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Sweden: The Fall of the Strong State

Journal article
Authors Johannes Lindvall
Bo Rothstein
Volume 29
Issue 1
Pages 47-63
ISSN 0080-675
Publication year 2006
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 47-63
Language en
Subject categories Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


From the 1930s to the 1980s, Swedish politics was based on the assumption that social change could be accomplished through a specific political and administrative process. National politicians decided the aims of policy, government commissions of inquiry engaged experts who compiled available knowledge, Parliament turned the resulting proposal into law, a civil service agency implemented the policy and local authorities put it into effect. This rationalistic model of social steering can be called 'the strong state'. This article documents the fall of the strong state. It also argues that these changes to the output side of government have troubling im-plications for the operation of democracy. The reason is that the strong state model provided citizens with a reasonably clear idea of how public policies were – or should be – produced and implemented. As a result of the strong state's decline, the link from elections to policy is partly obscure, partly broken. The question for the future is whether the strong state will be replaced by some new model that provides the necessary focal points for debates on public policy, or whether stable norms will remain absent due to an inherently obscure division of labour within Sweden's policy-making and administrative structures.

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