkish Emerging Market Timebomb

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him.

The Duran

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Authored by Jim O’Neill, originally on Project Syndicate:


As the Turkish lira continues to depreciate against the dollar, fears of a classic emerging-market crisis have come to the fore. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist economic policies have finally caught up to him, and sooner or later, he will have to make nice with his country’s traditional Western allies.

Turkey’s falling currency and deteriorating financial conditions lend credence, at least for some people, to the notion that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” I suspect that many Western policymakers, in particular, are not entirely unhappy about Turkey’s plight.

To veteran economic observers, Turkey’s troubles are almost a textbook case of an emerging-market flop. It is August, after all, and back in the 1990s, one could barely go a single year without some kind of financial crisis striking in the dog days of summer.

But more to the point, Turkey has a large, persistent current-account deficit, and a belligerent leader who does not realize – or refuses to acknowledge – that his populist economic policies are unsustainable. Moreover, Turkey has become increasingly dependent on overseas investors (and probably some wealthy domestic investors, too).

Given these slowly gestating factors, markets have long assumed that Turkey was headed for a currency crisis. In fact, such worries were widespread as far back as the fall of 2013, when I was in Istanbul interviewing business and financial leaders for a BBC Radio series on emerging economies. At that time, markets were beginning to fear that monetary-policy normalization and an end to quantitative easing in the United States would have dire consequences globally. The Turkish lira has been flirting with disaster ever since.

Now that the crisis has finally come to pass, it is Turkey’s population that will bear the brunt of it. The country must drastically tighten its domestic monetary policy, curtail foreign borrowing, and prepare for the likelihood of a full-blown economic recession, during which time domestic saving will slowly have to be rebuilt.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership will both complicate matters and give Turkey some leverage. Erdoğan has  constitutional powers, reducing those of the parliament, and undercutting the independence of monetary and fiscal policymaking. And to top it off, he seems to be reveling in an escalating feud with US President Donald Trump’s administration over Turkey’s imprisonment of an American pastor and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile-defense system.

This is a dangerous brew for the leader of an emerging economy to imbibe, particularly when the United States itself has embarked on a Ronald Reagan-style fiscal expansion that has pushed the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster than it would have otherwise. Given the unlikelihood of some external source of funding emerging, Erdoğan will eventually have to back down on some of his unorthodox policies. My guess is that we’ll see a return to a more conventional monetary policy, and possibly a new fiscal-policy framework.

As for Turkey’s leverage in the current crisis, it is worth remembering that the country has a large and youthful population, and thus the potential to grow into a much larger economy in the future. It also enjoys a privileged geographic position at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, which means that many major players have a stake in ensuring its stability. Indeed, many Europeans still hold out hope that Turkey will embrace Western-style capitalism, despite the damage that Erdoğan has done to the country’s European Union accession bid.

Among the regional powers, Russia is sometimes mentioned as a potential savior for Turkey. There is no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would love to use Turkey’s crisis to pull it even further away from its NATO allies. But Erdoğan and his advisers would be deeply mistaken to think that Russia can fill Turkey’s financial void. A Kremlin intervention would do little for Turkey, and would likely exacerbate Russia’s own .

The other two potential patrons are Qatar and, of course, China. But while Qatar, one of Turkey’s closest Gulf allies, could provide financial aid, it does not ultimately have the wherewithal to pull Turkey out of its crisis singlehandedly.

As for China, though it will not want to waste the opportunity to increase its influence vis-à-vis Turkey, it is not the country’s style to step into such a volatile situation, much less assume responsibility for solving the problem. The more likely outcome – as we are seeing in Greece – is that China will unleash its companies to pursue investment opportunities after the dust settles.

That means that Turkey’s economic salvation lies with its conventional Western allies: the US and the EU (particularly France and Germany). On August 13, a White House spokesperson confirmed that the Trump administration is watching the financial-market response to Turkey’s crisis “very closely.” The last thing that Trump wants is a crumbling world economy and a massive dollar rally, which could derail his domestic economic ambitions. So a classic Trump “trade” is probably there for Erdoğan, if he is willing to come to the negotiating table.

Likewise, some of Europe’s biggest and most fragile banks have significant exposure to Turkey. Combine that with the ongoing political crisis over migration, and you have a recipe for deeper destabilization within the EU. I, for one, cannot imagine that European leaders will sit by and do nothing while Turkey implodes on their border.

Despite his escalating rhetoric, Erdoğan may soon find that he has little choice but to abandon his isolationist and antagonistic policies of the last few years. If he does, many investors may look back next year and wish that they had snapped up a few lira when they had the chance.

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Why Scandinavia Isn’t Exceptional

Scandinavia is entirely unexceptional.

The Duran

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Authored by Per Bylund via The Mises Institute:


[From the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.]

The Scandinavian countries, and primary among them Sweden, are commonly referred to as anomalies or inspirations, depending on one’s political point of view. The reason is that the countries do not appear to fit the general pattern: they are enormously successful whereas they “shouldn’t” be. Indeed, Scandinavians enjoy very high living standards despite having very large, progressive welfare states for which they pay the world’s highest taxes.

As a result, a large and growing literature, both propagandist and scholarly, has emerged that tries to identify the reasons for this Scandinavian exceptionalism—especially as pertains to their welfare states. I have myself contributed to this literature1 and have previously reviewed others’ contributions to it in this journal.2 But what has been missing is a summary analysis that is accessible to non-scholars. It was therefore a delight to read Nima Sanandaji’s Scandinavian Unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets, and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism, published by British Institute for Economic Affairs.

Dr. Sanandaji is a political-economy analyst and writer, well known in both Sweden and Europe, and as expected does an excellent job summarizing the state of scholarship. He also uses examples and quotes from articles published in Scandinavian news media to illustrate the narrative. The result is a short and informative but easy to read answer to both how and why the Scandinavian welfare states seem to work so well.

The short book provides the reader with insight into Scandinavian culture, an explanation of the causes of the nations’ exceptional rise from poverty, an overview of their recent political-economic history, the distinct structure and evolution of the Scandinavian welfare state, the origins of their egalitarianism and gender equality, and the effect of immigration. I will briefly touch on three of these areas.

First, Sanandaji makes clear that the rosy story of the Scandinavian welfare state, as it is usually told, is at best incomplete. The Scandinavian countries were among the European continent’s poorest by the end of the 19th century and were largely unaffected by the industrialization that had started centuries earlier in the United Kingdom. A combination of classical liberal reform and the adoption of industrialized production created a century-long “golden age,” as Bergh (2014) denotes the period approximately 1870–1970 in Sweden, of economic growth and rapidly rising standards of living.

This growth was partly also made possible by a distinct Scandinavian culture, which is characterized by the “[h]igh levels of trust, a strong work ethic and social cohesion [that] are the perfect starting point for successful economies” (p. 7). As Sanandaji points out, the market-aligned virtues of Scandinavian culture also explain the limited impact of the welfare state as it was erected and ballooned in the 1930s and beyond. Cultural change takes time, and thus old values lag in the face of political change. So it took time for the Scandinavian virtues to give way to the destructive incentives of the welfare state.

It should also be noted, though Sanandaji fails to make this point clearly, that after the welfare state was established, and during its several decades of expansion, it’s growth rate tended to be lower than that of the overall economy. The increasing burden was therefore, in relative terms, marginal. That is, until the radical 1960s and 1970s when Scandinavian governments, and the Swedish government in particular, adopted very expansionist welfare policies. (This political shift is analyzed in detail in, e.g., Bergh.)3

Sanandaji also presents interesting data with respect to Scandinavian gender equality. His discussion begins with the internationally enviable women’s labor market participation rate in Scandinavian countries, and especially Sweden. The background, however, is that Sweden’s government had adopted a radical agenda for population control formulated by Gunnar and Alva Myrdal (yes, the same Gunnar Myrdal who shared the 1974 economics prize with Hayek). The gist of this reform was to enforce a shared responsibility between parents and “the community” for children’s upbringing. By raising taxes on income while offering government-run daycare services, families were incentivized (if not “forced,” economically speaking) to secure two full-time incomes.

Interestingly, while this indeed rapidly increased women’s participation in the labor market, Sanandaji notes that “few women in the Nordic nations reach the position of business leaders, and even fewer manage to climb to the very top positions of directors and chief executives” (p. 102). Part of the reason is that jobs that women typically choose, including education and healthcare, are monopolized in the vast public sectors. As a result, women at trapped in careers where employers do not compete for their competence and many leadership positions are political.

This development is indirectly illustrated in a terrifying statistic from Sweden’s labor market: “Between 1950 and 2000, the Swedish population grew from seven to almost nine million. But astonishingly the net job creation in the private sector was close to zero” (p. 33).

Finally, Sanandaji addresses the issue of immigration and shows that the Scandinavian nations were exceptionally good at integration, with greater labor participation for immigrants than other Western nations, prior to the radicalization of the welfare state. Thereafter, due to rigid labor regulations and vast welfare benefits, immigrants were more or less kept out of Scandinavian job markets.

The literature identifies two potential explanations. First, the anti-business and job-protection policies practically exclude anyone with a lack of work experience, highly sought-after skills, or those with lacking proficiency in the language or limited network. This keeps immigrants as well as young people unemployed (the very high youth unemployment rates in Scandinavia illustrate this problem). Second, the promises of the universal welfare state tend to attract people who are less interested in working their way to the top and thus have a lacking work ethic.

This explains the recent problems in Scandinavia with respect to immigration, which is essentially an integration and policy problem — not a foreign-people problem.

Overall, Sanandaji’s book provides plenty of insights and a coherent explanation for the rise of the Scandinavian nations and their welfare states. Their impressive standard of living is a free-market story, which is rooted in an economically sound culture. This culture also supported the welfare state, until decades of destructive incentives eroded the nations’ sound values. The welfare state, after its radicalization, was soon crushed under its own weight, and Scandinavia has since undergone vast free-market reforms that again have contributed to economic growth and prosperity.

Considering the full story, Sanandaji summarizes the example of the Northern European welfare states simply and bluntly: “Scandinavia is entirely unexceptional.”

  • 1.Bylund, Per L. 2010. “The Modern Welfare State: Leading the Way on the Road to Serfdom.” In Thomas E. Woods, ed., Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books.
  • 2.2015. “Book Review: Sweden and the Revival of the Capitalist Welfare State by Andreas Bergh,” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 18, no. 1: 75–81.
  • 3.Bergh, Andreas. 2014. Sweden and the Revival of the Capitalist Welfare State. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar.

Per Bylund is assistant professor of entrepreneurship & Records-Johnston Professor of Free Enterprise in the School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. Website: PerBylund.com.

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