by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Scandinavia is the American Left’s Shangri-La. It is the land of social democracy and of all good things. It is the answer to any objection that new welfare benefits can’t be adopted here: But look how well they work in Sweden.
Bernie Sanders reverted to this article of faith when challenged over his socialism at last week’s Democratic debate. He invited America to sit at the knee of Scandinavia. “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway,” he said, “and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”
There are a couple of things wrong with the Left’s romance with these countries, as Swedish analyst Nima Sanandaji notes in a recent monograph. It doesn’t fully appreciate the sources of Nordic success, or how Scandinavia has turned away from the socialism so alluring to its international admirers. …
… The Scandinavian story the past few decades has been a turn against socialism. Taxes have fallen, and markets have been liberalized. …
… It became obvious that generous-enough welfare benefits can undermine the initiative of even the heartiest Scandinavian stock, and these countries have been adjusting accordingly. An article in the New York Times a couple of years ago recounted the backlash against welfare dependence in Denmark. It cited a study that projected in 2013 that only three of 98 municipalities would have a majority of residents working.
If no one will mistake these countries for Texas, they allow enough economic openness to stay vibrant. “Scandinavian countries,” Sanandaji writes, “compensate for high taxes and labor market rigidities by following liberal policies in other areas, such as business freedom and openness to trade.” Denmark, of all places, is ranked 11th on the Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom, right above the United States.