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by John Brian Shannon | June 24, 2015
In Sweden, nobody sleeps in dumpsters. Not one.
And everyone who visits Sweden wonders why.
The simple answer is that human beings in Sweden are treated as the country’s number one resource. In Sweden, people are ranked #1 while everything else in the economy is considered less important
Strange system, isn’t it?
That’s not to say that Sweden’s various economic sectors and segments aren’t important, it’s just that ‘people come first’ with the Nordic Model — while companies and government come second and third, respectively.
“Are there any jobs?”
Well yes, there are! In fact, if you want to work, you work! However, some job-sharing may be involved, depending on your industry.
“Are you saying the unemployment rate in Sweden is 0 percent?”
Almost. Historically the unemployment rate hovers around 2 to 3 percent. But since the global financial crisis hit, Sweden’s unemployment rate shot up to a record-high to 8 percent in August, 2013.
But things are not always what they seem. And this is one of those times.
In Sweden, there are employed and unemployed people just like anywhere else — but the difference is every worker is employed for at least 6 months of the year, as the country has mandatory job-sharing for those industries that can’t fully employ their workers.
“So nobody is unemployed for longer than 6 months per year?”
Yes, that’s true. There is unemployment, but each worker knows that they will get re-hired and they know the exact day when they will be re-hired — usually at the same company that they have worked for the past number of years.
It’s a very temporary unemployment rate in Sweden, and there are zero ‘discouraged workers’ — those who’ve given up looking for work. (Unlike the situation in North America!)
The bottom line? It’s a simple case of making certain everyone gets to contribute to the Swedish economy over the course of the year — which has many benefits for workers, their families, corporations and for Swedish GDP.
“Why do Swedish workers, corporations, and the government like this arrangement?”
The benefits are many.
First, corporations love this setup as some industries cannot employ all of their workers year-round, or in industries where the work is seasonal, corporations can easily lay-off their workers and know that their fully-trained workers are guaranteed to return to work on the very day the corporation requests them to return.
Swedish companies always have a waiting list of employees who want to return to work. These workers are temporarily receiving unemployment insurance, but have worked for the company within the previous six-month period.
It’s a simple case for companies of figuring out how many people they need for the coming weeks or months, and sending out the appropriate number of emails to ‘their’ (temporarily unemployed) workers.
Without any further ado, those people show up on the dates requested and they quite willingly return to their ‘old job’ — the job they had before they were laid-off.
Whether their job was canning herring, cutting down trees, teaching science class at High School or working at IKEA, they simply show up and resume their previous duties.
Sometimes, this means that other workers are temporarily laid-off to make room for the returnees, but in the case of seasonal workers or during busy times such as the Christmas shopping season, nobody gets a layoff notice AND the many returnees are simply added to the weekly work schedule.
Sometimes it happens that two people will share a certain position for decades, trading it back and forth every six months.
Remember, the unemployment rate historically sits at 2-3 percent. So, people are mostly employed anyhow.
Second, corporations like having a large pool of already trained workers that are easily available to them.
Because these workers are never away from ‘their’ company for longer than six months (usually fewer months than that) they can return to their company with their skills intact and their familiarity with the policies and procedures of that company allow them to ease back into their ‘old job’ with only a half-day refresher course.
A large pool of fully trained workers with sharp skills, returning to their old jobs, exactly when and where requested, at any time the company wants. That’s a bonus for companies.
Third, not one person in the entire country who is capable of working is on ‘welfare’.
‘That’s funny,” you say, “because I learned that Sweden was a ‘welfare state’ when I was in school.”
Maybe they should have spelled it; ‘Well-fare state’ or said it even more correctly; Sweden is the ‘fare-well nation’ — because they want ‘you the worker’ the number one resource in the country, to ‘fare-well’.
Very well, in fact.
Workers in Sweden are either; a) working, or b) on very temporary unemployment insurance. Say it slowly to let it sink in; In Sweden, there is no ‘other category’.
Disclaimer: People who are retired, or who are home-makers, or are on maternity/paternity leave, or those who have illness or permanent disability, aren’t classed as ‘workers’.
There is no such thing as people who’ve ‘given up’ looking for work and who have turned to other lifestyles, such as living in dumpsters.
In Sweden, if you want to work — you work!
Four, workers like it that they can choose to overpay their unemployment insurance contributions (via a special public/private company set up for that purpose) so that workers can top-up their government unemployment insurance benefits up to 99% of the full pay they received when they were employed.
For the equivalent of two cents per dollar, Swedish workers can voluntarily top-up their unemployment insurance account, to allow up to 99% of their normal salary to be paid to them as unemployment benefit payments while they’re temporarily unemployed.
It’s up to each worker how much they authourize to be automatically deducted from their paycheques. (Each equivalent of 1.6 or 1.7 cents per salary dollar earned, gets you another 10% top-up on your unemployment insurance payments)
Most people voluntarily choose to top-up their unemployment benefits to only 90 percent of their normal salary as they are no longer commuting to work, they don’t need the extra 10 percent to pay for gas or subway fare.
And unemployment insurance benefit payments automatically begin the day you are laid off. Hey, it’s your unemployment insurance — you paid into it. It’s not your fault your industry can’t keep you fully employed!
Just for the record, both the government UI system and the private UI system earn more revenue than they pay out to recipients. Both are profitable enterprises.
Five, unemployed workers can earn extra money ‘covering’ for employed people who call in sick.
I hope I’ve described things well enough that you’ve understood all of the above. Because I’m about to drop a bomb on you.
i) Let’s say you work for IKEA and you’re enjoying your layoff period with your (typical) 90-percent-of-regular-salary unemployment benefits.
ii) So, ‘Sven’ from IKEA calls in sick (skiing accident) and he will miss work for one week on Doctor’s orders.
iii) Your name is at the top of the ‘Do Call’ list because you have seniority at that IKEA location and let’s say that they call you to ‘cover’ Sven’s shifts.
iv) Not only do you continue to receive your full unemployment insurance payments while you ‘cover’ for Sven (typically equal to 90% of your full salary) you also get paid the normal hourly rate for Sven’s job description, which may be slightly more or less than your normal salary.
v) Thank you, Sven!
Many people are eager to get onto the voluntary ‘Do Call’ list for that reason. I wonder why.
(Yes, the private company that offers the top-up insurance investigates these occurrences, but fraud is rarely a problem with such a generous system. The top-up insurance company can cut you off from the top-up system for life. Which means that during your layoffs for the rest of your life, you will be forced to survive on only 66 percent of your regular salary which is what the government unemployment insurance benefit pays)
Six, workers like that while on layoff (at up to 99 percent of normal pay) you can apply to work for a non-competing industry, or take some university classes, or you can volunteer at a charitable organization.
Some people may want to broaden their horizons or they may need to amp up their résumé. Maybe they want a new job that is closer to home, or maybe they want to get into teaching.
If ‘your’ company (the one you normally work for) calls you back to work, you must return to work for ‘your’ company. But employers in Sweden are very good about simply calling the next name on the list if you’re actively enrolled in college, for example.
Seven, while you’re laid-off and receiving up to 99 percent of your normal salary, you may wish to go on a cruise to the Mediterranean for example. That’s expected.
But workers must notify their company ahead of time so that the company you normally work for doesn’t call you to ‘cover’ for Sven who has broken his ankle skiing. Again.
And look at you, suntanning in the Med, missing out on collecting ‘double pay’ just when you thought Sven had mastered the art of skiing. ‘Förbannat du, Sven!’ (Damn you, Sven!)
Life is tough when you’re a Swede.
How a New Energy Policy can Save the EU | January 11, 2015
by John Brian Shannon
An accelerated switch to renewable energy is the path to EU jobs and prosperity
Europe is on shaky ground. There is even talk in some quarters that the euro, and consequently the Eurozone, may not last a year.
Critics of the European Union itself are predicting that continued austerity measures, the elections in Greece, petroleum price instability, and Russian moves in Ukraine, may all conspire to topple the Union.
Of course, this is a subject of ongoing debate. Eurozone backers say that the present economic morass will end and that the UK and other nations will join as full members in the coming months, resulting in a unified and complementary economic zone ready to take on all of the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Success Stories Throughout History
Throughout history, various leaders have ‘risen to the occasion’ to provide visionary leadership — seemingly ‘rising out of nowhere’ to inspire great love among the public for a cause, and on account of their great vision and leadership impossible feats occurred on their watch due to the combined willpower of millions of thereby-inspired people.
People are individuals, and no matter how many individuals there are in a country or an economic union, at the end of the day every one of them are individuals living inside a larger society. Therefore, leaders must appeal to those things important to their citizens.
In Life; All a person really needs, is a person (or something) to love.
If you can’t give them that, give them hope.
If you can’t give them that, at least give them something to do.
Leaders who can inspire love for the country through their vision and charisma, have the effect of giving each individual in the country something to love. Or at the very least, give them hope.
Where would the United States have been without FDR?
The New Deal was a series of domestic programs enacted in the United States mainly between 1933 and 1938. They included laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders during the first term (1933–37) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The programs were in response to the Great Depression and focused on what historians call the 3 R’s: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.
That is; Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. — Wikipedia
The success of the New Deal is beyond dispute. Without it, the United States would not be half the country that it is today.
Where would Great Britain have been without Winston S. Churchill?
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer (as Winston S. Churchill), and an artist. Churchill is the only British Prime Minister to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since its inception in 1901, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. — Wikipedia
In between lecturing Hitler and Mussolini via his weekly radio broadcast, Winston Churchill painted a realistic picture for Great Britain’s citizens of the sacrifices they would be forced to endure in order to win the peace, and painted quite a different picture for them of life under Nazi occupation.
Rather than be cowed by a more powerful aggressor, Churchill inspired his people to valour and sacrifice. And they responded powerfully.
What would our 21st century world have become had Mohandas K. Gandhi not perfected the art of non-violent protest?
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India.
Gandhi attempted to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. Gandhi’s vision of a free India was based on religious pluralism.
Imagine if every protest movement since 1947 hadn’t been influenced by Gandhi. Almost certainly, the anti-Viet Nam protests and the civil rights movement in 1960’s America would have led to civil war.
Due to Gandhi’s example, individuals who were part of the anti-war movement or the civil rights movement protested — peacefully for the most part — and to great effect.
John F. Kennedy’s decision to not be cowed by the USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev, led eventually, to the end of the Soviet Union
Had JFK not stood up to Soviet adventurism in Cuba and South America, the geopolitical world would have evolved very differently The USSR would have, in short order, controlled the Western democracies completely.
By utilizing the economic advantage inherent to capitalism, by ordering a Moon shot, and by not backing down against the communists in Viet Nam, JFK neatly avoided playing the Soviet gameplan — and instead played a gameplan that favoured the strengths of the democratic West.
In short, he turned a negative situation into a positive one for the United States.
All of these visionaries gave citizens reason to love their country, to hope for a better future, to employ their good will and energies — towards solving the almost unsolvable problems of their time. (Love, Hope, Do)
Without that overarching vision promised by their political leaders, without that hope in their hearts, and without some means to express their goodwill and energy, citizens wouldn’t have united in large numbers to solve the near-insurmountable challenges of their era.
Now is the time for visionary EU energy leadership
Making the case for the European Union to adopt a ‘50% renewable energy by 2020’ portfolio:
Effectively this becomes an ‘air-quality and jobs mission’ for citizens and governments:
The vast majority of Europeans want a renewable energy future.
They know that the technological hurdles have been overcome, they know that many Pacific Ocean island nation-states and Indian Ocean islands now run on 100% renewable energy, they know that Norway is powered by 100% renewable energy and that Iceland has surpassed 76% renewable energy use.
They know that Sweden gets 51% of its energy from renewable energy, and that Latvia, Finland, Austria, and Denmark aren’t far behind. They see Estonia, Portugal, and Romania getting more than 25% of their electricity from renewable energy and they see Germany’s Energiewende setting records in renewable energy output every month.
Other nations in Europe have surprisingly advanced renewable energy programs and will surpass their renewable energy target before 2020.
Renewable Energy provides massive employment opportunities
And it is becoming apparent that when compared to the fossil fuel industry, the renewable energy industry provides thousands more jobs per million people. Always handy to have a job to go to.
Energy Price Parity and Subsidy Regimes
Not only has some renewable energy approached price parity with conventional energy, in some cases it has surpassed it. Especially when the massive global fossil fuel subsidies that topped $600 billion in 2014 ($550 billion in 2013) are factored in.
Meanwhile, global renewable energy subsidies barely hit $100 billion in 2014, the majority share of it in China.
Worried about fossil fuel subsidies?
They’re peanuts compared to fossil fuel externalities.
Fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion (globally) are one thing. But it now appears that the economic totality of fossil fuel cost to healthcare systems, to livestock health, the agriculture sector, the global climate, regional climate (local drought or flooding) and damage to outdoor concrete and metal structures may now exceed $2 trillion dollars per year.
China reports 410,000 premature deaths per year are due to air pollution. The U.S. admits to 200,000 premature deaths by air pollution and as many as 400,000 premature deaths per year occur in Europe due to our overuse of fossil fuels.
How much renewable energy can we get for $2.6 trillion dollars, please?
It’s not that fossil fuels are intrinsically bad, or evil. It’s not that the people who run those companies are bad, or evil. It’s not the shareholder’s fault either.
It’s just that too many of us are using fossil fuel.
And nobody is forcing us to buy it. If there are reasonable alternatives to fossil fuel overuse, then citizens are making a conscious decision to pollute the air, rather than choose those alternative forms of energy.
But if no reasonable alternative exists for citizens to purchase (and yet consumer demand is there) that is primarily the fault of policymakers.
The solution to the fossil fuel subsidy and externality problem in the EU? Renewable energy
With the right vision and leadership, getting the EU to a 50% renewable energy minimum standard by 2020 is eminently possible.
There are no technological hurdles that haven’t been solved.
There simply exists no public outcry against renewable energy power plants.
Grid parity (with low subsidy) is now the norm — even against massively subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear power.
And several countries around the world already run on 100% renewable energy. One of them is in Europe — Norway. So it can be done.
It’s no longer about;
How much will switching to renewable energy cost us?
It’s now about;
How much will renewable energy save us?
Each euro spent on renewable energy installations (actual installations, not more endless research) could save two euros of fossil fuel subsidy and three euros of fossil fuel externality cost — although there is a time lag involved before healthcare systems, ranchers, farmers, and owners of infrastructure see declining costs.
Following the 1/2/3 fossil fuel subsidy and externality equation, we see that if the EU suddenly installed 10 billion euros worth of wind turbines and solar panels (displacing the equivalent amount of fossil electrical generation) the EU would save 20 billion euros of subsidy, and would over 25 years, save 30 billion euros in heathcare costs, costs to livestock health and agriculture, and outdoor concrete and metal infrastructure repair costs.
Spending 10 billion to save 50 billion — for a net save of 40 billion euros over 25 years. Not bad.
Spending 100 billion euros to save 500 billion — for a net save of 400 billion over 25 years, that works too.
So, denizens of Europe, how much fossil fuel electrical power production would you like to replace with renewable energy?
The EU should move to a 50% renewable energy portfolio by 2020 and make it Priority Mission #1 for citizens and governments — an energy ‘New Deal’ for EU citizens
In order to plan for a clean EU energy future, we need to look at where the European Union is today and make a responsible plan, one that displaces fossil fuel electrical power production without placing undue economic hardship on existing electrical power producers.
A ‘can-do’ attitude, one that doesn’t ignore the many positives associated with an EU-wide 50% renewable energy standard will be required to meet the challenge
The best candidate for an EU switch to renewable energy?
Malta is presently striving to meet its target of 10% of energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. However, Malta could easily convert to 100% renewable energy in as little as 24 months.
Malta is a tiny island nation and other tiny island nations have successfully transitioned to 100% renewable energy — and it took them only a few short months to accomplish that goal.
Malta’s electrical grid produces 571 MW at peak load and uses expensive imported fossil fuels.
Replacing Malta’s fossil fueled electrical grid with a combination of wind turbines and solar panels is well within our present-day technical capabilities and would save the Malta government millions of dollars per year in fuel and healthcare costs.
A low-interest loan from the EU to cover the capital cost of wind and solar power plants and some basic technical support is what Malta needs. Nothing more complicated than that.
How would replacing Malta’s present electrical power generation with 100% renewable energy benefit the EU and the residents of Malta alike?
The wind turbines and solar panels / inverters, etc. would be sourced from the EU. In fact, European sourcing could be a requirement of obtaining the EU financing for the project.
All of the engineering, manufacturing and installation / grid connection would be performed by EU workers.
Malta’s residents and visitors would thereafter enjoy clean air, lower healthcare costs, a better quality of life, and could say goodbye to toxic and expensive, imported oil.
From 10% to 100% renewable energy within 24 months — now that would demonstrate EU political and environmental leadership!
Granted, Malta has the smallest electrical grid in the EU. But it’s a place to start, a place to set a baseline for the learning curve to 100% renewable energy on a per country basis.
By converting island nations like Malta and Cyprus to 100% renewable energy first, solid standalone renewable energy power generation experience is gained, and upon completion can serve as models for standalone systems on the continent.
To get to 50% renewable energy in other EU states merely means scaling it up.
The Next Step for the EU
During the darkest days of recession in early 1980’s America, newly-elected President Ronald Reagan didn’t appear and suddenly solve America’s economic problems.
He told Americans (very convincingly) that they had it in their power to solve their own economic problems and arranged some temporary loans to Chrysler and other companies — and cheered by his vision and leadership, they responded powerfully — ending America’s recession.
Someone in the EU needs to step up now, leading the charge to improve EU air quality, to lower the rate of illness and premature deaths due to air pollution, to lower the damage to livestock / agriculture, and to concrete and metal infrastructure — thereby creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs — by insisting on a minimum of 50% renewable energy standard by 2020 for all EU nations. Neatly ending the EU’s present recession.
And that great, overarching vision, in itself, will be the thing that EU residents will love, hope for, and willingly agree to do, for the next five years.
Let’s roll up our sleeves, people. We’ve got work to do.
- Total global renewable energy investment was $310 billion in 2014 (Bloomberg)
- Global Warming: More than Half of All Industrial CO2 Pollution Has Been Emitted Since 1988 (Union of Concerned Scientists)