Socialists Love To Point to Scandinavian Countries... But They're Beginning To Fail


When talking about what he wants a socialist United States to look like, Sen. Bernie Sanders obviously doesn’t point to countries like Venezuela or Cuba. He looks toward Scandinavia.

“We should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people,” the Vermont independent said during a 2016 presidential debate, according to the Washington Examiner.

When I’ve talked to other socialists, they’ve said the exact same thing. They quickly usher me past socialist hellholes such as Gaddafi’s Libya or Maduro’s Venezuela and instead look at the great, shining example in the north of Europe — the paragon of what democratic socialism is supposed to look like.

Well, as the 2020 elections approach, two things should become clear. First, Scandinavia isn’t as socialist as you might think. Second, inasmuch as it is socialist, those programs are beginning to fail.

Let’s start with the latter, as Finland is beginning to see serious issues with its socialized health care system.

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“Finland’s coalition government resigned on Friday a month ahead of a general election, saying it could not deliver on a healthcare reform package that is widely seen as crucial to securing long-term government finances,” Reuters reported March 8.

“Healthcare systems across much of the developed world have come under increasing stress in recent years as treatment costs soar and people live longer, meaning fewer workers are supporting more pensioners,” the report said. “Nordic countries, where comprehensive welfare is the cornerstone of the social model, have been among the most affected.

“But reform has been controversial and, in Finland, plans to cut costs and boost efficiency have stalled for years.”

“The picture I’ve got over the last few days from parliament forces me to draw conclusions. There is no way ahead. I am hugely disappointed,” Prime Minister Juha Sipila said at a news conference.

Do you think that the United States will ever be a socialist country?

While Finland is hardly the only Nordic government set to have a similar reckoning over the next few years, it’s clearly the most in extremis at the moment.

And how fantastic is the system that this money pays for? Ed Dutton, an expatriate writer in Finland, wrote about his experiences with Finnish health care in a piece for The Guardian in 2016:

“Imagine going to your nearest doctors’ surgery at 9am on a weekday with your sick six-year-old daughter because you cannot make an appointment over the phone. After your drive to another part of the city, you can’t simply book a time with the receptionist. There isn’t one. Instead, you must swipe your daughter’s national insurance card through a machine, which gives you a number. Then you and your feverish child simply sit and wait. Or rather, you stand, because the room is so crowded that people are sitting on the floor, on steps, or leaning against walls. The numbers come up on a screen every 10 minutes or so, in no particular order so you’ve no idea how long your wait will be as your daughter complains of feeling cold then hot and then cold again. …

“This isn’t some nightmare vision of the NHS after 10 years of Tory cuts. This happened to me recently in a country I have moved to from Britain that is normally lauded as the shining example of a successful welfare state.”

Not so much, it seems.

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Not so much, too, is the fact that countries like Finland are shining examples of socialism.

“The myth of Nordic socialism is partially created by a confusion between socialism, meaning government exerting control or ownership of businesses, and the welfare state in the form of government-provided social safety net programs,” Jeffrey Dorfman wrote for Forbes in 2018.

“However, the left’s embrace of socialism is not merely a case of redefining a word,” he wrote. “Simply look at the long-running affinity of leftists with socialist dictators in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela for proof many on the left long for real socialism.

“To the extent that the left wants to point to an example of successful socialism, not just generous welfare states, the Nordic countries are actually a poor case to cite. Regardless of the perception, in reality the Nordic countries practice mostly free market economics paired with high taxes exchanged for generous government entitlement programs.”

As for the socialist aspects of the Nordic nations? Well, first, they were all economic successes before they started building the social safety net, so it wasn’t as if the policies caused it. Sweden has school choice. All of the countries have high levels of economic freedom. These clearly aren’t the socialist paradises touted by the left — and that’s how they’re able to pay for the social safety net they have.

“It is allowing businesses to be productive that produces the high corporate and personal incomes that support the tax collections making the government benefits feasible,” Dorfman wrote. “The Nordic countries are smart enough not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

So, no, this isn’t the socialist paradise you’re looking for. And even as it is, things aren’t exactly looking perfect.

Perhaps Bernie should look for countries that more resemble what his program would entail. I can think of one in South America that’s been much in the news lately.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture