Monday, September 27, 2010

Americans Prefer Sweden

No. This is not a post about Swedish blondes. Rather, it is a survey of public opinion in the United States on the politically salient issue of the growing inequality in the distribution of income and wealth in the past decade or so.

In December 2005 two professors from Harvard and Duke conducted a survey of 5,522 Americans in 47 states asking respondents for their views on the distribution of income in America. An overwhelming 92% said they would prefer to live in a society with far less income inequality than the United States. The responses cut across all demographic and political lines. If given a choice, respondents said they would prefer a distribution which mirrors that in Scandinavia, especially Sweden.

Given the well documented disproportional gains in income and wealth accruing to the top 1% of U.S. households, it’s reasonable that 92% of those surveyed believe that too few are collecting and accumulating too much.

Opinions are cheap. Actions are costly. Statistics Sweden publishes data on immigrants to and emigrants from Sweden by country of birth and citizenship. In 2005, the net inflow of persons born in the U.S. immigrating to Sweden (inflow over outflow) was 372. Only 79 immigrated for work and 38 to study. Most was for (unspecified) family reasons.

It is noteworthy that the net outflow of Swedes in 2005 was 6,800 and 5,167 in 2004. The largest numbers of incoming arrivals replacing them were Poles, Germans, Russians, Serbs, Iraqis, Iranians, and Thais.

What about Swedes moving to America? The U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics publishes periodic reports on persons seeking legal permanent resident status by region and country of birth. Except for 2003, when the number was 963, more than a thousand Swedes requested permanent resident status every year between 2000 through 2009. (Only one married Tiger Woods).

Americans may prefer the distribution of income and wealth in Sweden to that in America but few are willing to work or study there. Sure, there are barriers of language, culture, climate, and other obstacles. But if the distribution of income and wealth are so important to decisions about where to live, why do thousands of Swedes pack up and leave every year.

Perhaps the two professors might consider conducting a survey of Swedes who have moved to the U.S. to find out why.

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