by Conor Friedersdorf

Here's an interesting frame for the difference between America, Germany, and Sweden: every society has a different relationship to "the triangle formed by reverence for the Family, the State and the Individual." 

Americans favour a Family-Individual axis... suspecting the state as a threat to liberty. Germans revere an axis connecting the family and the state, with a smaller role for individual autonomy. In the Nordic countries... the state and the individual form the dominant alliance.

That's the argument in a paper called "Pippi Longstocking: The Autonomous Child and the Moral Logic of the Swedish Welfare State."

It hails Pippi (the strongest girl in the world and an anarchic individualist who lives without parents in her own house, with only a monkey, horse, a bag of gold and a strong moral compass for company) as a Nordic archetype.

Awesome, right?

And it got Reihan Salam thinking:

The Nordics celebrate the role of the state in setting individuals free from family obligations. Traditional conservatives, in contrast, have seen the discipline of the market as an effective way to deepen and reinforce marital fidelity and intergenerational obligations. In a more affluent society, however, these family bonds almost inevitably fray, and marriages are built on shared consumption preferences rather than the specialization of men in market labor and women in household labor. This helps account for the marked decrease in marriage rates among the poor and near-poor in the U.S., for whom the welfare state and market wages reduce the urgent need for a partner and high incarceration rates reduce the potential supply.

The problem, of course, is that marriage and the pooling of resources that it entails appear to be crucial to upward mobility. One possibility is that the hunger for upward mobility will spark a cultural shift in the direction of increased marriage rates. Another is a turn in a statist, Nordic direction, in which marriage rates never return to the norms that prevailed in the midcentury U.S. and the state steps in with more redistribution.

He outlines a third way too.

One weakness in American political discourse is a tendency to speak of Europe as if every country therein buys into the same model. But that continent clusters a lot of extremely prosperous countries, each with its own policies and cultural canvas. Studying them is useful wherever one falls on the political spectrum. Obviously the American right is very hostile to the Swedish welfare state. On the other hand, "an anarchic individualist who lives without parents in her own house, with only a monkey, horse, a bag of gold and a strong moral compass for company" kinda sounds like a childrens book Ayn Rand might've written.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.