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In my new The Week column, I explore the Democrat/left-liberal/obsession with the mini-states of Scandinavia. Strangely there seems to be little concern or humility about the idea of transplanting their egalitarian social democracies to America. As Bernie Sanders said during this week’s Democratic debate: “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”
And then there’s this exchange earlier this year with ABC News presenter George Stephanopoulos:
“In countries in Scandinavia like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries,” Sanders said. “Voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is the right of all people; college education and graduate school is free; retirement benefits, child care are stronger than the United States of America. In those countries by and large government works for ordinary people and the middle class, rather than, as is the case right now in our country, for the billionaire class.”
“I can hear the Republican attack ad right now,” Stephanopoulos said. “He wants America to look more like Scandinavia.”
“That’s right,” Sanders said. “What’s wrong with that?
In my piece, I point out the role of culture in the region’s success, something that predates the large welfare state expansion. Also, the Nordics have become more market-oriented over the past 20 years. And if I would’ve had another 100-words or so to play with, I would have mentioned how Scandinavia and the rest of the world draft off America’s innovation. In fact, I would have added something very much like this:
Finally, Scandinavia benefits from the very American-style capitalism that Sanders seems to detest. Our economic dynamism generates lots of inequality but also lots of innovation that other nations can import to their benefit. Economists Daron Acemoğlu, James Robinson, and Thierry Verdier suggest countries “may want to be like the Nordics with a more extensive safety net and a more egalitarian structure … [but] it may be precisely the more cut-throat American society, with its extant inequalities, that makes possible the existence of more cuddly Nordic societies.” For instance, the US produces far more billionaire entrepreneurs per millions residents than the Nordics or any large advanced economy. Does Sanders or anyone else fully grasp the interplay of history, culture, and policy is producing America’s deep magic — not to mention Scandinavia’s success? Surely not.
Again, one of my favorite charts, via my “Room to Grow” chapter contribution:
Finally, had I another 100 words or so, I would have touched on the taxation point eloquently made by Kevin Williamson (indeed read the whole thing):
Senator Sanders is not very serious about imitating Denmark. Denmark has a large and expensive welfare state, which Senator Sanders envies. He doesn’t envy the other part of that handshake: Denmark pays for that large and expensive welfare state the only way that you can: with relatively high taxes on the middle class, whose members pay both high income taxes and a value-added tax.
If Senator Sanders were an intellectually honest man, he’d acknowledge forthrightly that the only way to pay for generous benefits for the middle class is to tax the middle class, where most of the income earners are. Instead, he talks about taxing a handful of billionaires to pay for practically everything. Rhetorically, he’s already spent the entire holdings of the billionaire class many times over.