By Nima Sanandaji
(Editor’s note: Nima Sanandaji is author of the soon-to-be-released “Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism.”)
Although Bernie Sanders failed to win the Democratic presidential nomination, the Vermont senator’s campaign did succeed in mobilizing thousands of progressive activists. Their energy and support seems closely connected to Sanders’s quest to introduce a Nordic-style welfare model in the United States. As Sanders explained at the very first Democratic debate last October, “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”
But it’s evident that the left wing of the Democratic party would also push for these ideas under a future Hillary Clinton administration. Indeed, Ezra Klein, the editor of the liberal news website Vox, wrote last fall that “Clinton and Sanders both want to make America look a lot more like Denmark — they both want to pass generous parental leave policies, let the government bargain down drug prices, and strengthen the social safety net.”
The current president and the last Democratic president share this vision, too. In his book Back to Work (2011), Bill Clinton argues that Finland, Sweden, and Norway offer greater opportunities for individuals to climb the social ladder than the U.S. does. Barack Obama recently gathered the leaders of the Nordic countries in Washington, explaining that “in a world of growing economic disparities, Nordic countries have some of the least income inequality in the world — which may explain one of the reasons that they’re some of the happiest people in the world.”
It is not difficult to grasp the American Left’s admiration for Nordic-style democratic socialism. These countries combine relatively high living standards with low poverty, long life spans, and narrow income distributions — everything the Left would like America to have. There is, however, a simple fact that seems to have escaped those who idealize Nordic-style social democracy. As I show in my forthcoming book Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism, the social success of Nordic countries pre-dates progressive welfare-state policies.