How far can we stretch the rubber band of local freedom? Last week we took a peek at voting statistics and a simple overview of the governmental structure of Sweden, it is high time to delve into more specifics – This time about the laws and regulations communes need to follow to comply with central government.
The laws that set the rules for what communes can and can not do is called The Swedish Local Government Act (English version pdf download, if you have trouble sleeping tonight). In theory, the communes are supposed to have a fair amount of independence from the central government, but in practice, this is seldom the case since there are so many regulatory overlapping laws that put up roadblocks to pure independence and commune councils have to seek permission for certain things at state-level. Most things, actually.
This part of the article series will do some surface scratching on how free a commune can act, after getting a fully supported libertarian council up and running. I will restrict the focus on the mandatory social services a municipality is expected to give, as to make it somewhat short and sweet. I try to steer away from how things should be (which I fail at repeatedly) and try to aim at how things are and what can be done right now.
There needs to be a plan for Public Schooling
By the Local Government Act, the commune is responsible for supplying the local population with schools. The commune is allowed to outsource its school program in cooperation with neighboring communes to solve by-the-law schooling. In this case, the two (or more) communes simply sell and buy places in existing schools with each other with taxpayer money. Not ideal for our project, but the option is there in the worst case scenario.
Pre-schools are easy to get 100% privatized, while the other forms of schools are trickier to put out on a private contract – The municipality needs to ask for permission from the state and the school inspection administration for that to happen first and the rule of thumb is that you will get a negative response to your request to go full privatization on schooling. To my knowledge, this has never been allowed by the central government in modern times.
Homeschooling is forbidden in Sweden, except for extreme corner cases, after a reconstruction of school laws were punched through in 2010. It used to be the communes that allowed homeschooling prior to the 2010 law. ROHUS is the Swedish homeschooling association that is keeping the dream alive and even they look bleak on homeschooling coming back in the current political climate.
It is the communes responsibility to handle garbage collection and storage
Sweden is one of the best in the world when it comes to recycling trash and the internal handling of garbage is so effective that the country is importing trash. This is also the societal function that is most common that communes let entrepreneurs handle as the commune council are more or less free to write contracts with companies to handle this societal function, and you can write in as many as you wish so the companies can compete for customers themselves. You can even write all the communes citizens as approved to handle the trash all by themselves if you want to go that route.
Another alternative is starting a company with mixed ownership between the commune and private citizens (in order to turn it completely private down the road), so the generated income from recycling metals/wood/plastic, the creation of biofuel and/or compost materials is paying for the local service of garbage collection – How viable this alternative is, relies on the geographical possibilities and local economic challenges.
I wrote a piece on the boneheaded trash monopoly recently, when the sharing app TipTapp got shut down in Stockholm – Something that was extremely preventable, in the first place.
On Water, Sewage, and electricity.
The question of privatizing water is a topic that is debated over and over in Sweden and the laws regarding this go so deep it could be an article in itself. There is some wiggle room, but the options are small and depend on how autonomous citizens of the municipality choose to be themselves.
Fredrik Segerfeldt, the author of the book Water for Sale, has made the case for fully privatizing water in Sweden (and elsewhere) on several occasions. Can recommend reading his book on the topic if you want to delve deeper into that topic.
The monopoly for electric production ended in Sweden in 1996, but the main electrical grid is owned by the central government – Local grids exist. Of course, the market is regulated to hell and back, but it is something.
Organizing the Civil Defence and Rescue Services – And What about the police?
Constructing and funding a local police force is the central government’s problem, so we only need to acknowledge its out of our hands to do anything with that.
On the other hand, the communes are responsible for is figuring out what to do with rescue services, mainly firefighting. Some communes are looking at buying this service from private security companies in times of needs, making it cheaper for the citizens (in theory at least). Sollentuna municipality has been criticized for more or less fully privatizing their rescue services. Just like with schools, you can share rescue services to some extent with your neighboring communes in order to cut costs.
The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency is the administrative unit that has the final say on any solutions we find out. It is currently headed by one of the goofiest and most politically charged bureaucrats in recent memory that got the job because he sucked at handling his former job as the head of the Central Police Authority, so it’s a steep uphill.
What about Social Services, Elderly care, and Urban Planning?
Like many relations between the communes and their overlords in central government: there are rules and regulations, but most are written in such an open-ended way it feels like an action movie cliffhanger if you were to send a request for evaluation of any possible outsourcing of social services.
Commissioner of Social services in Stockholm, for example, outsourced adoptions, debt counseling and child psychiatric evaluation to private entities back in 2001. That a nation with $1 trillion in debt has socialized debt counseling breaks my irony meter.
Depending on the size of the commune, there is some relaxation on what you have to provide by law in terms of social services, another reason why a smaller municipality is more ideal for our theoretical purposes.
Urban planning and building permits are thick as glue and should be simplified. Almost anything you do to your own house needs some sort of permission and state rubberstamping approval. It is borderline insanity. This is decided on fairly freely on a municipality level, so there is leverage to start shrinking the state involvement in if you cut down that tree on your yard or move a window on your own house a couple of inches.
You can also have a localized digital application with tools for direct democracy input from people that get affected by someone building a third level on their house and the likes. The state shouldn’t meddle in the affairs of neighbors solving these kinds of situations between each other, other third-parties can be used instead – A third party that specializes in these kinds of affairs is more often than not far superior to the state-sponsored building committee alternative. Much of what David Friedman proposes in his book “The Machinery of Freedom” can be applied fairly well, it is only healthy that there is competition in the field of third-party negotiations – More competition, more solutions and a higher degree of finding one solution everyone can say is fair.
Closing Notes and the next article in the series
As you will notice, there are limits to what a commune is allowed to do by the big daddy Parliament – Nobody knows if this is by the books or not, the Kafkaesque bureaucrats need to figure out if its ok first. There are also cases where municipalities have been treated with different verdicts, so it seems like it depends on the person handling the paperwork.
I’m guessing that in any theoretical libertarian commune, the attitude would be to go by the motto of “Its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”.
In any case, the public liability laws disappeared in 1976 in Sweden and got replaced with some soft slaps on the wrists – The only real punishment is some public shaming, no matter how neglective you are. Nope, you won’t lose your job or be held economically responsible even if you wrongly buy road salt for $1.5 million (when the real price is $10k) with taxpayer money.
More on what happens when a commune fails to deliver the required services is something we will take a closer look at in a future article. The next article in this series will be the topic of Taxation – A more spicy topic if you ask me. If you missed part 1 that covered the basics, you can find it here.
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