'The Daily Show' sings a Swedish song of socialism -- and it's not ABBA

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The Daily Show recently sent a correspondent to Stockholm to lampoon America's fear of socialism. Last week, Comedy Central aired the hilarious result in a two-part series skewering innocuous Swedish stereotypes (hot blondes, ABBA) as a way of skewering our more potent stereotypes of socialist programs.

I happened to be in Stockholm last week, visiting an American friend who'd fallen in love with a Swedish girl and moved there to raise a family. He loves it there. He got paternity leave to take care of each kid -- families get 16 months per kid, to split between the parents -- and his children get free health care and education. He says that you can often even ride the bus for free if you've got a kid with you. Fine, but what about those high taxes? He says he doesn't mind paying for the satisfaction of security in unsure times.

When Americans ask him about his new socialist life, he illustrates it this way: In much of Africa, children can't go to school if their parents can't pay for the tuition; if you're poor, you can't go to school. Americans find that sort of exclusivity uncivilized. And the Swedish, he says, find our system of forcing citizens to pay for our own medical care equally uncivilized, equally contrary to the general condition of the population. We like libraries and fire stations and public education, all government-funded and, therefore, socialist. But some of our commentators borrow from the Red Scare of ages past, railing against "socialism" as if it were inherently dangerous.
You may not agree, but his arguments -- and The Daily Show's lifting of the socialist veil, revealing a generally happy society -- certainly makes you think about socialism in a different light. Is socialism itself really the problem, or is government mismanagement and bloat really our primal fear?

It's no accident that American media are taking a closer look at socialism. Many thinkers on the left believe the economic meltdown is proof that capitalism as it exists is too flawed to work. In These Times, an influential left-leaning, workers-rights magazine that has counted the late Studs Terkel and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., among its regular contributors, just ran a provocative cover story, "The Meltdown Goes Global: It's Time to Rethink Capitalism." ("Markets are not the only mechanisms for delivering the goods and services people need," the story concludes.) Many of us thought we'd never see the day when that idea would appear on a magazine cover, particularly so soon after a presidential campaign in which the word "socialist" was often used to attack the candidate who ultimately won.

The Daily Show's Swedish segments are among the first mainstream coverage daring even to look at socialism (albeit with a reassuringly sarcastic tone). By the end, correspondent Wyatt Cenac is "glad" to be back in America, "where nothing could restrain my greed." The show's message boards instantly cultivated a surprisingly intelligent conversation about the Swedish brand of socialism. ("Who am I to judge," wrote one viewer. "After all, when you have a sense of community any economic system can work.") Watch as the door to a government safety net is opened just a crack.

The government is the de facto owner of AIG, and the big banks are being floated with no-risk loans. Britain is raising its top tax rate to 50%, just 10% shy of Sweden's tax rate, which buys its people much more. The line between pure capitalism and socialism is becoming so blurred that a bridge between the two ideologies is gradually forming.

People have lost so much in this recession, and they're so adrift with insecurity, that even Americans are starting to consider whether we'd be willing to give up more of our income to get free health care and family benefits. If this is what the kids are thinking about these days, we're in for a very interesting political future. WIthin a single generation, our personal finances could look very different.

Part One:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days


Part Two:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 2
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days
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