This week Fredrik Reinfeldt is celebrating the first re-election in history of his party, the Moderaterna. He is also celebrating the success of an extraordinary experiment. His response to the recession was to cut taxes, a move his critics said the country could not afford. The European Commission warned him it would end in tears. But instead, the lower taxes were a spur to growth and Sweden now has the fastest-growing economy in the Western world.
When elected four years ago, leading a four-party coalition, Reinfeldt had a striking slogan. 'We are the new workers' party,' he said, meaning he would cut taxes for those in employment, but not for those on benefits. When faced with protests about how the poorest would be paying a higher marginal tax rate, he appealed to voters' innate sense of fairness - and resentment at the high level of welfare dependency. At every stage, his ministers would explain the basics of low-tax economics. Cut tax on wages, and you increase the incentive to work. 'This will increase employment,' Reinfeldt said. 'Permanently.'
Tax on low-paid jobs fell sharpest. Nursing assistants, for example, saw their tax bill drop by a fifth. The aim was to make work compete more aggressively with Sweden's famously generous welfare state.
Like most of Europe, [in response to the recession] Sweden launched a stimulus, but Reinfeldt set aside two thirds of his for a tax cut. Corporation tax fell from 28 per cent to 26.3 per cent, taxes on jobs were cut further still while income tax thresholds were raised. Determined not to let a crisis go to waste, he declared the tax cuts permanent.
HT: Don Luskin