Bryan Griffin: The Myth Of Scandinavian Socialism

May 29, 2019

Confront an advocate for socialism with its dark history, and the deflection will typically be some variety of “What about Norway, Sweden, Finland, or Denmark?”

No, Scandinavian countries aren’t socialist. They practice capitalism with huge social welfare systems. Their model isn’t working and won’t work here.

First, pointing towards Scandinavia as a picture of “successful socialism” is a huge cop-out.

Socialism is a system of government that owns the all corporations, business, private property, means of production, and the right to allocate resources.

This means that anytime anyone wants to create something, the government must first give its blessing, and can easily say no. This also means that what you do – the industry you work in, how much you work, and where your work product goes – is up to the government.

In the socialist model a capitalist government is overthrown by the masses and then everyone owns and decides everything. However, decisions can’t be made by masses, they need a person or small group of people to be the final say. So, the capitalist government is replaced by or transitioned into a new socialist regime. Yet for socialism to work, the socialist government must be all powerful and have unquestionable authority. This means the recourses we each enjoy and now hold as free, capitalist citizens are completely erased, including private property, equal treatment under the law, and the freedom of speech and assembly.

Just look at Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Soviet Russia – etc. Or, if the bleak statistics of the death, depravity, and poverty of socialism aren’t appealing reading in your free time, read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Meanwhile, Scandinavian countries are capitalist systems with massive government welfare programs. The governments of these countries heavily tax the incomes of their small, largely homogenous populations to pay for benefits and healthcare. However, corporations still exist, private property is intact, the countries trade on the world stage, and the people still have say and ownership in production.

In some ways, Scandinavian countries are more capitalist than we are – none of them have any sort of minimum wage, corporate tax rates are all at or around 20%, and Sweden has complete school choice as its national education policy.

As the prime minister of Denmark stated while speaking at Harvard in 2015, “"I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

The only reason Scandinavian countries can pay for these large government programs is because capitalist economic activity sustains the tax-base. They depend on capitalism to continue to function.

But under any label, the Scandinavian models aren’t going to be sustainable, and we have already seen government rollbacks. When Sweden began its social welfare expansion in the mid-1970s, it was the fourth-richest country in the world. By 1990 it had fallen to 13th place, and since then they have had to shrink their government. Swedish taxation rates have been slashed and Denmark has had to cut considerable unemployment benefits since the 1990s.

While the Scandinavian experiments are still afloat, other European countries that tried similar massive government expansion and welfare systems have crashed and burned. Greece is a prime example, having experienced near economic collapse that took three bailouts from the European Union to prevent. Nearly half of the youth are unemployed and the ratio of a few workers to the significantly many more who live on unemployment or draw pensions means inevitable disaster, extreme austerity, and stifled innovation and growth. Spain’s post-social welfare experiment society is one of massive debt, high unemployment, failed banks, and extremely low wages.

So, what is the left advocating for? Is it truly a mix up in vocabulary? Or is the true intention socialism?

We know the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders; he makes no effort at parsing out nuances when calling for socialism. “It’s time to give socialism a try” wrote a Washington Post columnist in 2018. “Socialism is on a winning streak,” wrote a columnist for The Nation a few months later. The new crop of Dems in the House spend no time on nuance, apparently uncaring or unaware of the differences between socialism and the true nature of the Scandinavian system. AOC is nearly synonymous with the Millennial socialist appeal. And the policies written by 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates more closely reflect true, all-consuming socialism rather than Scandinavian social welfare systems. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed Accountable Capitalism Act calls for massive economic redistributions and puts the market almost completely at the mercy and whim of the government.

I’d like to be able to afford the benefit of the doubt to those who defend socialism, but I fear the most nefarious of outcomes. Pointing to Scandinavia is a distraction from the potential harm that a socialist experiment in America would create. We stand to lose everything and invite our defeat willingly. Push back.

Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.

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