New perspectives on the privatization of Swedish welfare
If a social scientific observer of the mid-1980s had been presented with a line-up of rich Western countries – say Germany, Sweden, the UK, France, the US – and asked to guess which of these countries that would later experience a rapid expansion of for-profit providers of health care, elderly care and education, few would probably have opted for Sweden. And yet, three decades later, Sweden has in fact experienced an astonishingly fast growth of for-profit providers of care and services. Although the financing of care and education is still predominantly based on taxation, the actual delivery of such services has to an increasing
extent come from for-profit providers.
So far, no efforts to scale back the activities of for-profit welfare enterprises have been successful. This in spite of the fact that public support for such providers remains low and that increasing political conflicts have been registered, not least as a result of failing school results, unanticipated consequences of privatization of welfare services and public scandals involving private enterprises in the welfare sector. Why is this?
The sociologist Stefan Svallfors and economist Anna Tyllström, suggest that none of the dominant perspectives on welfare state change and continuity can explain these processes and outcomes. Instead, they focus on the strategic activities of private companies and their business organizations as they try to organize perceptions, actors, and communication to further their interests. Taking such organized action into account changes dominant perceptions about the characteristics of the Swedish political economy, and carries important lessons for analyses of changes in the organization of the welfare state in general.
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