It’s regarded as the model society, the utopia which is the aim of all social planning. In a book on political order, Francis Fukuyama even defined the goal of public policy as “getting to Denmark,” leading a society from barbarism to the heights of excellence and prosperity.
It’s Scandinavia, a rugged land where wealthy Nordics have created an ostensibly successful socialist society. At least that’s what we’ve been told.
But Nima Sanandaji, a Kurdish-Iranian researcher who immigrated to Sweden as a child, understands the secret to Scandinavian success isn’t something that other societies can just copy. And what’s worse, he suggests Nordics themselves are undermining their own societies because of their reliance on the welfare state.
In his new book “Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism,” Sanandaji says a unique culture, not socialism, is the key to Nordic success.
“Nordic countries are always used as the number one example of socialism working by all these leftists,” he told WND. “Ok – why don’t you use California as an example of large scale welfare working? Why not Italy? Why not Belgium? Why only the Nordics? I’ll tell you why. Because Nordics have a unique culture of success which evolved over generations, and you’re pointing to that culture of success.”
Sanandaji argues the leftist reliance on the Nordic example is an implicit admission the success of countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland is a global exception. Even if other nations simply copied these nations’ policies, it would not lead to similar results. Culture, he argues, is something which is built painstakingly over generations and can’t be taken for granted.
What’s more, what Sanandaji calls the “Nordic culture of success” predated the kinds of social democratic policies leftists want to borrow from Scandinavia. Indeed, as Sanandaji points out, Nordics all over the world living in different environments show a historical record of success and accomplishment.
“In my book ‘Debunking Utopia,’ one of the things that I show is that the Nordic culture of success predates the welfare state,” he said. “In 1960, the Nordic countries had small government systems and low taxes, small welfare states. Already, they had a very high lifespan, very low child mortality, income equality and prosperity.”
If anything, Sanandaji argues, the welfare state has actually prevented Scandinavian societies from reaching their full potential. It’s a lesson “progressives” will not want to learn.
“The difference in child mortality between their nations and the rest of the world has shrunk since they introduced the welfare state,” he observed. “Similarly, Nordic Americans who share the Nordic culture of success but are in America, are socially and economically much more successful than their cousins in Nordic countries. Now, this is not part of Nordic DNA. But this is a culture that evolved over the generations in countries that had very strong rewards for work. And then they took this very strong culture, put the big welfare state upon it, and the welfare state over the generations has been eroding their responsibility and work ethic.”
Indeed, Sanandaji said Scandinavians themselves are beginning to understand socialism is undermining the very qualities which made their societies so successful.
“Once this erosion starts, it is very strong,” he told WND. “It is not, as many would say, only among immigrants. It’s also among the general population, among the native Swedes, Danes, Finns and Norwegians. And so Nordic countries are realizing this and they’ve been working for decades now to stop the erosion of the work ethic.”
Sanandaji believes leftists and those who wish to imitate the Scandinavian model of social democracy need to understand the Nordic countries are turning away from socialism and moving to implement more libertarian policies.
“I would tell the Democrats and the very liberal, ‘In your favorite country, Denmark, the former Danish Social Democrat government started a nationwide debate about the need to change the welfare state,'” Sanandaji said. “‘They told the people, we need a new welfare state contract. We should have a competition state as the new model.’ That is to say, we should have government services, we should have government funding for education, but we shouldn’t have a system where so many rely on government handouts. And the current Danish prime minister, who is of the center-right, came to Harvard University at the end of last year and said, ‘Stop saying Denmark is socialist. We’re a market economy.'”
In fact, Sanandaji says some of these nations operate as more of a “market economy” than the supposedly hyper-capitalist United States.
“In every regard, except having high taxes and generous welfare, Denmark is more of a capitalist, free market economy than the U.S. is,” he contended. “They have the same economic freedom score as the U.S.”
America really does have something to learn from Scandinavia, according to Sanandaji, but it’s not the lesson leftists want us to learn. Instead, the true lesson of Scandinavia is the timeless truth about the importance of a strong culture built on moral responsibility.
“So really, learn from the Nordic countries,” Sanandaji says to Americans. “Learn the true lesson, which is small welfare works, big welfare, not really. And if you have a culture where you promote people, you encourage them to take responsibility, to work hard, if you combine that culture with free markets, that’s the way of getting economic growth, equality, and social good. That’s the true lesson of Nordics.”