In an effort to explain how beautifully their socialist policies would work, leftist Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others often point to Nordic Europe.
These nations, of course, give health care, college and other goods for “free,” so they consider them paradises. And it’s true: The Nordic countries like Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are doing pretty well — by some measures, even more so than America. Poverty is lower there, and self-reported quality of life is higher.
Copying the policies that work isn’t a bad move. In fact, all countries should do it. But what leftists get wrong is which policies to copy. Nordic countries have some excellent policies that are working well for them. As it turns out, they’re the same policies that conservatives are always pushing for here in the States.
For instance, nearly all Nordic nations make it easy to open a business. They have simple tax systems, less burdensome red tape, no government-set minimum wages and more school choice for parents.
Their simple tax systems and reduced red tape mean entrepreneurs spend less time filing forms and complying with unnecessary regulations, and more time innovating and creating jobs. Their lower corporate taxes facilitate job creation. Their lack of a minimum wage allows workers, unions and employers to have more room negotiation wages that reflect productivity. And of course, school choice for parents allows them to take their children to the best school possible.
Moreover, Nordic governments spend within their means, running nearly balanced budgets every year.
But these aren’t the policies the left tout as successes. Instead, they’re always pointing to Nordic nations’ heftier individual and sales taxes, which are used to spend more on things like nationalized health care and education. What they don’t tell you is that the middle class and the poor bear the brunt of these heavier taxes.
Indeed, all five Nordic countries impose value-added taxes (similar to American sales taxes) greater than 20 percent, which tax the poor more than the rich. Income and payroll taxes are somewhat higher for the wealthy, but they’re much higher for the poor and middle class. Not very progressive, is it?
Higher taxes, of course, mean more people have a lower disposable income. An average American household makes over $50,000 per year, but a Danish or Swedish household makes about $30,000.
And what do Nordic people get in return for their tax money? Well, not too much.
Nationalized health care has a lot of problems, which Nordic countries try to overcome by having a decentralized system managed by municipalities that compete with each other and with private providers. Additionally, the five Nordic nations have a combined population smaller than that of the state of Texas, making administration simpler for governments.
Yet, the wait time is long for many types of surgeries, and the number of people who choose to spend additional money on private insurance is growing, because people don’t like the government’s service.
The Swedish government’s own website says that 79 percent of people looking to see a specialist are able to within 90 days, “or are operated on within a further 90 days.” They want you to think that sounds good, but don’t be fooled. Because the other 21 percent of patients — more than one in five — wait more than six months for their treatment.
Their health care isn’t even “free,” anyway. On top of the overly burdensome taxes levied against citizens, these governments impose copayments and cost-sharing on patients for most procedures, visits to the doctor, prescriptions and more.
Look no further than the southern neighbors of the Nordic countries to see how the socialism that Democrats are vying to implement in America actually fares. Italy and Spain, for instance, impose Nordic-style high-income and sales taxes and provide generous welfare programs.
But they also have onerous red tape, high taxes on corporations and unbalanced budgets. What’s the result? Unemployment sits at 10 and 14 percent in each country, and young people can’t find any jobs. The average Spanish or Italian household makes $24,000 and $26,500 per year respectively — half of the $50,000 of the average American household.
Clearly, these aren’t the policies America should copy. And the reason Nordic countries aren’t imploding under those policies is because they have conservative ones keeping them afloat.
So the next time a leftist tells you that they want America to be more like the Nordic countries, ask them if they want to lower corporate taxes, repeal the minimum wage, deregulate the economy and implement school choice. If they say no, it means they’re just coming for your paycheck.
• Daniel Di Martino (@DanielDiMartino) is a research associate at the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at the University of Kentucky and a Young Voices contributor.
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