Sometimes you go to another country, and it looks like everything’s upside-down. But as you get to know more, you wonder if maybe they’re the right way up – and it’s the rest of us who are topsy-turvy.
Sweden’s famous for its high taxes. Most Swedes pay between 49% and 60% of their salary in tax.* It’s the second-highest tax burden in the world.
So why are they so cheerful? 91% of them say they’re happy, which puts them current equal second on the world happiness scale. The UK comes in at number nine.**
To many Brits, this looks like a contradiction. How can Swedes be worse off than us, and still be happier? The answer is, of course, that they’re not worse off. They just have a different attitude to tax. The Swedes have a very neighbourly, co-operative outlook. Instead of the state being something that just siphons off your cash, they see it as a protective roof over everyone’s head. Paying taxes just means chipping in to pay for timber and nails and slates for the roof.
To Swedes, high taxes mean free schools (and school lunches). Free healthcare. Incredible maternity and paternity leave (new parents get a combined leave of 480 days, most of it at virtually full pay). Generous state pensions, child allowance and unemployment benefits. Nice, eh?
So could it be that higher taxes are actually a good thing? Well, at least it’s got us thinking.
* We got our figures from Wikipedia (of course), and this Observer article about tax in Sweden.
** Happiness figures from www.nationmaster.com