At the same time as one of the worst pandemics we have experienced in modern times sweeps the world, Sweden, as a consequence of 30 years of neoliberal reforms, is less equipped than in a very long time. For example, in 1993 Sweden had access to 4,300 intensive care units with a respirator. Today, the figure is below 600. As if it were not yet, Sweden has now read the number of care places per capita throughout the EU. A situation that already in a normal situation risks taking a toll on healthcare staff but which in a crisis situation jeopardizes the entire healthcare system. The situation can not come as a surprise to governing politicians, as doctors and health care workers for many years about how Swedish health care balances on the verge of rupture due to ongoing efficiency and savings requirements.
Contingency stocks have been phased out
The deteriorating crisis preparedness goes further than that. Since the 1990s, for example, all 35 Swedish military hospitals have been closed down, which means that the ability to care cannot be adapted to an acute crisis situation. It has not been considered financially useful to maintain preparedness for exceptional situations. Other socially important activities such as vaccine production have been privatized, which makes it extremely sensitive to market ups and downs. At the same time, the Swedish emergency stocks, for medicines and medical equipment, have been wound up.
Production without major inventory is called “just in time” and has been borrowed from the private sector based on neoliberal principles. This means that disruptions in production and deliveries can have major consequences immediately. For a car factory, it can be an acceptable risk, but in healthcare, people’s lives and health are at risk. The transition to a system without reserves and without major crisis preparedness is not due to a real lack of resources, but to a conscious neoliberal control of the state and society that has won approval across party and bloc boundaries and which has become popular among and part of the public sector since the 1980s. experts and officials.
Since the 1990s, for example, all 35 Swedish military hospitals have been closed down, which means that the ability to care cannot be adapted to an acute crisis situation.
The reforms can in many ways be explained by the fact that a small circle of saved neoliberal economists with the support of business think tanks, Swedish and international, have come to act as experts not only in the economy, but also in healthcare, school, higher education, climate policy, criminal policy – yes all over society. Politicians have stopped listening to society’s real experts; on professors, doctors and epidemiologists, in favor of a small number of economists who base their view of reality on radical neoliberal models that do not change even when they may appear to be directly wrong. This has now, finally sent, even a long line of economists and social scientists have opened their eyes to.
Skepticism towards experts is embedded in neoliberal philosophy. The neoliberal idea of how society and the state should be governed is based on the least problematic notion that public experts and civil servants can never know better than the market. It is thus in a way directly hostile to knowledge. In addition, from a neoliberal perspective, a public expert is always considered to see only his own best interests and must therefore be kept in continuous cuts and austerity demands, often described as efficiencies.
Planed in the quiet
These austerity demands result, among other things, in the fact that crisis preparedness, which is not immediately (economically) useful in day-to-day operations, risks being rationalized away without direct decisions from politicians and without a major public debate. As a consequence, large parts of the Swedish crisis preparedness have been planed in silence rather than slaughtered in front of an open curtain.
Some say that the Swedish government is currently acting awkwardly. I’m ready to agree. But not the same reasons we have often received in recent weeks’ public debate. I therefore do not believe that it is because the government wants to keep Sweden’s schools and borders open. That assessment is made best by experts in epidemiology. However, I have views that the government allows neoliberal blinders to paralyze parts of the crisis work. It can be done that over the thought of the market should solve problems for us.
The government can, with immediate effect, force increased volumes of domestic production of healthcare equipment. It can also immediately start building up a national emergency stockpile for medicines, vaccines and medical equipment. Then we will be better equipped if the corona crisis also affects India, which today accounts for a large part of the world’s drug production. These are simple steps. Should it turn out to be hasty measures in the future, it is not a major problem. Then these efforts can instead form the basis for permanent emergency stocks and thus and better Swedish emergency preparedness in healthcare. And hopefully, the changes in crisis preparedness can be the beginning of the end of the neoliberal market governance that has passed the country’s experts from the playing field to the stands.
Victor Pressfeldt, doctoral student in history with a focus on neoliberalism, Lund University