I love the spectacle of icons of upper middle class “liberals” putting a foot down and not allowing any more of what most people would consider liberal. We see it a lot in The New York Times. And these days it usually has to do with attacks on Bernie Sanders. It’s also been fun to watch conservative outlets say nice things about Sanders. It’s two sides of the same impulse. The “liberals” don’t want to see Sanders win the primary because they think he will lose the general election. And the conservatives want Sanders to win the primary because they to think he will lose the general election.
There is a difference, of course. The conservatives are pure in not wanting to see Sanders win the general election. The “liberals” claim that they would be fine if Sanders won the general election; they just don’t think he can. But they are as freaked out about Sanders winning the general as the conservatives are. In other worlds, the “liberals” aren’t actually liberals; they are moderates — and when it comes to economic issues, they are conservatives. I wish that the would just admit to it and stop pretending.
The most recent attack comes from Ana Swanson at The Washington Post, Why Denmark Isn’t the Utopian Fantasy Bernie Sanders Describes. In it, she says, “For whatever reason, Scandinavia countries just seem to do it better — an idea that supporters and critics label ‘Nordic exceptionalism.'” That’s curious because I’ve never heard of these countries referred to as utopias and I’ve never heard the term “Nordic exceptionalism.” Sanders uses the example of Denmark primarily to show that the word “socialism” isn’t scary and it doesn’t indicate the Soviet Union or China. He does, however, point out that they do some things better than we do.
So basically Swanson makes up an idea that no one is talking about and then goes about beating it down. The point — just like Clinton’s argument that Denmark isn’t the US and oh so many conservatives who claim that it is easy for Norway to do well when they don’t have a bunch of underachieving minorities — is just that America is exceptional and that we don’t have anything to learn from any other country. Since Norway has its own problems, we can’t learn anything from the way that it does things right. This is the most lame form of apologetics — and one designed to do what our press seems always determined to do: allow America to continue to stagnate.
Most of the article is an interview with travel writer (!) Michael Booth. And it is an attack on the Nordic economy, because this is The Washington Post, after all, and so everything is about the budget. Dean Baker took all that apart, Socialism in Denmark May Push Employment Rates Down to US Levels, in 25 Years. Booth made the point that the employment rate in Denmark is going down (because of the budget deficit, of course). And indeed, for people between the ages of 25 and 54, the employment rate dropped 5 percentage points as a result of the 2008 economic crisis. Of course, the exact same thing happened in the US.
Currently in Denmark, 82% of people between the age of 25 and 54 are employed. In the United States, 77% of people between the age of 25 and 54 are employed. So the Denmark is closing the gap — very slowly getting as bad as the US. And that is due to Denmark changing to act more like the United States. What Sanders is saying is that we ought to do some things more like Denmark is doing. But The Washington Post is more interested in vilifying the whole country so that we continue to be a country of the oligarchs, by the oligarchs, for the oligarchs.
But there is some useful information in the article. Here is what it really comes down to for Booth:
So if we provide universal access to healthcare and a fairer tax system, we will get an impenetrable language and awful food. How the causation works, I can’t say. Maybe we shouldn’t listen to travel writers when it comes to economic policy.
 He’s wrong about a number of things. The taxes in Denmark are not the highest in the world, or even in the EU. If the cost of living is high, it must be because people want to live there. And if they are chasing foreigners away, it can’t be that people are staying away from this hellhole.