Socialism is currently a word on every American’s radar thanks to Senator Bernie Sanders. Whenever Senator Sanders is given a platform from which to speak, he uses it to tell Americans how much better off we all would be if our country adopted socialist policies so prevalent to Nordic countries. Painting the image of a utopian society free from poverty and corruption, Sanders and his supporters believe that we must follow these socialist nations if we want to get our country back on track.
For many opponents of socialism, comparing America to the Nordic countries is like comparing apples and oranges. Many of these opponents will claim that socialism cannot work in America because our country is vastly larger and more culturally complex than the Nordic regions, making the implementation of socialism unfeasible here. Though the intentions are good, this line of criticism does not account for the more substantial reasons why socialism would be so devastating here in America.
Relying on the claims mentioned above, Finland native Anu Partanen recently told the Atlantic what Americans don’t understand about socialism in the Nordic countries. First, she begins by attacking the claim that cultural differences between the United States and the Nordic nations make Americans more hostile towards sacrificing a percentage of their paycheck for the greater good. When addressing this common misconception that the Nordic people have a stronger sense of community and kinship than Americans do, Partanen says nothing could be further from the truth. “But this vision of homogeneous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest,” Partanen says.
For proponents of capitalism, self-interest is a motive we understand. After all, profit motive might be viewed as self-interest, but when that self-interest leads you to start a business that creates jobs and contributes to the economy, everybody wins. For Partanen, she believes that self-interest comes into play in Nordic nations because the government offers such high-quality services that benefit the members of their society. Trying to drive this point home, Partanen says, “This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.”
What Partanen fails to understand here is the deeply ingrained reverence to the individual that is so deeply intertwined in the American spirit. We are a country created around the premise that the individual should never fall victim to the will of the collective. So strong is our belief in individualism, we believe that the government exists primarily to protect the rights of the individual. Sure, top-notch healthcare, education, and childcare sound great, but what if I don’t plan on having children? How will free childcare benefit me? The answer is it won’t, what is important to some is not necessarily important to all.
At the heart of the American dream is choice. I have the choice to go to college, to work, and to be a parent. Aside from the taxes taken out of each of our paychecks, every American has a choice about where our own money goes. If I have chosen not to have kids, and thus have no need for childcare but am still compelled to fund it through taxation, there is no self-interest there. However, there might be a great deal of resentment.
Partanen goes on to say that the Nordic regions have such a great system because they have learned that socialism and capitalism can work together. “The truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government,” Partanen stated. In America, we have a term to describe a system in which the government inserts itself into the private sector, it’s called crony capitalism and it is a huge problem.
Take Amtrak, for example. According to the Manhattan Institute, Amtrak has cost the taxpayers $45 billion dollars over the last 44 years. As a result, the company has actually gotten worse. With no market incentives to motivate improvement, Amtrak continues to lose money every single year. Its routes are unprofitable, its trains are overstaffed, and its food services are mismanaged, this is what we get when we mix the private sector with the public good.
Though America has yet to see the full repercussions resulting from the implementation of Obamacare, what we have seen so far is not a good indication of things to come. In addition to trampling individualism by making Americans pay for services against their will, insurance premiums have gone up, Americans were not always allowed to keep their previous insurance plans, 12 of the 28 state co-op insurance companies have failed, and no one is entirely sure how to navigate Obamacare’s impact on tax laws.
In America, we have learned that when the government teams up with the private sector, it is the citizens who lose.
According to Partanen, “What America needs right now, desperately, isn’t to keep fighting the socialist bogeymen of the past, but to see the future.”
What America really needs is a return to the principles that has set our country apart from the rest. Socialism is not the answer. The freedom to choose and free markets, free from excessive government regulations, are the only way to get our country headed in the right direction.