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MondayAug 20, 2018 at 12:01 AM Aug 20, 2018 at 7:53 AM
To be or not to be a socialist hellhole, that is the question. Sorry, I couldnât help myself.
Trish Regan, a Fox Business host, recently created a bit of an international incident by describing Denmark as an example of the horrors of socialism, right along with Venezuela. Denmarkâs finance minister suggested that she visit his country and learn some facts.
American politics in the past few decades has been dominated by a crusade against big government; Denmark has embraced an expansive government role, with public spending more than half of GDP. American politicians fear talk about redistribution of income from the rich to the less well-off; Denmark engages in such redistribution on a scale unimaginable here. American policy has been increasingly hostile t o organized labor, and unions have virtually disappeared from the private sector; two-thirds of Danish workers are unionized.
Conservative ideology says that Denmarkâs policy choices should be disastrous, that grass should be growing in the streets of Copenhagen. Regan was, in effect, describing what her employers think must be happening there. But if Denmark is a hellhole, itâs doing a very good job of hiding that fact: I was just there, and it looks awfully prosperous.
Danes are more likely to have jobs than Americans. Overall GDP per capita in Denmark is a bit lower than in America, but thatâs basically because the Danes take more vacations. Income inequality is much lower, and life expectancy is higher.
The simple fact is that life is better for most Danes than it is for their U.S. counterparts. Denmark consistently ranks well ahead of America in measures of happiness and life satisfaction.
But is Denmark socialist?
The libertarian Cato Instit ute says no: âDenmark has quite a free-market economy, apart from its welfare state transfers and high government consumption.â Thatâs some qualification.
Denmark doesnât at all fit the classic definition of socialism, which involves government ownership of the means of production. It is, instead, social-democratic: a market economy where the downsides of capitalism are mitigated by government action, including a very strong social safety net.
But U.S. conservatives â" like Foxâs Regan â" blur the distinction between social democracy and socialism. In 2008, John McCain accused Barack Obama of wanting socialism, basically because Obama called for an expansion of health coverage. In 2012, Mitt Romney declared that Obama got his ideas from âsocialist democrats in Europe.â
In other words, in American political discourse, anyone who wants to make life in a market economy less nasty, brutish and short gets denounced as a socialist.
And this smear ca mpaign has had a predictable effect: Sooner or later, if you call any attempt to improve American lives âsocialism,â a lot of people will conclude that socialism is OK.
A recent Gallup poll found that majorities both of young voters and of self-identified Democrats prefer socialism to capitalism. But this doesnât mean that tens of millions of Americans want the government to seize the economyâs commanding heights. It just means that many people, told that wanting America to be a bit more like Denmark is socialist, end up believing that socialism isnât so bad, after all.
The same may be said for some Democratic politicians. Much has been made of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not just because of her upset primary victory, but because sheâs a self-proclaimed socialist. Her platform, however, isnât socialist at all by the traditional definition. Itâs just unabashedly social-democratic.
True, there are differences over both policy and rhetorical strategy. Sh ould the push for universal health coverage involve Medicare for all, or simply the right for everyone to buy into an enhanced Medicare program? Should Democrats simply ignore Republican slander of their social-democratic ideas, or should they try to turn the âsocialistâ smear into a badge of honor?
But these arenât very deep divisions, certainly nothing like the divisions between liberals and centrists that wracked the party a couple of decades ago.
The simple fact is that there is far more misery in America than there needs to be. Every other advanced country has universal health care and a much stronger social safety net than we do. And it doesnât have to be that way.
Paul Krugman is a columnist for The New York Times.Source: Google News Denmark | Netizen 24 Denmark