The Myth of Nordic Utopias

By January 11, 2017Socialism

One of the most surprising elements of the 2016 election season was the outpouring of support many young Americans threw behind the self-proclaimed “socialist,” Senator Bernie Sanders. While addressing a large audience during a presidential debate, the senator from Vermont stated, “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”

This praise of what is often referred to as the “Nordic” model, was a common theme woven throughout Senator Sander’s presidential campaign. However, while Sanders repeatedly praised the Nordic model as a prime example of a socialist success story, he failed to realize–or at least acknowledge– that the Nordic model’s prosperity was due to the same free-market components he often speaks out against.

By its very definition socialism exists when the state controls the means of production. However, this definition does not apply to the Nordic model. In these countries, the means of production are primarily owned by private entities and not the government, something Sanders is strictly opposed to.

While giving a lecture at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Prime Minister of Denmark rebutted this myth that his nation is a socialist country by saying, “I know that some people in the US 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.”

Yet, despite efforts to correct this misconception about the Nordic model, Sanders and his supporters continue to associate these countries with socialism. Since Nordic nations have long been known for their long lifespans, high rates of happiness, and economic prosperity, proponents of collectivism credit socialism for these successes. Unfortunately for socialist proponents, many of these desirable qualities were achieved through free-market means and not through a socialist economy.

It’s true that Nordic nations are infamously known for having expansive welfare states which exist to support its citizens from cradle to grave. However, while these welfare states are often said to be the reason Nordic nations experience so much overall success, many forget (or simply do not understand) that this economic and social prosperity occurred before the welfare state was introduced.

While Denmark currently has the highest rate of taxation among any developed nation around the globe, at the time of the Nordic “boom,” the tax rate was only 25 percent of the nation’s GDP. As it turns out, this was actually lower than the 27 percent of GDP that America was taxing its citizens at the exact same time.

When it comes to praising the Nordic welfare state for its citizens’ long lifespan, it is also worth noting that in 1960, before universal health care became a pillar of the Nordic model,  Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes all experienced longer lifespans than Americans. However, since introducing universal health care the average lifespan in each country has actually decreased.

Another fascinating point worth discussing is how Nordic citizens who immigrated to America compare to those still living in the region. Currently, Danish Americans enjoy a standard of living that is said to be 55 percent higher than those still residing in Denmark. Likewise, Swedish Americans experience a standard of living that is 53 percent higher than their native Swedish counterparts, and Finnish Americans are living in conditions 59 percent higher than those still living in Finland.

While it is clear that the myths surrounding the success of the Nordic model are misleading, there are still many young people who cling to socialist ideals. For those who still desire further proof that collectivists economies are not all they are cracked up to be, Venezuela presents a perfect, albeit grim example, of how devastating a truly socialist economy can be on a country and its people.