Aside from the fact that Bernie’s lying when he says Denmark is his goal, the reality is that Denmark is not an exceptionally happy or well-run country.
Now that Bernie’s the frontrunner, Bernie and his supporters are assuring us that he’s not a real socialist. He just wants us to be like Denmark. First of all, Bernie is lying when he says Denmark is his goal. His entire political goal, for his entire career, has been to bring true communism to America. Second — and this is the topic I cover in the post — not only are Bernie & the Bros wrong that we can be like Denmark, the important point is that we wouldn’t want to be like Denmark in any event.
At the Nevada debate, when Bloomberg, in one of his few good moments, called out communism as a failure, Bernie sidestepped the accusation (a perfectly accurate one) by raising Denmark:
Let’s talk about democratic socialism. Not communism, Mr. Bloomberg. That’s a cheap shot. Let’s talk about — let’s talk about what goes on in countries like Denmark, where Pete correctly pointed out they have a much higher quality of life in many respects than we do.
Both Buttigieg and Bernie are wrong. First, According to Løkke Rasmussen, Denmark’s former prime minister, Denmark’s not socialist:
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,” Rasmussen said.
“The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish,” he added.
Second, America’s population is 57 times bigger than Denmark’s. Third, Denmark has a homogeneous, not heterogeneous, culture. Fourth, life in Denmark isn’t as great as the American democratic socialists claim it is. Otherwise, why would Danes be second only to Iceland for antidepressant consumption in Europe?
Michael Booth lived in Denmark for ten years and used his familiarity with it and other Scandinavian countries to write The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia. I read the book the year it came out and recommend it highly. Booth is a charming writer, it’s filled with facts, and it paints a very different picture from the bovine doody the American media and the leftists (but I repeat myself) have been selling us for decades.
A year before the book’s publication, Booth offered a précis of the book in a Guardian article, “Dark lands: the grim truth behind the ‘Scandinavian miracle.’” Here’s what he says about Danes:
[A]ccording to the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] they also work fewer hours per year than most of the rest of the world. As a result, productivity is worryingly sluggish. How can they afford all those expensively foraged meals and hand-knitted woollens? Simple, the Danes also have the highest level of private debt in the world (four times as much as the Italians, to put it into context; enough to warrant a warning from the IMF), while more than half of them admit to using the black market to obtain goods and services. [Bookworm here: We had a family friend (since sadly deceased, way too young) who supplemented his meager income by smuggling liquor from Germany into Denmark and Sweden and selling it for a nice profit.]
Perhaps the Danes’ dirtiest secret is that, according to a 2012 report from the Worldwide Fund for Nature, they have the fourth largest per capita ecological footprint in the world. Even ahead of the US. Those offshore windmills may look impressive as you land at Kastrup, but Denmark burns an awful lot of coal.
Worth bearing that in mind the next time a Dane wags her finger at your patio heater.
I’m afraid I have to set you straight on Danish television too. Their big new drama series, Arvingerne (The Legacy, when it comes to BBC4 later this year) is stunning, but the reality of prime-time Danish TV is day-to-day, wall-to-wall reruns of 15-year-old episodes of Midsomer Murders and documentaries on pig welfare. The Danes of course also have highest taxes in the world (though only the sixth-highest wages – hence the debt, I guess). As a spokesperson I interviewed at the Danish centre-right thinktank Cepos put it, they effectively work until Thursday lunchtime for the state’s coffers, and the other day and half for themselves.
Presumably the correlative of this is that Denmark has the best public services? According to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment rankings (Pisa), Denmark’s schools lag behind even the UK’s. Its health service is buckling too. (The other day, I turned up at my local A&E [Accident and Emergency Room] to be told that I had to make an appointment, which I can’t help feeling rather misunderstands the nature of the service.) According to the World Cancer Research Fund, the Danes have the highest cancer rates on the planet. “But at least the trains run on time!” I hear you say. No, that was Italy under Mussolini. The Danish national rail company has skirted bankruptcy in recent years, and the trains most assuredly do not run on time. Somehow, though, the government still managed to find £2m to fund a two-year tax-scandal investigation largely concerned, as far as I can make out, with the sexual orientation of the prime minister’s husband, Stephen Kinnock.
Most seriously of all, economic equality – which many believe is the foundation of societal success – is decreasing. According to a report in Politiken this month, the proportion of people below the poverty line has doubled over the last decade. Denmark is becoming a nation divided, essentially, between the places which have a branch of Sticks’n’Sushi (Copenhagen) and the rest. Denmark’s provinces have become a social dumping ground for non-western immigrants, the elderly, the unemployed and the unemployable who live alongside Denmark’s 22m intensively farmed pigs, raised 10 to a pen and pumped full of antibiotics (the pigs, that is).
Other awkward truths? There is more than a whiff of the police state about the fact that Danish policeman refuse to display ID numbers and can refuse to give their names. The Danes are aggressively jingoistic, waving their red-and-white dannebrog at the slightest provocation. Like the Swedes, they embraced privatisation with great enthusiasm (even the ambulance service is privatised); and can seem spectacularly unsophisticated in their race relations (cartoon depictions of black people with big lips and bones through their noses are not uncommon in the national press). And if you think a move across the North Sea would help you escape the paedophiles, racists, crooks and tax-dodging corporations one reads about in the British media on a daily basis, I’m afraid I must disabuse you of that too. Got plenty of them.
It’s not only that Sanders is lying when he says his politics are like Denmark’s. It’s that, even if he were telling the truth, the last thing in the world we want to be is like Denmark. It’s a beautiful country, the people are nice, and the almost-socialist welfare state Denmark apparent works for its citizens provided they take enough anti-depressants, but it’s best kept over there and not brought over here.
Image credit: The Little Mermaid — Copenhagen, by Wilson Hui on Flickr. Creative Commons; some rights reserved.