I am so tired of politics as usual. I turn off when I hear beltway insiders talking business-as-usual. Politicians who let their convictions take the backseat to poll numbers.
I refuse to enter into the tribal mindset of “us versus them.”
I lived the first half of my life in Denmark; a country based on a mix of social democratic, liberal, and conservative/libertarian policies. The other half of my life, I have lived in the USA.
I am fiercely independent. I am also a proponent of a social democracy.
Social Democratic policies are socialist, right?
Well, yes…. and well, no. Socialism has become a buzz word or a cuss word – depending on who uses it. I want to let you in on a secret: I cringe, when I hear Americans call my country of Denmark “socialist.” Or even worse: “communist.” I am pretty sure the members of the current conservative Danish coalition government would scratch their heads too.
I cringe because Americans view socialism based on old fears.
It is often lumped in with Stalin’s Soviet Union or Chairman Mao’s China. My dead father would roll over in his grave hearing this label used to describe the governance of his beloved country. The horrors that were perpetrated by these kinds of totalitarian and repressive regimes were horrendous, and to be associated with this kind of socialist governance-gone-wrong is just plain offensive.
I have had people tell me that socialism is the same as National Socialism, or Nazism, which is a far-right ideology. These kinds of statements are simply ignorant. But unfortunately they are common..
So what is it then?
If we want to understand what democratic socialism means, we have to take our glasses of perception off, and not let old talking points color what we see.
On the left, it is often glorified as the model that will solve all our problems. On the right it is often vilified, or treated with suspicion and disregard.
And this is typical of our political process here in the United States. We want to draw up the battle lines in black and white.
Nordic social democracy is a form of capitalism
Many of my conservative friends think that Bernie Sanders by advocating this kind of system of governance is intent on bringing something unrealistic, dangerous, or “un-American” through the back door. It is the same mindset that has some Republican politicians talk about those who think differently as anti-capitalist, incompetent, and not what “we’re all about” here in America.
They claim that the promises of “free stuff” sounds too good to be true. They believe that this model of governance would never work here. At the same time, they just shrug their shoulders and look the other way, when I mention to them that here in the USA, one single family holds as much wealth as 133 million of the least wealthy people combined: That is 42% of all Americans!
They snicker at me that I am just jealous and ask me why I just can’t be happy for these successful, hard-working, and smart individuals? Yes, well… maybe, but an alarming amount of wealth is simply hoarded and then inherited by the children of dynasties of mega-rich families.
Scandinavian countries are not by any stretch of the imagination anti-capitalist.
The mode of governance for these social democracies is also known as “Nordic Capitalism.” Those words are probably less offensive to many republicans than democratic socialism, even though it is the same: It is a mixed economy model.
The government is mostly considered an ally – not the enemy.
After WWII, social democratic policies became increasingly influential in many European countries.
It was (and still is) a cornerstone of social democratic policy that children could get access to good education from early childhood through college. Education was not scholarship-based. It was the same for all, whether students’ parents were wealthy or not. A student’s entry into college was secured with hard work and brains, not mom and dad’s pocket book and/or connections.
British economist and social reformer William Beveridge tapped into the spirit of the postwar era, when he said: “The object of government in peace and in war is not the glory of rulers or of races, but the happiness of the common man.”
The creation of these social democracies included a capitalist engine with business friendly policies that furthered private enterprise.
It still is today.
The role of government is regulatory. it seeks to benefit the long-term goals of the businesses, the environment, and the people of the community. It provides many social programs to secure the education, healthcare, job-training, infrastructure, and the common welfare of everybody.
It is not about making everyone equal or the same, it is about leveling the playing field so the most amount of people have a fighting chance to succeed.
This sense of social responsibility was present in the USA in the 1950’s. This socially progressive awareness was mixed with a desire to further traditional values: a mix of conservative personal ideals and progressive social policies.
This decade was by no means a wonderland. It was a time of much fear and confusion. Most people sought to hide their problems and pretended to Leave it to Beaver. It was a tension-filled time with a rapidly moving culture that brought confusion and anxiety in its wake. Many were secretly dealing with alcoholism, abuse, un-diagnosed PTSD, etc. There was a well-founded fear of a future war with an even more cataclysmic outcome.
America’s social democratic past
But there was something about this era that made it remarkable. As America fought communism and “sneaking socialism,” America was actually a model for how social democratic, mixed economy policies work: A single income-earner in a family of four, five, or six, was able to provide for the entire family by holding down a “regular” job. You didn’t have to be in an executive job position to do that.
Today, the amount of regular people of working age that rely on food stamps to eat is growing. And on the other end of the spectrum salaries for CEO’s continues to grow. Food stamps used to be for the young or the elderly – and those unable to work. But now, due to outsourcing of jobs and dwindling amounts of good-paying jobs – even for college graduates – getting good-paying jobs is increasingly difficult.
If the minimum wage had kept up with the income gains of the richest 1% since the 1950’s, the minimum wage today would be somewhere between $18 and $30.
In Denmark, the minimum wage is $17. And nobody pays any taxes on the first $6,500 they make in a year. Thereafter, the taxes are taken out on a sliding scale with the ones earning the least paying the lowest percentages. The ones making the most pay the most. There are tax deductions for businesses, and deductions for families with children.
Back to the future – Forward to our past
It is very similar, although less extreme, to the way the tax code was put together in the United States in 1955. This was a time in history where the United States had even more income equality than they do today in the Nordic countries.
It just makes sense: you make sure a broad base of your customers have money to spend, and the economy fares better.
The income inequality is extreme today in the United States. Small businesses are weighed down by having to pay health care for their workers and complete for the few ultra-rich customers that are out there.
By contrast, the Nordic countries are consistently voted as having the best environment for business and entrepreneurship. Small business owners don’t have to worry about paying for their employees’ health care; everyone has national health care. People generally don’t have to worry about affording care when they get too old or too sick to work.They don’t have to worry about whether they can afford to send their children or grandchildren to college. If they lose their job, they get training in a new field where there is a need for new employees in the work force.
People are not sitting around looking for hand-outs. There are incentives to keep working, although unemployment benefits are generous. The unemployment rate in Denmark is between 4.5% and 6.5%.
People are generally less stressed and worried, and trust their governments. This is one of the reasons that people in countries with a strong social democratic backbone tend to be happier. It empowers the individual to know that the government is of the people, by the people and for the people.
Isn’t that a goal worthy of reaching for here in this country that came up with the idea in the first place?
I encourage you to do a little research on the countries that are heavily influenced by social democratic principles. Steer clear of opinion pieces, and look at the data.
Check out the factors that make people consistently more fulfilled, satisfied, safe, and happy.
No country or system has everything figured out. And there is no utopia. People in all countries have things they are unhappy about. That is true here, and that is true there. The United States will never be Sweden. But we can better the living conditions for many Americans by finding out what works in other places, and what used to work better here.
We can’t afford it here in the United States, you say?
Well, what if instead of grinning and bearing the continued fleecing of the middle class, we strive towards creating a society with a more even economic playing field? What if we actively work towards the creation of a society that offers plenty of incentive and opportunities for people to succeed?
In order to do that , we actively need to move away from a set-up where new wealth only goes to the top 1% of the population.
Many working-and-middle-class people in the USA consistently vote against their own interests.
They are clinging to a mindset that keep them bogged down by belief in a dream that moved on long ago.The American Dream moved to Scandinavia. Isn’t it time we moved our thoughts about how to create a better society with it?