Students celebrate their graduation in Stockholm, April 2020
Andres Kudacki / The New York Times / Redux

China placed 50 million people under quarantine in Hubei Province in January. Since then, many liberal democracies have taken aggressive authoritarian measures of their own to fight the novel coronavirus. By mid-March, almost all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries had implemented some combination of school, university, workplace, and public transportation closures; restrictions on public events; and limits on domestic and international travel. One country, however, stands out as an exception in the West.

Rather than declare a lockdown or a state of emergency, Sweden asked its citizens to practice social distancing on a mostly voluntary basis. Swedish authorities imposed some restrictions designed to flatten the curve: no public gatherings of more than 50 people, no bar service, distance learning in high schools and universities, and so on. But they eschewed harsh controls, fines, and policing. Swedes have changed their behavior, but not as profoundly as the citizens of other

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  • NILS KARLSON is Professor of Political Science at Linköping University and President and CEO of the Ratio Institute.
  • CHARLOTTA STERN is Professor of Sociology in Work and Organization at Stockholm University and Deputy CEO of the Ratio Institute.
  • DANIEL B. KLEIN is Professor of Economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and Associate Fellow of the Ratio Institute.
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