Multiple times during this election cycle for the United States President election, Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, has used Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Denmark as examples of the successes of socialism. The only problem is that they aren’t socialist.
Last year in a speech to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen said, “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.”
To delve further into this topic we need a couple of definitions. Democratic socialism is not exactly the same as regular socialism. In democratic socialism the people own the means of production through the ballot box. The government isn’t just making all the decisions for a planned economy by itself.
Democratic socialism says that the people should make the decisions. So, the principle difference between socialism and democratic socialism is that the people make the decisions instead of an authoritarian government. However, democratic socialism still advocates for a socialist planned economy in which the means of production are largely owned by the public sector. Social democracy is when the government provides a safety net for the people in the form of welfare provided by heavy taxation. Social democracy and democratic socialism are very different things. Scandinavia does not have socialism; they have social democracy.
The Scandinavian countries have some of the freest markets in the world. They are also some of the best places to start a business. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are all one of the top 10 places to start a business in the world according to Doingbusiness.org, a project of World Bank Group. They are also all in the top 25 most globalized countries in the world, according to CEOWORLD Magazine.
The fact of the matter is, the Scandinavian countries love capitalism and free trade. This doesn’t fit the narrative that a certain candidate wants to spin.
The only industry that is truly socialized in the Scandinavian countries is healthcare. This industry is failing in Sweden. According to The Local, a Swedish news source, hospitals are plagued with hefty waiting times and other problems. Apparently one in 10 Swedes has private healthcare. Sweden’s insurance trade industry organization, Svensk Försäkring reported that this number is steadily rising.
Sweden is so capitalist in fact, that it instituted a massive voucher program for school choice and privatization in the 1990s. Socialists claimed it would destroy Sweden’s education system. This could not be further from the truth. The Institute for the Study of Labor released a study that found that school performance actually increased due to the increased competition over time. This voucher system adopted by Sweden is very similar to an idea originally published by laissez-faire economist, Milton Friedman.
If Sanders wants to convince me or the majority of the American public that democratic socialism is what’s best for the future of America, he is going to have to find another example. The Scandinavian countries are far from being democratic socialist societies. He’ll have to find another illustration to try and hide behind.