Whenever Bernie Sanders’s socialism comes up in the Democratic debates, he deflects criticism by saying he favors something along the lines of Denmark’s model. Sanders’s debate rivals almost invariably let this answer pass. (I think Pete Buttigieg tried to take it on in the last debate but couldn’t get the floor.)
In reality, the policies Sanders advocates bear little resemblance to those of Denmark and other Scandinavian countries today. They do resemble many of the policies these countries tried 50 years ago. However, these policies failed and were discarded.
The Vermont socialist is getting away with false advertising, including bait and switch.
But with Sanders now the clear frontrunner, and perhaps on the verge of nailing down the nomination, some liberals are starting to look behind Sanders’s Denmark dodge, as Buttigieg tried to do in the most recent debate.
Fareed Zakaria calls Sanders on it in this Washington Post op-ed. He writes:
The image [Sanders] conjures up is of a warm and fuzzy social democracy in which market economics are kept on a tight leash through regulation, the rich are heavily taxed and the social safety net is generous. That is, however, an inaccurate and highly misleading description of those Northern European countries today.
Take billionaires. Sanders has been clear on the topic: “Billionaires should not exist.” But Sweden and Norway both have more billionaires per capita than the United States — Sweden almost twice as many. Not only that, these billionaires are able to pass on their wealth to their children tax-free. Inheritance taxes in Sweden and Norway are zero, and in Denmark 15 percent. The United States, by contrast, has the fourth-highest estate taxes in the industrialized world at 40 percent.
The Scandinavian economies were once more in line with Sanders’s socialist vision, but these policies were ruinous. Accordingly, they eventually were abandoned:
In Sweden, government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product doubled from 1960 to 1980, going from approximately 30 percent to 60 percent. But as Swedish commentator Johan Norberg points out, this experiment in Sanders-style democratic socialism tanked the Swedish economy. Between 1970 and 1995, he notes, Sweden did not create a single net new job in the private sector. In 1991, a free-market prime minister, Carl Bildt, initiated a series of reforms to kick-start the economy. By the mid-2000s, Sweden had cut the size of its government by a third and emerged from its long economic slump.
The story is essentially the same throughout Northern Europe, including in Denmark, according to Zakaria. And speaking of Denmark:
A 2008 OECD report found that the top 10 percent in the United States pay 45 percent of all income taxes, while the top 10 percent in Denmark pay 26 percent and in Sweden 27 percent. Among wealthy countries, the average is 32 percent.
The United States has a significantly more progressive tax code than Europe, and its top 10 percent pays a vastly greater share of the country’s taxes than their European counterparts.
Sanders doesn’t want Denmark’s taxation policy. Nor does he advocate other key elements of the Danish model — flexible labor markets, light regulations, and a deep commitment to free trade.
Sanders favors policies much more along the lines of those that failed Scandinavia in the 1960s and 1970s. Or perhaps a mixture of those policies and the ones that are failing in Venezuela today.
As I said, liberals have been slow to point this out. If Sanders is the Democratic nominee, conservatives, with President Trump in the lead, won’t be.