Political scientist: “Possible to address political paralysis by compensating the losers”

In a new SNS report, political scientist Johannes Lindvall argues that political paralysis in relation to issues such as migration could be overcome if the focus is shifted toward redistributive dimensions rather than moral values. It is also possible to implement reforms in other policy areas, such as housing policy and energy policy, even though these to some extent require other solutions.

It is sometimes hard to implement reforms in countries with a proportional electoral system, such as Sweden, where political parties rarely enjoy a majority position in parliament and where the latter also plays a strong and independent role in political decision-making. As a result, the different parties need to reach broad agreements. This creates problems as there is almost always a party whose voters lose out when it comes to major reforms. This means that it is important that the losers are compensated in order to implement reforms.

In his report, Johannes Lindvall, professor of political science at Lund University, shows that apart from compensation, there are an additional five important obstacles that also need to be overcome. In order for Swedish governments to implement important reforms, they need to be given the right tools for overcoming these obstacles. Lindvall brings up immigration policy as an example of a seemingly deadlocked area but where reforms should be possible.

“Clarifying the redistributive effects of the immigration policy, rather than turning it into a moral issue, would probably make it easier to reach an agreement on broad compromises,” Johannes Lindvall argues.

In order to compensate the losers, it is also important that not too many policy areas are removed from the national political stage.

“It is important that not too many national political issues are transferred to the municipal/regional level or to the EU, which is something we have seen in recent decades. If this trend continues, it will become increasingly difficult for future Swedish governments to implement reforms,” Johannes Lindvall emphasizes.

Lindvall then ends by arguing that it would be desirable if politicians interacted more with each other already at an early stage in the decision-making process.

“Political negotiations are the most successful if politicians understand each other’s situation and priorities. This is also one of the reasons why my colleagues and I in the SNS report Cooperation and Conflict in a Parliamentary Democracy proposed that more parliamentary commissions of inquiry should be appointed,” says Johannes Lindvall.

About the author and the report

Johannes Lindvall is a professor of political science at Lund University and chair of the SNS Scientific Council. He also chaired the SNS Democracy Report 2017: Cooperation and Conflict in a Parliamentary Democracy.

The report “SNS Research Brief 73: Six Obstacles for Political Reforms” is based on Chapter 3 in his book Reform Capacity (Oxford University Press).

Download SNS Research Brief 73. Six Obstacles for Political Reforms (English Summary).