Rewriting the social contract

13 SEK in the next twenty years – that’s the increase in taxation needed according to researcher Rolf Solli at the University of Borås if Sweden is to manage its social care needs. A challenge many countries are facing right now.

The defense budget is growing, skills shortages in many of the welfare sectors biggest professions are pushing up salaries and the cost of new efficient treatment methods in, for example, cancer medicine erases every ambition of equal care for all. Urbanization creates larger differences between town and country when the service levels decline. Private security services, protection of the individual and the right to ownership, are all included as RUT-services (tax deductible domestic services) with the objective to compensate for the lack of police officers. It is not only clear that the almost 100-year old trend of increasing commitment from the state and municipalities is coming to an end. It has become time to rewrite Sweden’s social contract.

During the election campaign in 2018, the question of the social contract was brought up in various contexts. At times it came from stories of how the contract has already been broken by the politicians. Behind this, we find the conflict between different social contracts, that the researcher Lars Trägårdh recently reflected on during the municipalities' employer organization Sobona’s yearly conference. In short, Trägårdh’s research has shown that Swedes’ traditional social contract places demands on citizens to contribute, and in that way, they can get access to the benefits provided by society. Welfare is a consequence of dutiful cooperation that primarily involves the members of the nation-state. Next to this age-old contract is another contract with its roots in the post-war’s international book of rights. In this second contract, we barely find the nation-state as a delimiter for community and cohesion – a logical result of two world wars driven by loud rhetoric with ethnicity as their main focus. Here, all people have the same value and rights despite ethnic descent and historic or current contribution to society. It’s a view of people that is not intuitive for many. Who would not prioritize friends and family before others? The collision between contracts is obvious and is amplified when growing numbers feel that society’s resources fall short which is something we are likely to see more of in the future. The question is how orderly we can create one – or more? – social contracts that can be upheld in the close future?

No democracy at the ER, please!

In a society undergoing rapid change, there is a growing insight that yesterday’s and today’s systems can no longer solve current problems and even fewer problems in the future. At the same time, we're lacking a vision about what the new solutions might look like. This puts us on an uncertain path towards the future. Based on factors such as the individual’s sense of belonging, personality, and environment, there are larger or smaller needs to perceive that someone – the state or politicians – has a plan and starts to come up with new solutions. If this doesn’t happen, the worry and insecurity experienced might reach a critical level where an individual, that until now have been in favor of democracy, accepts the idea of consolidating power to someone who offers to do something. The inclusive, but slow, processes of democracy are losing value, especially if the decisions made only become a patchwork of cross-party agreements without the potential to create something new and sustainable.

This reaction in and of itself is not so strange. When we arrive at the ER we don’t want to hear the staff take a vote on what treatment to give us. No, in this situation all patients, despite political ideology, will most likely want the most competent person to lead the others, call it a dictatorship if you’d like. Maybe it’s from this perspective that we can understand how only 49% of Swedish 16-25 year-olds believe that everyone should have a right to vote regardless of their knowledge of political topics?

Every generation of citizens and politicians have to face the big questions of their time. Today’s elected politicians and public officials not only hold the future in their hands, through the decisions being made, how they are made are also factors that can strengthen or weaken the trust in society. Finding the balance between on the one hand inclusive democratic processes and initiative, and innovative decisions on the other hand, is perhaps the biggest challenge for today’s political decision-makers. Enough people have to get involved to maintain the representative legitimacy among voters while the ones in need of action and result have to get their share.

To get more clarity on the citizen of tomorrow we got the opportunity to run a study on the theme. Together with a fantastic group of organizations we surveyed nearly 5500 Swedes, conducted a global trend analysis, and met with experts. The results have gathered significant interest from municipalities, regions, and others with a need to understand the diverse groups of people that constitute our citizens today and tomorrow – what they want and what they’ll give in return. 

Are you interested in getting to know more? Contact Fredrik Torberger

By Fredrik Torberger