We had an interesting visitor today in Swedish class. A woman from the tax agency came and talked to us about the tax system in the country, how it works, explained the Swedish equivalent of the Social Security Number, called a personnummer and a bunch of other things. One thing I had not fully realized is the great variation in the sales tax, or moms, as it is called here. Clothes, shoes, flowers, furniture and most services are taxed at 25%. Food, restaurants, camp sites and hotels are taxed at 12% and books, newspapers and transportation is taxed at 6%. Not sure why. Other items have additional taxes such as tobacco, gasoline, lottery tickets, alcohol and, for some reason, advertising. Actually, I know why–advertising in Sweden is generally as grating and obnoxious as in the U.S. and Swedes have figured out that there is, like tobacco, a price that society pays for being infected with ads everywhere you turn.
At any rate, the woman showed us a slide during her presentation of the Swedish national budget and how much goes to different areas of government expenditure. The slide she showed gave the national budget at 1,500 billion kronor, or about 214 billion USD. The U.S. budget is about 3.6 trillion USD or about 16 times the size of Sweden’s budget.
More than one-third of the Swedish budget goes to healthcare, elder care and pensions. This, shockingly, is less than the U.S. expenditures for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which amounts to 43% of the U.S. budget. The U.S. also pays 6% interest on the national debt, which amounts to more than the entirety of the Swedish budget–227 billion USD. Sweden, meanwhile, is running a surplus of late but I don’t know what their interest payments on total national debt are.
One figure jumped out at me, though: Sweden’s defense budget is under 3% of the total national budget, whereas the U.S. spends 19% of its budget on “defense,” a figure that is in reality probably larger, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were never part of the budget during the Bush years. That 16% percent must have a LOT to do with why there are so many more social services provided by the Swedish government than in the U.S. such as subsidies for children, living quarters and education.
She went over the process of filing a tax declaration, which as I pointed out earlier, takes about 5 minutes a year.
It was a fairly interesting presentation, especially the part at the end where she brought up tax cheating. Seeing as we are all immigrants, the likelihood that some people are working in the black market where work and thus money may be easier to come by for those without the necessary language or other skills to get a legitimate job is something the agency wanted to bring up. In a nice and somewhat deferential way, of course.