It is true. When I first started paying attention to Bernie Sanders and heard what he was saying, I was fascinated. My home is in rural Western United States but some time back I spent twenty two months living on the German economy. I spoke German, ate German, wore German clothes, sat on Danish furniture and lived in German apartments. I slept under a large down comforter. Today, years later, I still eat with a knife in the right hand and the fork in the left. Oh, and I still miss the food. After about six months in country, I began to feel quite at home. But that was there and then. Today, Bernie Sanders wants us, The United States, to become more like Europe.
The concept of Democratic Socialism, as proposed by Bernie Sanders, is not new to the United States. It has been tried before; almost always by tightly knit religious groups. The Mormons tried true socialistic experiments in a couple of Utah communities. They failed. The Amish live a socialist life style today. Regardless of the poverty they prefer to modern tools and life style, for the Amish, their socialist communities seem to work.
It is the Amish that present a clue as to why a Democratic Socialism seems to work well in the Nordic countries but perhaps is less successful as you move south throughout Europe. The key to the Amish socialistic success, a key shared by the Nordic countries, is Community. A cohesive community with a shared culture, desires and neighborly concern sufficient to foster a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of ones neighbors. A socially cohesive and caring community.
We look at Sweden, Denmark and Norway and briefly envy some of the benefits they share. They do things differently offering, free education, lengthy paid vacations, maternity leave, state sponsored day care, liberal unemployment and other similar programs. Some people, like Bernie Sanders and his populist supporters, envy the Nordic community enough to be willing to pay taxes in excess of fifty percent of income to achieve it. However, before we jump overboard, there are some intrinsic cultural differences between the United States and these Nordic countries that need to be considered. Like the Amish, these differences all point to community.
Paul Krugman in his book “The Socialist Hellhole that is Sweden” points out that taxation in the Scandinavian countries is not what we think it is. Rather than a high Federal tax, most taxes are collected and spent locally. He writes:
“For example, the Danish national income tax rate is 3.76%. The top Danish national income tax rate is 15%. The Swedish national income tax rates are 20 and 25%. These are, you will note, markedly lower than the rates which are sent off to DC for the congresscritters to decide what to do with.”
The point here is Scandinavia collects and spends the larger portion of taxes locally. This provides for a lot more interaction and control by local communities. It also allows for a much more efficient system by not creating inflated federal bureaucracies which spend much of the taxes being raised in providing for their own obesity.
Nordic countries are very homogenous. Almost 90% of the population of Denmark is of Danish decent. Over 94% of Norwegians are ethnic natives. Sweden is currently experiencing large groups of diverse immigrants with higher birth rates. Nevertheless, over 80% of the population are still what one would call native swedes. This homogenous ethnicity adds to a socially cohesive community.
Nordic Democratic Socialism is tightly knit with organized labor. Indeed, labor is a big part of decision making at all levels. In recent years organized labor has been falling off with a parallel drop in the effectiveness of the socialist experiment. However, the common membership of Nordic citizens in shared labor unions again points to community.
As mentioned, experiments in socialism within the United States were frequently tried during the western migration. Many failed. It was discovered the natural tendency within man to be unique and to strive to excel, to a large extent, needed to be placed on the altar of sacrifice for the community. With the Amish, a very strong religious conviction seems to provide sufficient motivation to overcome man’s internal selfishness. In other groups it was not.
I believe true socialism requires an attitude of community sufficient to enable the willing sacrifice of the individual. Man does not naturally possess such community beyond the family unit. Forced Socialism or, Socialism born of greed or envy will quickly fail.
In looking to the possible move by Bernie Sanders to form a more socialistic democracy within the United States, one must ask what is to be placed on the altar of sacrifice.
First and foremost are much higher Federal Taxes. (The Wall Street Journal estimates that Bernie’s ideas will cost an additional 18 Trillion dollars within the first 10 years.) Bernie would like us to think he can raise that kind of money by closing corporate loopholes and getting billionaires to pay their fair share. Sorry, but there just simply aren’t that many rich folks. As usual, the bulk of the cost will fall on the middle class. It always has and always will.
The second is academic freedom. Today my wife teaches in a local grade school. Because they receive federal and state monies, the government feels totally comfortable not only in demanding assessments but also in controlling, to some degree, what must and what cannot be taught. Free education would not only cost higher taxes but, it would also cost a great deal of academic freedom. As the saying goes, “nothing is truly free.”
Likewise, free day care in Sweden is almost mandatory at this point. Who decides what activities and lessons are presented in day care? Once again the state gets to decide what children are exposed to since they are paying the bill. (An interesting perspective given that the taxes came from the parents.) As Vladimir Lenin said; “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”
Health care is similar. Who decides if a 77 year old man should be offered controversial and expensive lifesaving treatment? The family or a committee of state employed doctors?
You get the idea. We pay more to build a bigger government who will take care of us. That care includes making a lot of decisions for us. Decisions that will influence what we believe, our politics, what activities we are engaged in and potentially, when we may die.
And, there is still community. Do I as a retiree feel strongly enough about my national community to want to sacrifice to pay for the young to go to college? I paid for my education why should I pay for theirs? Do they, in their youth, feel close enough to me to want to pay for my continued retirement? A concept which, in their youth, they have yet to understand.
Today, America is fractured. We are white or black or brown or Asian. We are male and female. We are Republicans or Democrats. We are Conservatives or neo-liberals. We are watchers of CNN or Fox. We are urban or rural. We are union but mostly we are non-union. We are believers or deniers. We are divided. We are, as a community, broken.
Over the past six and half years, we have wrongly been taught by the media and by our government to hate those who differ from us.
The idea of a nationalistic American feeling of community sufficient to elicit sacrifice for the good of all is ludicrous.
The Bernie Sanders democratic socialism is anathema to the viability of a future, free America. Currently, we are experiencing a catastrophic lack of community. There is no willingness to sacrifice. Quite the opposite. We all want the government to cater to our individual needs. I sincerely doubt that willingness to sacrifice will grow in the face of lost freedoms when Uncle Sam starts paying the bills and demanding input or value for having spent our dollars. Will we become more united while trying to run communal benefits from a bloated national behemoth with little local response in new socialistic programs? I also doubt we will grow together as a nation when forced to participate in said programs. It is more likely our ethnic and social diversity will become more of a stumbling block rather than a synergistic utopia. These differences between the Nordic countries and the United States are contra indicators to the viability of democratic socialism within our country. These are some of the reasons it will not work and similarly, the reasons that Bernie Sanders will not win the Presidency.
After about a year in Germany, I made an interesting discovery. I believe it was in Bremen. We were downtown and I saw a fairly well-dressed man walking toward us on the sidewalk. I turned to my friend and remarked, “That man is an American.” He replied; “Really, do you know him?” “No”, I said, “I can tell by the way he walks.” As he passed us I briefly engaged him in conversation. He was in fact from the United States. He was also quite surprised that I could pick him out of a crowd. From then on, it became rather simple to spot them/us. It really was not the clothes or any external indicator, but rather a confident, loose and unbridled gait. The gait of a free man.
Yes, I have been there and contrary to my friends who have not, I think I could survive in Bernie’s nonexistent community, his unlikely utopia. However, I prefer the gait of freedom.
Samuel Waen Jensen