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We live in the age of grandparents. Unfortunately, capitalism has something against it

If you are a believer in individualism, you should be in favor of a strong state.

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We live in the age of grandparents. Unfortunately, capitalism has something against it

If you are a believer in individualism, you should be in favor of a strong state. That sounds paradoxical and it is. Reality is contradictory while ideologies strive to eliminate contradictions. But before this gets too philosophical: Back to the initial thesis.

Sweden, still the country with the world's most comprehensive social system, is also – after Finland – the country with the highest proportion of one-person households. Almost 50 percent of Swedes live alone.

So anyone who makes jokes about "Bullerbü" should know that this rural, extended family idyll is popular precisely because it hardly exists in Europe, and certainly not in Sweden. That's the way it is with idylls. In Germany, the magazine "Landlust" is one of the most popular press products, even though only 15 percent of Germans live in rural areas. (And they certainly don't read the magazine.)

In Sweden, the ubiquity of state child welfare makes it easy for parents to go about their business; even a single mother can find professional fulfillment without her child being neglected.

One consequence of this "statist individualism", as the Swedish historian Lars Trägårdh calls it, is loneliness. Individualism is great when you are young, pretty, talented and ambitious. For others it can be problematic. In Sweden, the over-60s in particular, 900,000 of whom live alone, often feel lonely.

They are needed elsewhere: they take the grandchildren to daycare or school, pick them up, and often look after them in the afternoons. And as birth rates fall and people live longer around the world, the ratio of grandparents to grandchildren is increasing; in China, where the Communist Party had a strict one-child policy until a few years ago, the urban ratio is 4:1.

The British magazine "Economist" even proclaimed "the age of grandparents". Studies show that the elderly are better off when they feel needed and can take care of their grandchildren. They also show that children who see their grandparents regularly do better.

On the other hand, there is capitalism, which demands mobility, flexibility and the like, i.e. individualism: the ideal employee is a single person who can be assigned to Singapore tomorrow; the ideal consumer lives alone and needs her own fridge and stove, her own car, her own furniture.

Sharing is anti-business. The total freedom of the individual is in reality his total availability; and only the comprehensive welfare state makes this freedom and availability possible.

Nothing against day-care centers and retirement homes. Nothing against self-actualization. But something Bullerbü may be: extended family and welfare state. Grandma and daycare. Hygge because you want to, not because you have to. Even those who want this freedom need the state.

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