The swedish expat Jan Kallberg writes a reply to Natalia Brzezinski, CEO of Symposium Stockholm, and her op-ed about the brand of Sweden.

Beautiful storytelling about Sweden, but spurious conclusions

Natalia Brzezinski has created a beautiful narrative about the modern Sweden of today, appealing as such. But the conclusions are spurious which is obvious if you take into account the existence of a Sweden outside downtown Stockholm, with all its tech hubs and cool startups, writes swedish expat Jan Kallberg in a reply to the Symposium Stockholm CEO's op-ed.

Uppdaterad 2017-03-21
Publicerad 2017-03-21

I am struck by the amount of praise for swedish progressive society - and what others may learn from this beacon of civility - expressed in Natalia Brzezinski’s reply “Ikea and Volvo? No, Sweden’s brand is The Future” to my op-ed titled “Vad händer om Ikea inte längre vill vara svenskt?”.

The main weakness is that Natalia Brzezinski, CEO of Symposium Stockholm, does not address the question at hand, namely Sweden's deteriorating reputation abroad. Instead, she simply lists the tenets of contemporary Sweden that, according to her, deserves the world’s attention.

But that is not what we are discussing. I'm the first to admit there are great entrepreneurs and dedicated individuals in Sweden. But that doesn't preclude the existence of domestic failures that have eroded the country's positive image abroad. The Soviet Union had great athletes, but it did not make it a great society, nor a particuarly fun place to live - and the world knew it.
Brzezinski’s narrative is based on two flawed assumptions. First, it assumes that there is a technical truth out there that every individual on this planet is eager to reach.

Second, there is an assumption that the global online community cares about Sweden. But they don’t. Really.

When a bunch of naive do-gooders, in the mind of the global viewer, think they are so smart and then everything blows up in their face – it is for millions of people just weird, funny, and it becomes the 15 seconds they think about Sweden that year.

This is 2017, I would agree partly with Brzezinski if fax machines ruled the world, but managed brands are last century.

Internet is a kaleidoscope of users that consume, produce and alternate information where entertainment, personal benefit and bias conformation prevails over any altruistic search for validated information dissemination. The clear majority of the internet users wants epic failures and they love it. Sweden has ridden on high horses claiming to better, smarter, figured everything out and for long time projected to be a humanitarian superpower.

When the better-than you nation flat faces in the mud, after fallen off the high horses, visualized by cars burning in the Stockholm suburb Rinkeby and stones are thrown on police that are standing like they been hit by a Buck Roger’s freeze ray, hell yes that is pretty entertaining and straight out fuel for the Internet crowd.

Billions of people do not care about the Swedish social-security ingenuity, which Brzezinski argues should attract interest, because it lacks any value to them as Internet users.

The granular details regarding Vab (Lag 1978:410 om rätt till ledighet för vård av barn) is not entertaining. It is boring. This is the era of digital viral schadenfreude, pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune, and the last years’ developments in Sweden fit perfectly with the dynamics of the maturity level of today’s Internet crowd.

What have happened?

The Swedish nation that told everyone that they had figured everything out are brutally exposed facing rampant domestic failures, and a law and order break down. Is it fair to the Swedes? Not really. Is it the truth? Partly. Is great internet stuff? Yes. You bet.

Frustrated and disenfranchised Swedes who are tired of the galloping lawlessness join in on the comments and validates by conforming the social media content. The truth is manufactured from the parts floating around and it solidifies in a reality based on arbitrary boundaries.      

The colorful Swedish intellectual Alexander Bard was interviewed by the Swedish media outlet Resume on the 25th of February. I highly recommend the responses, even if I not agree to them all. They are providing a frame of reference for what the current internet virtual society is and how it acts.

Brzezinski is eager to scorn and ridicule the Swedish traditional industries and as a reminder I quote her own words: “Old industrial Sweden – like old industrial America – is defined by big companies doing big physical industrial business in big factories with big pools of employees that generally looked the same and came from the same backgrounds.”

Sweden’s economic engine is not Spotify that is perennially losing money. The economic thrust of Sweden is best described as Kronoberg followed by Västmanland, the two counties having the highest goods export per capita.

These counties produce metal castings, transformers, mechanical goods, framing lumber, and other traditional goods. Industrial Sweden is anything else than obsolete. It is a highly efficient competitive producer of goods that already have a buyer. These hard-working decent industrial workers in places like Tingsryd, Åseda and Köping foot the bills for the “progressive” experiments in Sweden.      

Brzezinski drive her argument that Sweden need to leave the industries behind, which is equal to tell a dairy farmer to kill off the cows. The hot startup companies Mojang, which is profitable, and Spotify, which is not, have a marginal impact on the Swedish economy.

Sweden produce goods and goods have buyers, which leads back to my initial argument.

The positive image that Sweden had as a tailwind for exports have turned into a headwind because products like Husqvarna chainsaws benefitted highly from the positive association with Sweden. If the perception of Sweden turns negative, then it will directly inflict financial losses.   

Brzezinski states boldly: “To draw conclusions from that baseless social media noise about the contemporary global perception of Sweden is intellectually un-anchored and patently without empirical evidence.”

She then continues insinuating that if you “heard” online that Sweden has issues it is just a questionable undercurrent because the well-received message is her weltanschauung and it dominates the space per the Brzezinski narrative.

I invite you all to go to Youtube and search for “Sweden” and collect data for tendency and views for the first twenty videos.

When I did it 2 899 382 views were really negative about the swedish domestic politics, 451 148 views were travel-themed videos with a positive undertone and 6 501 944 views originated from late evening shows were the host mocked Sweden together with other counties and public figures. The comedy shows I considered neutral.
The data is there. Apparently, you and I are hooked up to a different internet than Natalia Brzezinski because it is just some noise and the empirical evidence refute the existence of any major Sweden critique. Really?

In the United States, the cable channel that have delivered most air time of critique and highlights of Sweden’s domestic failures is Fox News and their numerous outlets. They are the largest news organization in number of viewers.

Based on data released in January 2017, Fox News Channel had 14 of the top 15 programs in cable news in total viewers, in combination with eight out of ten top programs for the age group 25-54 which have the highest buying power and are most likely to be able to afford influence at work or personally buy Swedish.

News articles has been published worldwide about the factual state of Sweden’s domestic challenges. The fact that leaders of the Sweden-Democrats had an op-ed published in Wall Street Journal just states the case. 

Brzezinski are focused on the Swedish brand – how to maintain it and how to expand the brand. That archaic thoughts, 1940s or best case “Mad Men” 1960s, because today you have no control over the perceived image if the actual developments tells a conflicting story. The participants, the information consumers, the alternators, and the producers in symbiosis defines perception and notion of value or lack thereof. Brand Management is an illusion. The masses, clueless or not, runs the show.

This is the digital era. Soeren Kirkegaard was a strong opponent in the 1840s of the industrialized newspaper, because in his view people would lose control over what is right and wrong and a cloud of information noise would kill of logical reasoning, and replace it with an uninformed mob running intellectually amok. We might not like the way the world is entering the digital era, but it is far better to be a realist than seeking to maximize the text with progressive power words for optimal liberal cohesion.  

Natalia Brzezinski has created a beautiful narrative, appealing as such, but the conclusions are spurious which is obvious if you take in account the existence of a Stockholm or Sweden west of the exclusive sales market hall Östermalmshallen in the capital of Sweden.

The image of Sweden will continue to crumble until the issues that draw the attention of the crowd are mitigated and solved. There is no way around it. If Swedish domestic policy failures are not fixed, Swedish exports will increasingly suffer.
Jan Kallberg
PhD in political science, swedish expat living and working in USA


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