National Security & Defense

What’s Happening In Sweden

A police officer inspects cars burned during riots near Stockholm, February 21, 2017. (Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT News Agency/Reuters)
President Donald Trump’s remark about Sweden was vague, but he brought attention to a real issue.

As if on cue, riots broke out in a heavily immigrant suburb of Stockholm as soon as the media mocked President Donald Trump for a vague warning about immigration-related problems in Sweden.

At a campaign rally over the weekend, Trump issued forth with a mystifyingly ominous statement. “You look,” he declared, “at what’s happening last night in Sweden.” What? Had the president invented a nonexistent terror attack? As it turned out, the reference was to a segment on Sweden he had watched on the Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight  the previous night, rather than to any specific event in the Nordic country.

The ensuing discussion quickly took on the character of much of the debate in the early Trump years — a blunderbuss president matched against a snotty and hyperventilating press, with a legitimate issue lurking underneath.

By welcoming a historic number of asylum-seekers proportionate to its population, Sweden has indeed embarked on a vast social experiment that wasn’t well thought out and isn’t going very well. The unrest in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby after police made an arrest the other night underscored the problems inherent in Sweden’s immigration surge.

Sweden’s admirable humanitarianism is outstripping its capacity to absorb newcomers. Nothing if not an earnest and well-meaning society, Sweden has always accepted more than its share of refugees. Immigration was already at elevated levels before the latest influx into Europe from the Middle East, which prompted Sweden to try to see and raise the reckless open-borders policy of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Sweden welcomed more than 160,000 asylum-seekers in 2015, including nearly 40,000 in October of that year alone. For a country of fewer than 10 million, this was almost equal to 2 percent of the population — in one year. The flow doubled the number of asylum-seekers at the height of the Balkans crisis in 1992.

The foreign-born proportion of the Swedish population was 18 percent in 2016, double that of 1990. As of 2015, the most common county of origin for the foreign-born was Finland, which makes sense as it is a neighboring Scandinavian country. Next are Iraq and Syria.

Predictably, it isn’t easy to integrate people who don’t know the language, aren’t highly skilled, and come from a foreign culture. Sweden’s economic policies don’t help. As a report of the Migration Policy Institute put it politely, Sweden is “an interesting case” because “the state is committed to fostering large-scale immigration despite huge integration challenges in the labor market.”

There is a stark gap in the labor-force-participation rate between the native born (82 percent) and the foreign born (57 percent). As the Migration Policy Institute points out, Sweden is an advanced economy with relatively few low-skills jobs to begin with. On top of this, high minimum wages and stringent labor protections make it harder for marginal workers to find employment, while social assistance discourages the unemployed from getting work. 

None of this is a formula for assimilation or social tranquility. In a piece for The Spectator, Swedish journalist Tove Lifvendahl writes, “A parallel society is emerging where the state’s monopoly on law and order is being challenged.”

And the fiscal cost is high. According to Swedish economist Tino Sanandaji, the country spends 1.5 percent of its GDP on the asylum-seekers, more than on its defense budget. Sweden is spending twice the entire budget of the United Nations High Commissioner responsible for refugees worldwide. Pressed for housing, Sweden has spent as much on sheltering 3,000 people in tents as it would cost to care for 100,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.

It is little wonder that Sweden, where so recently it was forbidden to question the open-handed orthodoxy on immigration, has now clamped down on its borders. Sweden is a unique case, but clearly one of the lessons of its recent experience is, Don’t try this at home.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2017 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More
World

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More
Culture

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More
White House

For Democrats, the Party’s Over

If the Democrats are really tempted by impeachment, bring it on. Since the day after the 2016 election they have been threatening this, placing their chips on the Russian-collusion fantasy and then on the phantasmagoric charade of obstruction of justice. The attorney general accurately gave the ingredients of the ... Read More
U.S.

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More