Saturday, March 7, 2020

Bernie Sanders’s Scandinavian fantasy

Excerpt: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says that his proposals “are not radical,” pointing again and again to countries in Northern Europe such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway as examples of the kind of economic system he wants to bring to the United States. The image he conjures up is of a warm and fuzzy social democracy in which market economics are kept on a tight leash through regulation, the rich are heavily taxed and the social safety net is generous. That is, however, an inaccurate and highly misleading description of those Northern European countries today. Take billionaires. Sanders has been clear on the topic: “Billionaires should not exist.” But Sweden and Norway both have more billionaires per capita than the United States — Sweden almost twice as many. Not only that, these billionaires are able to pass on their wealth to their children tax-free. Inheritance taxes in Sweden and Norway are zero, and in Denmark 15 percent. The United States, by contrast, has the fourth-highest estate taxes in the industrialized world at 40 percent. Sanders’s vision of Scandinavian countries, as with much of his ideology, seems to be stuck in the 1960s and 1970s, a period when these countries were indeed pioneers in creating a social market economy. In Sweden, government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product doubled from 1960 to 1980, going from approximately 30 percent to 60 percent. But as Swedish commentator Johan Norberg points out, this experiment in Sanders-style democratic socialism tanked the Swedish economy. Between 1970 and 1995, he notes, Sweden did not create a single net new job in the private sector. In 1991, a free-market prime minister, Carl Bildt, initiated a series of reforms to kick-start the economy. By the mid-2000s, Sweden had cut the size of its government by a third and emerged from its long economic slump.

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