The Dreaded ‘Socialism’ Of Denmark

One of the aspects of our (debased) public discourse that absolutely drives me nuts is the misuse of language–words used not to convey meaning, not to communicate, but to demean and dismiss.

For quite a while, “liberal” was the epithet of choice, mostly courtesy of Rush Limbaugh and his clones. These days, mostly thanks to Bernie Sanders, it’s “socialist.” It would be annoying enough if the people who use the term as a sneer actually knew what it meant, but it is abundantly clear that they don’t.

Allow me.

In virtually every modern, democratic country, economies are mixed, meaning that markets supply many, if not most, of the goods and services needed/wanted by the people who live there, while many others are socialized–that is, provided communally through government. Experience has demonstrated that it makes sense to socialize the provision of services like police and fire protection, streets and highways, education and garbage collection, and to meet social needs through programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Some countries socialize larger elements of their economies than we do, but that doesn’t make them communist hellholes. Unless, of course, you are a Fox News”reporter.” 

As Paul Krugman responded,

Last weekend, Trish Regan, a Fox Business host, created a bit of an international incident by describing Denmark as an example of the horrors of socialism, right along with Venezuela. Denmark’s finance minister suggested that she visit his country and learn some facts.

Indeed, Regan couldn’t have picked a worse example — or, from the point of view of U.S. progressives, a better one.

Denmark has undeniably made different decisions than we have about the size of government and the proper economic “mix.”

American politics has been dominated by a crusade against big government; Denmark has embraced an expansive government role, with public spending more than half of G.D.P. 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 to organized labor, and unions have virtually disappeared from the private sector; two-thirds of Danish workers are unionized.

So–how are these soul-less denizens of an all-powerful state surviving?

Danes are more likely to have jobs than Americans, and in many cases they earn substantially more. Overall G.D.P. per capita in Denmark is a bit lower than in America, but that’s 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. There’s a reason Denmark consistently ranks well ahead of America in measures of happiness and life satisfaction.

Denmark’s economy is best described as social-democratic. It’s basically a market economy, but one in which–as Krugman puts it– “the downsides of capitalism are mitigated by government action, including a very strong social safety net.”

Americans, as we know, don’t do nuance. (In the age of Trump, we don’t do much civility, either.) We prefer flinging insults to having discussions, and either/or formulations and bumper-sticker put-downs to thoughtful consideration of calibrated solutions to our problems.

Our choice isn’t between capitalism (which, in the U.S. has devolved into corporatism) and an all-encompassing socialism (as if that were even possible.) In a country populated by rational people, we would examine aspects of our current economy  and consider whether they are working properly, or whether it might be cost-effective to “socialize” them. (That is what the debate about single-payer health insurance is all about.)

Before we can make sound policy decisions, however, we need to employ the English language for its intended purpose: to describe reality and thus serve as the basis for actual communication.

21 thoughts on “The Dreaded ‘Socialism’ Of Denmark

  1. Great article. Indeed we have a mixed economy: part Socialist part Capitalist. We have been a democratic-socialisr government for a long time, especially since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.

  2. Trump’s ending and removal of protective (of the public) regulations in all areas of this government is fast turning the United States into the true Russian Socialist country he so admires and aspires to emulate.

    For thinking people – voters – in this country; Bernie Sanders’ “Democratic Socialism” needed no explanation. Semantics do matter and Trump, his administration and the Republican Congress are using “sticks and stones” which are breaking this county’s greatest strength – the Constitution.

    The move, “Trumbo”, about the damage Joe McCarthy’s trials and blacklist did, not only to direct victims but to this country provided some actual photographs (worth a thousand words) from the opening of “Spartacus” which bore the name Dalton Trumbo as screenwriter, was picketed by McCarthy supporters. There were counter protesters in the crowd and one sign stuck with me; “Courage is Contagious – defend our Bill of Rights”. We need that courage now more than we ever have and those simple words are vital. Words can be weapons of attack or weapons of defense…this week we have watched some of those weapons of defense bring results against two of Trump’s “partners in crime” which have brought out more of his partners. Sessions has limited his partnership with Trump; much to Trump’s surprise and to those of us who have been watching. Right now, the term “socialism” sounds much safer to me than the Fascism currently in control.

    “Before we can make sound policy decisions, however, we need to employ the English language for its intended purpose: to describe reality and thus serve as the basis for actual communication.”

  3. “American politicians fear talk about redistribution of income from the rich to the less well-off”.

    They have, however, accomplished an amazing resistribution of income from the less well-off to the rich.

  4. If MAGA means go back to the 50s, it would be reasonable to assume that, not only do they want a return of the patriarchy, they might also want a top tax rate above 90%. It was a graduated tax and nobody paid 90% on all income, but it gave government the funding to do things like build the interstate highways, new bridges, and new dams.

    Sadly, reasonableness is not in the lexicon of the MAGA supporters so we continue to take from the poor to give to the rich. I would like to ask the Kochs, “How much is enough?”

    VOTE BLUE!

  5. The economics that I learned defined Capitalism as an economic system wherein the means of production (factories, offices, computers, processing systems, etc) were owned by some of the people in a country (the extreme being one) werein socialism the means are owned by everyone.

    Capitalism works fine only when substantial competition can be maintained.

    Capitalism is sustainable only when regulated to maintain competition, and protect consumers and workers and the environment and to insure the consumers are as well informed about the product as the sellers.

    Capitalism also needs progressive taxation to redistribute the wealth down to compensate for its natural tendency to distribute wealth up.

    The US economy is very roughly 75% Capitalism and 25% socialism. The most glaring difference compared to other developed countries is healthcare which is now approaching 20% of the economy, an unheard of expense in most countries.

  6. Last year at a demonstration in downtown Indianapolis for Enhanced Medicare For All, I encountered several people from Denmark. Among the items their society provided for was Free Health Care for All, Free Higher Education, paid family leave, retirement. Naturally, this is not Free. The Danes mentioned their taxes were higher than here in the USA.

    The Danes were very interested in our firearms laws. The entire country of Denmark had 56 homicides in 2016. Indianapolis had 150 criminal homicides in 2017.

    However, upon thinking this through, I realized we had an À la carte system here in the USA geared toward the individuals ability to pay. Thus, bottom line your ability to pay for Health Care, Higher Education including trade schools, day care, family leave or retirement is shouldered by the individual or family. Here in the USA we have a economic class system.

    Socialism has been demonized here the USA since the days of Eugene Debs by the corporate media, the 1% and through their stooges in Congress. The steroid demonetization of Socialism accelerated during the years of Soviet style Communism. The simple formula for simple minds was Liberal=Socialism=Communism=Stalin=Mao= Castro.

    It is not surprising Faux News and people like Ted Cruz would use the word Socialism to conjure up all sorts of devils.

  7. Approximates:
    Denmark area 43,000 SqKm Pop: 6 Million
    USA area 10,000,000 SqKm Pop: 326 Million

    Denmark has no “2nd Amendment”

  8. Once again, just “voting blue” does nothing to change our economy because the DNC and their candidates of choice are part of our two corporatist owned political parties. We had eight years of a blue POTUS and got nowhere.

    In fact, Clinton and Obama were Neoliberal champions.

    Obama had a majority in the legislative branch and choose a right-wing think tank’s version of healthcare delivery which only allowed the profiteers in our privatized medical sector to continue raking over the American public.

    How many Banksters did Obama jail for crashing the international economy? -0-

    We actually use universities across the country to socialize the costs of doing research and development and then privatize the profits for shareholders and selected CEOs. Meanwhile, the working people (taxpayers) who funded the research and development continue getting stiffed in the process.

    Fortunately, there are many signals that young people have had enough of “corporatism.”

    The motivated Boomers sit in front of the television to receive their news and info. The younger generation knows it’s propaganda because they have grown up with smartphones connected to their left hand.

    In the 2016 primary, the self-anointed Democratic Socialist senator from Vermont beat the corporatist Hillary Clinton by a good margin thanks to our young generation. They were motivated and showed up.

    Voting blue isn’t enough to turn around this runaway train which just stopped at Fascism station.

    By the way, Trump doesn’t understand business or economics. He’s a spoiled rich kid who was handed cash by his slumlord father. He’s not interested in Russian or Chinese economics…he just wants to be King of the USA. He’s an authoritarian because his EGO places him in the center of the universe. He wants to rule over…not because he’s gifted, but because his EGO has created this story that he’s “smart” to overcompensate for his insecurities. Period.

    Just resisting Trump will do nothing to motivate our young people. They want a return to people power (democracy) where our politicians actually serve the people vs kissing the boots of Oligarchs and lobbyist asses for checks.

    Only vote for those not owned by corporations. Read a campaign finance statement and support those who pledge not to take corporate money. Those people are winning but they’re not blue-blooded corporate democrats.

  9. I’ll echo Todd’s remarks.

    For me, the only course is to change the makeup of Congress by removing the so called Conservatives and the Neoliberals. Then a total reform of the Congressional system must happen before the economic system is reformed. A tall order to be sure, but from my perspective, the only way foreword.

  10. If it were not for social security and Medicare, the financial insecurity from my job loss last June at age 66 would be much worse. My family relied on Medicaid to pay for my mother’s care in a nursing home. She lived to be 93. I really wish people would quit “demonizing” socialism and confusing it with Communism.

    We lesbian women are starting “co-housing” retirement communities due to homophobia in nursing homes and assisted living residences. I guess that makes us socialist. We plan to share resources with one another and watch out for one another.

  11. As hard as the Reactionary Right Wing Republicans and the stooges in the McMega-Media: FOX, CNN and MSDNC try to villify, ignore or trivialize Socialism, Socialism is gaining ground especially among the younger generation.

    As Todd has correctly observed above, the younger generation is not sitting in front of the TV watching the mind numbing Corporate Media.
    ******************************************
    Trump, Corporate Media Are Both Enemies of the People.
    CNN’s liberal and anti-Trump talk show host Erin Burnett was in crisis mode last week. She was rolling her eyes, anxious for the fate of the republic. The cause of her angst? A Gallup poll showing that 57 percent of the nation’s Democrats now respond more favorably to the word “socialism” than they do to “capitalism”—this compared with 47 percent of Democrats who prefer “capitalism” over “socialism.”

    Burnett interviewed Jen Psaki, a Democratic commentator and former communications director in the Obama administration, and a gloating Republican political commentator named Scott Jennings. She and her two guests agreed that this dreadful socialism business augured certain defeat for the Democrats in 2018 and 2020.

    Sanders, who openly identifies as a socialist, was found in a Harvard-Harris poll last year to be “the most popular politician” (Newsweek) in the U.S., or that a good majority of the Democratic Party’s base prefers “socialism” to “capitalism.”

    The dominant U.S. commercial and corporate media are a means of mass consent-manufacturing indoctrination, diversion and dumbing down on behalf of the nation’s intertwined corporate, financial, imperial and professional-class “elites.”

    How could it be otherwise? Just six massive and global corporations—Comcast, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS, the News Corporation and Disney—together control more than 90 percent of the nation’s television stations, radio stations, movies, newspapers and magazines. Corporate ownership combines with other deeply entrenched factors to guarantee the not-so-mainstream media’s dutiful service to the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, class and empire: the controlling power of corporate advertisers (the mass media’s main market, not the public); the disproportionate purchasing power of the affluent (the main target of advertisers); the elitist socialization, indoctrination and selection of journalists, and the dependence of media on government for information, access and monopoly power.

    https://www.truthdig.com/articles/trump-and-the-corporate-media-are-both-enemies-of-the-people/
    ****************************************************

  12. I would love to see a list of functional Republican Congressman in this Congress who we are trying to save by not just voting blue.

  13. Pete; possibly those functional Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen are hiding in the bushes like Sean Spicer did. They can’t let us know who they are without letting the GOP and Trump know who they are; they are cowards, waiting for one of the others to take a first step. John McCain did just that with his “thumbs down” on repealing the ACA but he can no longer lead them.

  14. Jo Anne
    “Trump’s ending and removal of protective (of the public) regulations in all areas of this government is fast turning the United States into the true Russian Socialist country he so admires and aspires to emulate.”

    Spot on!

    Nancy
    “American politicians fear talk about redistribution of income from the rich to the less well-off”.

    They have, however, accomplished an amazing resistribution of income from the less well-off to the rich.

    Exactly!

    Monotonous Langor
    “Socialism has been demonized here the USA since the days of Eugene Debs by the corporate media, the 1% and through their stooges in Congress. The steroid demonetization of Socialism accelerated during the years of Soviet style Communism. The simple formula for simple minds was Liberal=Socialism=Communism=Stalin=Mao= Castro.”

    Yes!

    The above are the themes I have been hammering away at for years. Too many are blind, either willfully or ignorantly or they are uncaring. Lordy how we could use another Debs, Reuther, Mother Jones, A. Philip Randolph et.al., etc.

    The corporatists will never cease their assault on the poor and the working men and women. Bernie has opened the door and now we must walk through. It all begins by voting blue this year–even for the corporatist blues. A real blue wave will send a wake-up call to the ne’er do well Dems and they will climb on board for the sake of their jobs. The power is in the vote. The power has always been there but we must find a way to get the poor and disadvantaged to the polls armed with the right information. It can be done and it must be done.

  15. I have read Krugman’s response to the snakepit job on Denmark done by a right wing writer, and here note that the rich and corporate class and their ownership of the media have done a good job in demonizing “socialism” as something evil, but any “ism” (including capitalism) can be evil if it is employed to grotesquely favor one sector in the economy over all others, which is what we have done in giving away trillions to the rich and corporate class at the expense of the other sectors who are being driven into poverty to pay for Republican largesse to their superrich campaign contributors. I have been to Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany and am not surprised that these three Nordic countries are in the first five of countries whose inhabitants are (per a recent poll) the happiest. They are happy because their government actually looks to the wants and needs of all their people and fashions legislation (especially tax legislation) to achieve such ends, something we have not done since even vestiges of the New Deal ended with Powell’s infamous memo to a vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in 1971.
    Right wing propaganda in this country (financed by the favored rich and corporate class) is totally anti-government (except when tax breaks and less rules and regs are up for grabs) and have their lackeys tell us that socialism is bad and next to communism, ignoring the history of how communists and socialists detest one another.
    The truth is that any “ism” can be good or bad depending upon how it is practiced in a particular milieu. I recently wrote a blog in which I discussed “isms” and how to measure them and came to the conclusion that even capitalism can work if appropriately regulated and taxed, but concluded that capitalism as now practiced in this country may not be worth saving since it is not really capitalism as commonly understood but rather, as one commentator noted, “socialism for the rich and brutal capitalism for the rest of us.” I think we are seeing a move to socialism among the millennials who have managed to resist the daily corporate propaganda about the wonders of capitalism as currently practiced. Personally, I am clinging to the fleeting notion that capitalism, if drastically reformed to meet the wants and needs of all, can be saved; but it appears that the superrich have decided to self-destruct with their oblivious trek over the economic cliff while instructing their media outlets to label people such as me as socialists, communists, et al. They are wrong; I am rather trying to save the country from economic mayhem which will result from such a change in “isms,” but we shall see. The next ten years with millennials coming of age to vote at the rate of four million each election should be interesting. I hope the change (if any) or the reform of our present system can be accommodated without undue civil commotion, but I’m taking no bets. Greed and its continuation are not likely to surrender their favored status without a fight.

  16. the working class is devoid of knowlege from the past,unions,a climbing minimum wage,unemployment insurence,and some cash jobs. welfare,where they use to give out canned food,before food stamps,and the health dept for some medical,free…as the 70s went to the 80s,reagan decided we can do without that,and devised a plan,fair credit reporting act…
    seeems now, the banks and wall street made a plan to credit americans, and see where that went. well we have the results, republicans hell bent on keeping us oweing someone. ive been fortunate enough,to live in varied socio economic areas of the cointry,ive always maintained a above water lifestyle,and never expected much. but,i do get to live with people who,never had a damn thing,or will ever. when the right wingers open thier mouth about entitlements,and the other spew with it,obviously,they never had any experience,in whats less than needed to live. i dont ever brag about my world,but i damn sure will not allow others to disregard others..if you dont wear the shoes,you havent a clue…the trumpers could all be next to poverty,but still see themselves in some sort of hailo of above the rest,,,of what?… i can talk like this,i dont wear a suit,i dont want a college education. (im have a iq to get me into MIT back when i was younger,so dont go there) my working class has given me a full view of both sides,i wouldnt trade that for anything..i can and will support the working class,and those who want to be in the working class,no barriers,none..ill,take the wages,and the looks,but i give them back,with knowing im still here,by choice. i can appriciate the european style of supporting its citizens,and non citizens. the labor laws and social programs would send any trumper into a stroke.. try relating that to them..and then compare it,to, trump people who have nothing,and they still feel above everyone else.. i read last night a interview with jerry george former ed of the enquirer,,by maxwell strachen,, huff post..seems this tabloid,is a very big supporter of trump,like 20 years of grooming by pecker to buy up exclusive tips,that made trump look bad,and kill them..before they made any other outlet..seems pecker is a opertunist,and a co,,s,,,,, for trump.( do as you please with that one.. ) anyway, how many supermarket aisles have you stood in,and looked even at the cover of the enquier? how many times have you seen people pick it up and loose themselves till the checker is asking them if thier buying it? and ive seen my share,all over the country,(i drive truck and stuff too) but, when im in a area where its mixed race,economically low,its the white housewife,with kids in tow,and many with ebt cards,(im not stereo typing, i watching this) just having a hissy fit about hilary in line…or some other needless crap,from that enquier…now, heres a person who, needs a liberal mind in congress to help these people to get out of this standard of living,and get a life… no, they actully belittle the very ones who, will help,them. thanks joe goebbels of fox,and the ilk,but most of all ,thanks jerry george for this tidbit,its makes my day easier when you get a first hand view of the rich and influential,coming together to distroy our country…best wishes to rob mueller,dinner is on me, anytime,,,

  17. ND … Denmark was the first country to pay their fair share war debt in full to the USA after WWII. Let’s be careful who “we” insult. People have long memories difficult to erase upon misguided insult. I appreciate the well stated responses to Sheila’s well founded post this morning. Press on. My vote remains bi-partisan for moderate Red and/or moderate Blue. The way the choice stands today, it will be Blue.

  18. There goes Todd Smekens again August 25, 2018 at 9:07 am

    “Once again, just “voting blue” does nothing to change our economy because the DNC and their candidates of choice are part of our two corporatist owned political parties. We had eight years of a blue POTUS and got nowhere.”

    So what do you suggest Todd, Red or Purple? Would you cheer ANY color symbol? Want more Trumpism?

    Stay in the insanity rut, Todd, and the Carpetbaggers will win, get on board with the Blue Wave restart, Todd, and we may have a CHANCE to return to sanity.

    VOTE BLUE IN NOVEMBER

  19. Todd needs to answer the question “what is the result of not voting blue.” It means voting for the very essence of the corporatism we all so rightly detest. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. It will be painful but the democrats if elected will vote for single payer.

  20. Becky – thank you for the link to the National Review opinion article on the Nordic economy. It was short, sweet, and hardly thorough. It is what I expect from a magazine that starts with the conclusion that capitalism is the naturally superior economic system. It cherry-picks facts and makes incorrect assertions about the nature of the “left” (they “hate profits”) and American unions (they never cooperated).

    BTW, vocational training aside, Finland has a higher percentage of college educated and of post-graduate educated citizens than the US does. That may actually be the proper argument for the non-comparability. We don’t know what to do with the PhDs that we produce today, let alone if we upped the percentage to match Finland.

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