Not even Nordic nations aren’t immune in 2019.
The Boise chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America at the end of a Climate Change march at City Hall in August 2018. (photo: kencf0618)
The Persistent Myth of the U.S. Democratic Socialist: Part II
In Part I. of this series, we discussed the persistent myth of the U.S. Democratic Socialist. Democratic socialism may sound good on twitter; #equality, #socialjustice. But democratic socialism in the U.S. is impossible and it is a waste of time for legislators to discuss it.
It will never work because of:
The U.S. economy is too hopelessly entangled and interconnected with other economies and the world economy, which are dependent on capitalism.
Unless the U.S. can be isolated from this global system, which it can’t, a U.S. without capitalism simply cannot exist.
Is communism really communism if it needs capitalism to work?
Sweden is a part of global capitalism. Sweden was already an extremely wealthy nation, thanks to capitalism, when the Swedish government began implementing more generous social welfare policies.
Some Swedish economists even argue that the Swedish welfare state is nothing more than a government program to keep private Swedish business flush with educated and healthy workers to supply the world demand for Swedish products.
Like two tiny exports you might have heard of called “Spotify” and “Minecraft”.
Even a communist country like China uses capitalism: The Chinese economic machine is driven largely by the state’s eminent utilization of cheap and plentiful labor to manufacture goods to be sold to…capitalist countries.
Ignoring global capitalism, if possible, brings us to another reason a socialist democracy is untenable in the U.S.
Demographics Don’t Scale
For socialism or communism to work, if indeed it can be said that it does work given its modern dependence on global capitalism, everyone has to agree on how the resources are to be divided.
Does that sound likely in the U.S.?
Over 330 million people call the U.S. home, and a more radically diverse group of 330 million people couldn’t be achieved it you tried.
Sweden has 10 million Swedes, Finland 5 million or so Fins. All told, the Nordic countries have about 25 million people between them and populations that are relatively homogenous.
The U.S. has everyone: Every religious group, every philosophical values-system, almost every ethnography. Many values-systems are even diametrically opposed, like “People should help those less fortunate,” and “People should earn what they receive.”
Like, “People have a right to their privacy,” and, “The community has a right to know if you’ve got an infectious disease in there, we need to come in and take a look,”.
Who is right? Which moral values system is “better”? Who wins?
U.S. Democratic socialists? Who, and forgive me for asking this, do they think they are?
In a nation as ethically diverse as the U.S., how should the government make moral decisions? The Morality of What Works, seems like the best answer.
Like giving homes to the homeless: Not because it the “right thing to do” but because it has been proven to be much cheaper than not giving them homes and it actually works to stop and end homelessness.
But the flip-side of the morality of what works, is the immorality of what doesn’t.
The Immorality of What Doesn’t Work
But like Bernie Sanders before her, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez insists that a socialist democracy is possible in the U.S. and points to Nordic countries to demonstrate that it can and does work.
She wants the U.S. to be like Sweden. OCASIO-CORTEZ: I’M GOING TO TURN AMERICA INTO ANOTHER SWEDEN, NOT VENEZUELA.
Unluckily for Sanders and Oascio-Cortez, Nordic countries are not a great illustration of the Democratic Socialist Party’s aims. In many ways, they are the opposite.
Nordic countries are mostly free market economies, with higher taxes to pay for more robust government social welfare programs. They were wealthy nations with thriving economies before they expanded their welfare states. Not after.
Generous social benefits did not create the wealth in these nations: The wealth in these nations created the social benefits.
None of the Nordic nations have minimum wage laws; Sweden’s corporate tax rate has been a cool 22%, compared with the U.S. at 35%, until only recently.
Another bellwether: Notice Sweden didn’t raise their corporate tax rate; the U.S. lowered theirs to a more competitive 25%. Sweden doesn’t have property tax either.
“Sweden got rich first with free trade and an open economy, before we had the big government. In the 1950s, Sweden was already one of the world’s richest countries, and back then, taxes were lower in Sweden than in the United States. It was only after that, did we start expanding the government dramatically. And do you know what happened then? It all ended in a terrible crisis.” Swedish economist Johan Norberg
Test Case: Universal Basic Public Income
In January 2017, U.S. Democratic Socialists were abuzz with exciting news: Finland is starting a national experiment to try and prove a basic income doesn’t make people lazy.
The above sentence is both completely true and also patently false: Finland did pilot a universal income program for two years; it has now ended, but the experiment was only supposed to run from 2017–2019.
“There are currently no plans to continue or expand the experiment after 2018, but this is not new information,”- Miska Simanainen, KELA researcher.
No, Finland isn’t scrapping its universal basic income experiment: The Finnish government has turned down a request to extend a trial of basic income, but other countries are already going well beyond its limited test.
That’s just a nicer way of putting it.
The Finnish government didn’t only reject KELA’s request to expand and continue the Universal Public Income project; the Finnish parliament introduced legislation requiring that unemployed people receiving benefits must work at least 18 hours per month to qualify in 2017.
Far from signaling the success of so-called democratic socialism in Nordic countries, this is but one of the many ways in which Nordic countries are gradually walking back certain socialist policies as they prove unworkable.
And why Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez need to stop holding them up as examples of a working social democracy. And why there is no such thing as a working social democracy.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)