Nordics to American Progressives: Stop Calling Us Socialists!
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
It should always to be embarrassing when someone you are idolizing smacks you down for idolizing them.
But that’s exactly what the Scandinavian “socialists” are doing to people like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and all the other “Democratic Socialist” collectivist sycophants and hangers-on who want to impose the latest reincarnation of “socialism” onto every individual in America.
The problem seems to be a total confusion about the differences between the Nordic Model countries’ version of “Social Democracy” and the American alt-left progressives’ idea about “Democratic Socialism.” Here’s a little help:
Democratic Socialism: Collective ownership of the means of production with democratic management and a decentralized planned economy.
Social Democracy: Capitalist market economy with a collectivist welfare state and politically imposed income redistribution to promote theoretical “social justice.”
The Nordic Model: Varying degrees among Nordic countries that feature free market capitalism, personal freedom, a limited government that protects property rights and a partially privatized welfare system.
Book Break: Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Pick
In his 2001 book Scandinavian Unexceptionalism Swedish author Nima Sanandaji debunked the then-fashionable notion that “Third Way Socialism” somehow “worked” in Nordic countries.
In his current book Debunking Utopia he takes on the latest rebranded collectivist myth of American socialists, Nordic-style “Democratic Socialism,” that alt-left progressives want to impose on the United States.
In his article from The Stream, “5 Myths About Nordic Socialism Peddled By the Left,” he explains “The success of Nordic countries is based on the fact that historically they have relied on free-markets and protection of private property.”
The opposite of what US liberals preach.
Scandinavians are not Socialists
So why do American socialists keep pointing to the Nordic countries as successful socialist systems that should be idolized?
One reason is that, in the face of grim reality, they have no choice but to reject the abject failure of Venezuelan socialism by calling it “not real socialism.” To do that they have to pretend that Venezuela hasn’t suffered for decades under a dictatorial political scheme called "Socialism of the 21st Century."
Apologists and blame-shifters claim that all the problems in that failed country can be attributed to “residual capitalism.”
Really? Don’t socialists love to chant “seize the means of production” and “redistribute the wealth” without ever comprehending that they can’t seize or redistribute anything if nobody creates anything to seize and redistribute? Note from libertarians: Those who create things and produce wealth are capitalists! Those who seize and forcibly redistribute are socialists!
That’s what the Nordic countries actually figured out already after flirting with socialism after World War II and relentlessly driving their economies into the toilet.
The Many Socialisms
But that’s okay. Socialism can be continually reinvented in infinitely different ways simply by slapping different adjectives in front of it.
Beginning with a Wikipedia “Types of socialism” entry and branching off from there it’s possible to find some 30 “adjective socialisms” like Marxist-Leninist socialism, state socialism, anarcho socialism, Jacobin socialism, Christian socialism, Islamic socialism, Arab socialism and it goes on and on like that.
It’s hard to keep up without a scorecard. British neoliberals were championing the “Third Way socialism” of the Scandinavian countries. American progressives were swooning over Hugo Chávez’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” in Venezuela before pivoting eagerly back to the “Nordic Model of socialism” once again after Venezuela began crumbling under Maduro.
Tucked in there somewhere was the love affair with Canada’s “superior” social welfare medical system until it was publically revealed how hundreds of their citizens died on waiting lists just trying to get an appointment to see a doctor while those who could afford it hopped the border to quickly get private American medical care.
At some point the American idea of socialism was rebranded yet again and fed to gullible Americans as “democratic socialism” since it had a much nicer, friendlier ring to it than “Marxist socialism.”
But the best refutation of the “success” of socialism in the Scandinavian countries comes from the leaders of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland themselves.
Sweden Isn’t Socialist
According to a Reason.com article Swedish historian Johan Norberg reported that “Sweden is not socialist because the government doesn't own the means of production. To see that, you have to go to Venezuela or Cuba or North Korea."
Norberg continued, "We did have a period in the 1970s and 1980s when we had something that resembled socialism, a big government that taxed and spent heavily. And that's the period in Swedish history when our economy was going south."
Even socialistic Swedes complained about the high taxes. Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking children’s books found herself on the hook for a 102% tax on any new book she sold.
The whole system was—to use a favorite liberal/progressive/socialist word against themselves—unsustainable.
Norway Isn’t Socialist
An article in last summer’s Foundation for Economic Education titled “Ain't No Way Norway Is a Model for Democratic Socialism” sums up that country’s position in two simple sentences:
If America is “capitalism run wild,” then so is Norway. If Norway is “socialism,” then so is the United States.
If nothing else it proves the point made by libertarians that if “real” socialism has never been tried it’s equally true that “real” capitalism has never been tried either.
Individual American socialists insist that "real socialism" has never been tried since no form of it ever complies with the specific details of what any particular individual American socialist imagines that it should be. For that reason “Real Socialism” can be argued about forever.
Here’s more help, this time from Wikipedia:
Real Socialism: Ideological catchphrase during the Brezhnev era in the Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union that referred to the Soviet-type economic planning enforced by the ruling communist parties at that particular time.
A joke in the old Soviet Union, with reference to long lines and shortages in stores, went something like this: "What is real socialism?" – "This is when you cannot yet get everything without money, but you already cannot get anything with money."
No page for "Real capitalism" exists in Wikipedia for the simple reason that libertarians don’t need to keep reinventing a simple concept of peaceful, voluntary exchange among individuals in a laissez-faire free society based on the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud. But here’s a definition anyway from Progress.org:
Real Capitalism: We’ve never actually had real capitalism in this country. Instead, we’ve had crony capitalism— the kind that allows some to live off the lives of others.
Denmark Isn’t Socialist
A January 2019 Acton Institute article headlined “Denmark to American leftists: We’re not socialist” sites a Denmark think tank’s 20-page report that claims “Denmark is not a socialist nation” and that “statist policies have still caused significant economic harm.”
The report also notes that “by some measures, Denmark and the Nordic ‘socialist’ countries have more economic freedom than the United States.”
As far back as 2015 Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen told students in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “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.”
Finland Isn’t Socialist
Meanwhile next door in Finland the government pulled the plug on their romance with “free money” in February, just a year after the experiment began.
The “free money” tag refers to Socialism’s infatuation with the “Universal Basic Income” rainbow unicorn that would pay every single individual in a society a set amount of money to do with as each decided, no questions asked.
As an article in Big League Politics explains, “UBIs take resources away from employers, thus stifling capital accumulation. Workers receiving government aid end up living at the expense of other workers who lose out on opportunities to increase their productivity. In the end, these workers get lower wages than they would have in the absence of the UBI. As a result, society becomes poorer overall.”
Once again yet another thoughtlessly favored socialist gimmick frequently spouted by socialists—that everyone can somehow magically live at the expense of everyone else—UBI is “unsustainable.”
How Sweden’s Market Economy Actually Works
Perhaps the best counterpunch against naïve no-nothing American socialists is this: Rather than mindlessly chanting “Tax the rich” in unison and thereby destroying the very means of production you want to seize and redistribute how about actually learning how the Swedish version of the Nordic System works before trying to mate with it?
Sweden is not socialist because its success comes from free markets.
In a 2018 ReasonTV video John Stossel points out that people in Sweden who earn below average incomes pay up to 60% of the taxes. Swedish historian Johan Norberg then says, “This is the dirty little secret of the Swedish tax system. We don’t take from the rich and give to the poor. We squeeze the poor because they are loyal taxpayers.”
The theory here seems to be that those who are not earning above median incomes are most likely to be the ones who will be claiming the largest share of social services like medical and retirement benefits and therefore it’s only fair that they pay more into the system since they will be taking more out of it, thereby putting a different twist on the claim of “social justice.”
Norberg sums up reality this way: “You can’t turn your backs to the well, to the creation of wealth.”
In other words “taxing the rich” and the most productive people in society discourages them from producing, leaving not only the least productive but all of society with less.
To further belabor the point for those who still don’t get it there is this quote from Jeffrey Dorfman in his Forbes article "Sorry Bernie Bros But Nordic Countries Are Not Socialist":
“The Nordic countries are smart enough not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
Libertarians with their individualist worldview understand this almost instinctively; they would only recommend that the system be entirely privatized and de-monopolized. Unfortunately, it’s vanishingly unlikely that the emotion-driven groupthink of the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the American socialist alt-left are capable of getting it.
Or worse: That they don’t really care as long as they can use the chimera of “democratic socialism” to manipulate more power, more wealth and more ego glorification for themselves.
So what is it about political America’s obsession with The Nordic Model? Each ideology sees what it wants to see and wants more of it.
Progressives tend to see a flourishing society of social welfare programs and want more of it. Conservatives tend to see a flourishing society of free market capitalism and want more of it. Libertarians tend to see a flourishing society of personal freedom, property rights and limited government and want more of it—or in the case of government, less of it, until it too is privatized and de-monopolized.
In the end libertarians are just trying to help the other ideologues ditch their romance with left-right politics and discover how libertarianism incorporates what they all want. And, yes, that includes the only form of socialism that both they and libertarians can live with: Voluntary Socialism.
Yes, voluntary socialism could be a real thing. Your turn to learn, libertarians.
References and Links
Voluntary Socialism The two most important quotes from an article titled “Voluntary Socialism” by Marley James are these: “Socialism is inherently immoral unless it becomes voluntary” and “Capitalism is potentially dangerous unless it is bound by common law or the Non-Aggression Principle.”
Is It Just Ignorant Cultural Appropriation? Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez keep trying to tell us that the Nordic countries are socialist while the Nordics keep explaining that they are not. This article tries to explain the difference between various types of socialism and The Nordic Model.
The Nordic Model: Pros and Cons An economic system that combines free market capitalism and social benefits that have given rise in Scandinavian countries to a host of quality services, including “free” education, “free” healthcare, and generous, guaranteed pension payments for retirees.
Finns Dump Socialist UBI Experiment A two-year trial that gave 2,000 randomly selected unemployed Finns around $634 per month based on the Universal Basic Income fad beloved by American socialists was dropped after less than a year because it “did not increase the employment of participants.”