Sorry Bernie, Scandinavia Isn’t a Socialist Paradise
The left did little dance of celebration recently when self-described socialist Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the United States Presidency. And then, you could almost see them in their imaginary saunas, their hands in the air to Abba’s Dancing Queen when in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Bernie started saying he’d like America to look a lot more like Scandinavia, conjuring images of lingonberries, Legos, smoked herring, IKEA-based-minimalism, living wages and paid family leave.
Bernie was simply appealing to the leftists inner desire to be hip, because let’s face it, almost every fad these days can be traced directly back to Scandinavia. For starters, a very recent issue of Vogue declared the new “It diet” to be eating like a Viking. Swedes have their H&M, there Tove Lo, and those dragon tattoo literary mysteries. Finland is known for Angry Birds and the West’s finest education system according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Icelanders are buying more books than anybody else, which they read while drawing energy mostly from geothermal power. And Denmark, well back in 2012, Denmark was earned the first place spot in the U.N.’s World Happiness Report.
“All hail to Scandinavian countries which are frozen and dark half the year, eat way too much preserved fish, and charge among the highest taxes in the modern world.” Right?
Not quite. Time for a reality check.
First, are these Nords as happy as they seem, or are the measurements, and Bernie’s understanding of their “socially ideal” societies more than a bit off? In “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” (Picador), Michael Booth, a travel journalist, takes a hard look at the reality of the Scandinavian brand. Many people who speak glowingly of Sweden’s welfare state have never actually been to Sweden, he says. There’s lots to contest in the Dane’s contentment data, and if you take out wealth or good health as a factor, countries like Columbia come out ahead. Wake up leftists, Finland with its fabulous schools is one of the least diverse places on the face of the earth.
“Where were the discussions about Nordic totalitarianism and how uptight the Swedes are; about how the Norwegians have been corrupted by their oil wealth to the point where they can’t even be bothered to peel their own bananas; how the Finns are self-medicating themselves into oblivion; how the Danes are in denial about their debt, their vanishing work ethic, and their place in the world; and how the Icelanders are, essentially, feral?” writes Booth.
Indeed, Bernie’s perception of the Scandinavian countries is rose colored. While health care and education are free, the cost of living is drastically higher. And in the face of that, alcoholism, depression and suicide are huge problems.
And then again, are Scandinavian countries even truly socialist Bernie? High income taxes, yes, for sure. But Denmark, Sweden and Finland have greater business freedom, monetary freedom, property right enforcement and financial freedom than the United States! And their corporate tax rates are well below the U.S.—and have never been above 28%. I also cannot forget to mention that none of the Scandinavian countries have minimum wage laws in place. So let’s see now, low interference in markets by government, scarce nationalization, little protectionism and a low level of regulation are marked traits of capitalism, right?. And each of these are strictly adhered to in every Scandinavian country! They aren’t really socialist, Bernie!
Unfortunately, though, business success in Scandinavia IS punished by high income tax. Mediocrity is ideal. Another point the liberals should take into consideration is a comment economist Milton Friedman made years ago regarding why Scandinavian “sameness” doesn’t translate well to other parts of the world:
“What works for Sweden won’t work for France or Germany or Italy (or the United States) … in a homogenous culture, they are willing to pay higher taxes in order to achieve commonly held goals. But common goals are much harder to come by in larger more heterogeneous populations.”
So when Bernie talks about a United States that looks like Scandinavia, he’s a little confused. In reality, there’s no such thing as an absolute socialist countries nor absolute capitalist countries. Scandinavia is neither as socialist as it seems, nor as perfect. And Bernie’s ideas aren’t out of the ordinary or revolutionary. They just aren’t realistic or reasonable.
Love, Autonomy, Peace