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Is Socialist Scandinavia the Leftist Dream? Not So Much

To torture man, give him everything he prays for.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his disciples have made it clear that they wish to transform the U.S. into Scandinavia, particularly Sweden and Denmark. But beyond universal healthcare and free tuition, what makes this region of the globe so attractive to millions of Americans? The left neglects the reality of what actually transpires within these nations. Perhaps because they are too enchanted by BuzzFeed articles and Sanders speeches that claim politicians over there offer unicorns and rainbows.

Bernie Bros want a higher minimum wage, expanded state-run Social Security, and less privatization. If Democrats only knew that these policies are absent in Stockholm and Copenhagen, they would rebuke these lands and mirror their perpetual disdain for America and everything it stands for.

Bernie Sanders

So, what really goes on in the region that brought us Ingmar Bergman, delicious meatballs, and beautiful blonde supermodels?

It’s not exactly what your average democratic socialist thinks.

Socialist Experiments

First, it is important to note that Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland are not socialist nations. They have not nationalized the means of production nor outlawed profit. These countries still rely on the market economy to fund extravagant government endeavors. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen clarified in 2015 that the Nordic model “is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

But that’s not to say they have never experimented with the failed ideology in the past. Despite having a dynamic capitalist system in the middle of the 20th century, policymakers flirted with a blend of classical and modern socialism during the height of ABBA’s popularity.

In 1973, Sweden employed egregious measures that would cripple the economy. One such tactic was raising the marginal tax rate to 103%, which was meant to confiscate corporate profits and allocate them to labor unions. The objective was to sustain “a market economy without individual capitalists and entrepreneurs.” There was an exodus of capital, causing right-leaning governments to make necessary reforms many years later.

Around the same time, Denmark wanted to expand the size and scope of government. To fund its spending blitzkrieg, politicians dramatically spiked taxes, resulting in the usual patterns: higher unemployment, stagnant growth, and ballooning budget deficits. Within a decade, these initiatives were dropped, only to be brought back years later. After noticing similar results of lackluster growth and rising joblessness, the nation has embarked upon another crusade of reforms.

What do these states look like today?

Economics of Scandinavia

It is true that Sweden maintains an immense welfare state that consists of things like child allowances, housing assistance, extended parental leave, “free” healthcare, job training, and general financial aid. But these benefits are starting to be clawed back because, as expected, the country can’t afford it.  [perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”24″]…lawmakers noticed a dangerous trend: The system was incapable of meeting future obligations.[/perfectpullquote]

In addition to the Swedes beginning to question their own welfare state, the government is gradually implementing reforms. Amid sluggish economic growth, which has caused shrinking revenues, Stockholm is cutting taxes and reducing burdensome regulations while instituting spending cuts.

It may be surprising to many that Sweden and Denmark do not have minimum wages. Despite being championed as strongholds of economic justice, they don’t maintain wage floors – though they are established by industrial and sector collective bargaining.

Senator Sanders claims that their soon-to-be insolvent Social Security Ponzi scheme “is the most successful government program ever.” Swedes don’t share his feelings about their Social Security. Sweden was one of the first nations to adopt a mandatory government retirement system. Now, it is leading the international push to privatize pension systems. Starting in the 1980s, lawmakers noticed a dangerous trend: The system was incapable of meeting future obligations. This prompted the government in 1992 to begin making reforms and partially privatizing retirement pensions. Essentially, if the economy performs well, citizens see their benefits spike; if the economy goes south, citizens receive less.

In the U.S., public education is sacrosanct to the left. Not for Sweden. The country switched over to a voucher system in the 1990s that offers more choice to parents because there is greater competition among schools and teachers – at both the private and public levels.

What about corporate tax rates? They hover around 22%, much lower than U.S. corporate taxes before President Donald Trump slashed them from 38.1% last year. Sweden also abolished a pack of levies over the years, including inheritance and gift tax.

The country is engaging in a war on cash, interest rates are below zero, and employee absenteeism rates remain high.


As William Shakespeare wrote, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Karen Haekkerup, a member of parliament and Denmark’s former Justice Minister, also eloquently summed up the situation:

“In the past, people never asked for help unless they needed it. My grandmother was offered a pension and she was offended. She did not need it. But now people do not have that mentality. They think of these benefits as their rights. The rights have just expanded and expanded. And it has brought us a good quality of life. But now we need to go back to the rights and the duties. We all have to contribute.”

Danish workers clock in fewer hours, household debt is 300% of disposable income, and motorists can expect to pay 150% of their auto purchases.

This is Heaven on Earth?

To the left, these states represent a socialist paradise, in the same way the left believed the Soviet Union was a utopia in the 1930s and Venezuela was an oasis only a few years ago. As with other historical events, it is apparent that democratic socialists have a failed understanding of what these countries really practice and what effect the policies have had on the public. What leftists desire the most could turn out to be their biggest nightmare.

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