Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and the Danish model

The Democratic presidential debate featured a clash between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over Denmark. Clinton reminded Sanders that “the United States isn’t Denmark. The Vermont socialist responded with a stirring defense of the Danish model.

Both, for once, weren’t entirely wrong. Unlike the U.S., Denmark is moving in the opposite direction of socialism, and this represents a healthy model.

Kevin Williamson of NRO provides the details:

Denmark, like Sweden before it, has been engaged in a long campaign of reforming its famously generous welfare state. The country’s current prime minister is the leader of a center-right party . . .(You might even call it libertarian; its former longtime leader wrote a book bearing the positively Nozickian title “From Social State to Minimal State.” )

Denmark has been marching in the direction exactly opposite socialism for some time. Our friends at the Heritage Foundation rank its economy the eleventh most free in the world, one place ahead of the United States, reflecting Denmark’s strong property rights, relative freedom from corruption, low public debt, freedom of trade and investment, etc.

Don’t tell Senator Sanders, but Denmark’s corporate tax rate is a heck of a lot lower than our own.

This doesn’t mean we want to import the Danish model. As Williamson goes on to point out:

Denmark has a large and expensive welfare state, which Senator Sanders envies. He doesn’t envy the other part of that handshake: Denmark pays for that large and expensive welfare state the only way that you can: with relatively high taxes on the middle class, whose members pay both high income taxes and a value-added tax. [ Denmark has among the highest marginal income-tax rates in the world, with the top bracket of 56.5 percent kicking in on incomes of more than about $80,000].

If Senator Sanders were an intellectually honest man, he’d acknowledge forthrightly that the only way to pay for generous benefits for the middle class is to tax the middle class, where most of the income earners are. Instead, he talks about taxing a handful of billionaires to pay for practically everything. Rhetorically, he’s already spent the entire holdings of the billionaire class many times over.

If one wants the kind of welfare state the U.S. is moving towards, it’s better to have a realistic plan to pay for it than to imagine that the “top 1 percent” can provide the dough. But the best option is to reject that state.

The Danes won’t, but they are moving in the right direction, as it dawns on them that their welfare state is undermining the nation’s work ethic. Even as the American labor force participation rate plummets, don’t expect any such introspection from the Democrats.