What’s with American lefties anyway, always looking to Europe for some sort of imaginary “paradise.” Yesterday, we had this lady making a fool of herself in the pages of the New York Times when she discovered that France was not the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Today, we have this:
There’s one country that keeps popping up in the debate among the Democratic candidates for president. It’s not China, or Russia, or Iran. It’s a little country of 5.6 million people that — beyond a vague image of tall, blond, egalitarian people who like pickled fish and minimalist design — few Americans probably know much about.
Denmark, and to a lesser extent the other Nordic countries, are surfacing in the Democratic debates as examples of relatively equal societies that provide generous benefits for their citizens, including affordable education, health care for all, and subsidized child care. This is mostly due to Bernie Sanders, who likes to use Denmark to explain his vision of democratic socialism. “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people,” Sanders said in the first Democratic debate on Oct. 13. (“But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America,” Hillary Clinton responded.)
But how much truth is there in the popular idea of Nordic exceptionalism? Michael Booth, a British journalist, examines this question in detail in a recent book, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.” Booth, a U.K. native who has lived in Scandinavia for over a decade, plays the part of a cultural interpreter, examining, poking and prodding the reality of life in Nordic countries from every angle. Booth finds plenty to question in the rest of the world’s assumptions about the Nordic miracle, but also lots that we can learn from them.
There follows a Q&A with Booth, which, aside from a gratuitous crack about “cynical right wing politicians (if you’ll forgive the tautology),” is pretty clear-eyed about the tradeoffs one must make while living in Denmark. Among them, high taxation, high levels of alcoholism, terrible weather, and the general loss of initiative that inevitably follows in the wake of even relatively benign socialism, with all of its “free” stuff like healthcare. Definitely worth a read, and then tell yourself: it can’t happen here. Can it?