Denmark’s Food Is Awful So Sanders Is Wrong

Michael BoothI 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:

the weather is appalling, the taxes are the highest in the world, the cost of living is similarly ridiculous, the languages are impenetrable, the food is (still) awful for the most part and, increasingly, these countries are making it very clear they would prefer foreigners to stay away.[1]

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.

[1] 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

48 thoughts on “Denmark’s Food Is Awful So Sanders Is Wrong

  1. You had another typo that makes you look more brilliant then you like to admit to being in that last sentence.

      • It is apparent you do mostly stream of consciousness writing for this blog. You going to live tweet the debate tonight or get really drunk instead? Both are bad for you but at least one gives you a pleasant sensation.

            • Also: I pretty much never follow Twitter accounts of people who are unclear who they are — which is why I didn’t follow that account, even though I like the icon.

              • That is odd, it shows you following me. I would have mentioned it but I was distracted at trying to give you good news.

                • The only reason I thought of you was that you mentioned something about legal cases. But the exchanges seemed like ours. I was pleased that there was another MST3K fan out there. But why do you have two Twitter accounts?!

                  • I was doing a project that I wanted to keep kind of anonymous about. Being a woman on the internet, much less a woman on the internet with unpopular opinions, does have a certain element of danger attached to it. So I created a second persona.

                    • It’s a good think FC isn’t bigger. But if someone really wants to figure it out, they will. But you don’t seem the type to go on a shooting spree.

                    • I do like water guns and laser tag, so at least no one gets hurt.

                      Well my knees but that was just one time!

  2. >the weather is appalling

    Well, if universal access to healthcare and a fairer tax system lead to appalling weather, then forget it.

    • And the food! Don’t forget the food! Much better to live in a country with great food that you can’t afford!

  3. I always find it weird when people complain about how awful it is that the Nordic countries pay way more in taxes. It is not as if the people in these countries are paying taxes without getting anything in return. Then again, few Americans actually see the connection between the money they pay in taxes and the services provided. Granted the money they pay mostly goes towards the military and health care according to this:

    So only a chunk of it do they see in services but still-there should be better awareness of the money being spent and where.

    As for the food issue-most non-Americans already think our food is gawdawful so…improvement maybe?

    • In America we do an excellent job of hiding welfare for everyone but the very poor. I’ve had so many arguments with people about the mortgage deduction. They don’t want to see it as a welfare program, even though it is one of the biggest ones we have. And this isn’t some kind of liberal fantasy; I learned it reading Milton Friedman.

      But what really angers me is how Republicans keep talking about cutting Social Security — as though people would still be willing to pay 15% of their salary for a program they don’t get. And the military is a big one because it is basically wasted money. It doubtless does help us, but it is hard to see a direct connection. We spend 48% of the world’s military spending. And mostly what it does is give men erections.

      • Bill Hicks had something about the military and erections. Ah, I miss him.

        SS and Medicare are hugely popular because everyone gets them. And that is the way it should be. I get why they invented AFDC but these days we need to have everyone have a basic living income so that way the annoying assholes stay home and the rest of us can work our tails off in peace.

        • I still don’t accept that the reason that SS is safe is because everyone gets it. The whole Republican plan is, “Don’t worry seniors: we’re going to screw the next generation.” But that doesn’t fly because seniors understand that if they do that, they will come after them next. But in general, it is safe because it is a program that gives to the elderly and the elderly vote. If 20 year olds voted at the same level, then we would fix our student loan system. They don’t, so we don’t.

          • Oh it is not safe at all-it is just more likely that the generally well off seniors will continue to support it existing if it is not means tested is what I meant.

            The only thing I disagree with-slightly-is that if 20 year olds voted at the same levels as the elderly do we would have fixed our student loan situation. There is a regrettable tendency of office holders to be of a certain age that likes to dismiss the younger crowd even when they do come out to vote like they did in much higher numbers (YDA was under the management of people who excelled at their jobs for a few years and they were tracking it) in 2002, 4, 6 and 8. But their concerns were ignored because the people voted into office were not going to listen to people they had in the category of “office intern, safely ignore.”

            Normally yes, the 20 year olds don’t vote and the Republicans make sure it is very difficult for them to do so. However-when they do, they still are not listened to because they are young.

            • There was that study that found that politicians enacted policies the rich wanted in a big way; they listed to the middle class a bit; and they listed to the poor almost not at all. But I really think that is because of voting patterns. If the poor started voting at 90%, the politicians would be terrified and change. Also: the politicians would become younger.

              • Funny you should mention that. At one point in my local district we had, for a year, everyone in office up to Congress under the age of 30. And currently we have everyone up to Congress under the age of 40 on the Democratic side.

                The policies have not change much since there is not a lot to be done in a majority Republican state but we do have younger people in office. It is mainly because the younger people have no kids and can afford it.

    • I find taxes oppressive precisely to the extent that paying them brings hardship. Not surprisingly the only tax bill I find oppressive is property tax. Sales tax and income tax are spread out over the year, but since I journal every transaction in gnucash, I know those taxes cost me less than property tax, anyway. To me, a high tax rate coming out of each pay check (assuming the pay check at least provides solvency) is a much lesser evil than a health insurance bill I will absolutely strain to pay. My “Easterlin set point” is well south of $70,000, and would probably be even lower if I weren’t stuck in the American midwest where middle class types look down their noses at anyone living in an apartment or using mass transit. Not that I give a crap about middle class attitudes; it’s just that they have a nasty way of influencing local policy in ways that make the less bloated lifestyle choices unavailable.

      • Yeah, the big property tax bill sucks. Here they divide it in two, but it’s still hard. What most people hate about income taxes is the paper work — even though it is pretty easy. But it is something that people dread. I do too. I help a lot of people with their taxes, but I hate doing my own!

  4. What’s curious about this is I read Mr. Booth’s book, which is mildly amusing in parts, not much more. And while he is certainly somewhat conservative, he leaves out in the interview several things he mentioned in the book. (His wife is Danish and he has lived there, so some of his complaints are mere grousing, like most of us do. Egads, the weather!)

    For example, in the interview he claims that Danish healthcare is lousy because Danes die earlier than most Europeans. He knows full well that they smoke fairly heavily and eat more pork than almost anyone on Earth. (He observes in the book how Danish social gatherings, which revolve around pork and alcohol, make it harder for Muslims to assimilate there as compared to Sweden.)

    The cost of consumer purchases and gasoline is high. Homes are far cheaper than in America and salaries higher. Groceries are about what we’d pay at an organic store. Since health care and most higher education is free (the two major causes of debt in America) it’s pretty ridiculous to say their cost of living is high.

    As for food, it seemed fine to me, and I’m aware that some Copenhagen restaurants are considered world-class by gourmet types (that’s not where I ate.) Most people buy fresh food daily and cook it themselves, a benefit of having a shorter working day. Granted, if you don’t like pork or strange fish, you won’t like Danish cuisine, but every region’s cuisine will strike someone as disgusting or bland.

    Most of what Booth says in his interview leaves out the positive benefits of Scandinavian culture/politics (which he’s familiar with) to convince us America will become a drab hellhole if Bernie Sanders is elected. To which one can only answer that for most Americans, social and economic struggles already make much of life a drab hellhole.

    One serious drawback: racism is pretty bad in Denmark. It’s being used exactly the way it is here, to convince voters that “those people” all live on welfare and the country can’t afford it anymore. Actually the country needs new workers because of an aging population. Right-wing politicians do their familiar dance, getting hate votes, privatizing whatever they can, trying to eliminate the safety net, etc. They’re happily far behind us on this score. And there are numerous churches/political movements working to increase tolerance of immigrants.

    I suppose Booth just doesn’t want to pay more taxes in America. That’s his right, although I find it a bit sneaky of him to leave out things he knows make Scandinavia more appealing than he paints it in the interview. (Assuming the interviewer didn’t cut out those sentences, which is possible.)

    To save anyone from reading Booth’s book, I’ll share the best bits. 1: Norwegian high school seniors all get massively drunk and have naked beach parties right before their final exams. This strikes me as a fun custom. 2: Swedes are so averse to talking with strangers that they will take several flights of stairs to avoid riding an elevator with someone unfamiliar. This strikes me as a brilliant custom.

    • Thanks for that! I’ve always thought that Denmark was a metonymy — not meant to be taken as that country but as an indication of a particular approach to governing. That was the main thing I thought when I read that. Of course, Sanders isn’t talking about utopia; he’s talking about how we can make America a better place. But for the rich, you can’t make America a better place.

  5. I’ve known neoliberal types to express admiration toward Denmark, although in the case of neos they’re comparing Denmark to France, not America. Specifically, they say Denmark has a “flexibility culture” that compares favorably with France’s alleged “job security culture.” In short, they prefer Denmark over France because it’s easier to fire people there. I wouldn’t be surprised if that alone explains the decrease in employment rates that you mentioned.

    • Could be. Conservative love to grab a single policy of another country and say, “See!” But when you look at the policy in context, it is quite liberal and the conservative sounding policy isn’t. Conservatives aren’t looking for better policy. They are involved in apologetics. They know that what we do (or did before the Democrats screwed it all up) is perfect and they are just looking for ways to justify it. I’d hate to waste my life that way.

      • Excellent point. In Denmark, since education is essentially free and there’s generous unemployment benefits (for now), a jobless person can train themselves for work they might like better. In context it’s very liberal policy. I don’t know a damn thing about France besides some irregular verb conjugations . . .

          • Cheese I can get behind. Especially stinky cheese. Grapes should be eaten as grapes. Fermented grape juice is just wrong. Now, fermented barley . . .

              • My college French has forgotten almost all the vocabulary, so I have no idea what those words are. A huge regret of my life is I took French instead of Spanish in high school because the Spanish teacher was a jerk. What a blunder.

                I know wine has many passionate advocates, and I’m sure they’re right. But grapes are yummy right off the vine! Barley is teeth-gnashingly nasty seeds. Transforming barley into beer seems magical to me. Making grapes taste nothing like grapes but have booze in them is less appealing.

                However I am a cultural troglodyte.

                  • Makes sense! I can’t afford stinky cheese myself, but it’s the best thing about being hosted by foreigners — when they tell you “you’ll probably hate this but this is what we eat.” The nasty-ass fish stuff, well, I can choke it down. I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like.

                    Or a strange-tasting beer, for that matter. (Excuse the rambling but my laundry isn’t out of the dryer yet.) There is a Belgian beer style known as “gueuze,” which is the foulest-smelling, foulest-tasting thing known to humankind. It is beer made in breweries which never clean up spiderwebs as they might affect the bacteria. It’s put in open vats and no yeast is added; let the wild microbial critters in the air do their work.

                    I finally found a place that sells it and I shared one bottle with a brother who visited here. It’s so potently putrid even opening the bottlecap is enough to cause fainting. I’ll probably never drink another bottle again. But it was amazing!

                    • I am super picky about new foods. I am a picky eater to begin with and it gets worse when it is new foods. So I don’t eat a lot of different cheeses. And as I have mentioned before, I am not a big fan of alcohol since it tastes bad to me.

                      But other people-sure I will be happy to tell you you should stuff your face with whatever happens to be lying around.

                      Why do you think we would be bothered by your rambling? This blog is all in favor of everyone rambling on forever and ever about whatever. After all, Frank lets me post here and if anyone is duller than a has been politician, I don’t know who would be.

        • I think most places is nice if you get to know the people and embrace the culture. But I will not eat herring!

          • Oh, the fishes are grosser than that. I attended a Danish wedding (the speeches last for five hours, along with the singing) and we had gourmet fish products served. Like fried tentacles. Still, probably no grosser than ballpark hot dogs.

            • Yes, but I’m used to the disgusting food of America. When I’m feeling down, I buy boxes of corn dogs!

  6. I dont Care about taxes ore cost of Living.
    But the Danish culture and mentality is a problem. Narrominded, judgemental. Jante. Keep Thy neighbour down. Dont mind if it kills him/ her.
    Lots og speculation how you make corruption seem nice, how you still look good to the rest of the World. No new thinking. No innovation.

    Creative thought and people gets a Nazi treatment.

    (By the way Denmark was no herro in second World war. Denmark never liked the germans. Denmark lost Lots of land to Germany i the 18 hundred. )

    And the question is really is Denmark socialisme ? i would say kommunisme. Every person is followed, and a quite a bit of a puppet of the state. You go to the doctor the, employment office ore the police. Everything gets written down to keep about people, and all the States institutions communicate with each other.
    And gouverment officials are very fare from the sober, corruptionfree dane you see in the media.

    What is reality really. Not the propaganda you see in the media

    • I’m going to assume you’re from Denmark, in which case I will ask, where? I have friends in Odense, Horsens, and Frederikshavn. All those towns are lovely. And the natural history museum in Copenhagen kicks ass! Bog people!

      I have heard that criticism of jante before. Since I don’t live in Denmark, I can’t say much about it. But what about hygge? Don’t they go together? Both the wish not to outshine your neighbors, and the wish to make your guests feel welcome? As an American, where we have neither jante or hygge, I prefer Denmark. It’s very hard to keep up friendships here, as everyone’s always trying to outdo everyone else. It basically makes us all hate each other.

      As for medicine, I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but collecting information is just how modern medicine works. If you have a foot injury, and you go to a foot doctor, that doctor needs to share information with your regular doctor. Only by working together can they figure out the best treatment for you.

      Trust me, you don’t want a medical system where everyone pays for themselves and the government isn’t involved. It’s terrible. In America we have the highest doctor bills and the least healthy people in the First World. If you get sick or injured at the wrong time, you can end up in debt for the rest of your life. The #1 cause of bankruptcy in America is medical bills. Do you want that?

      I’m sorry about your frustrations. But thanks for commenting. What football club do you like best?

      • I feel we are playing good-cop/bad-cop. I’m disinclined these days to engage with such people. Part of it is that such people normally just post and go — never to return. But also, the comment isn’t on point. I don’t mind when someone acknowledges this. “That’s interesting, it reminds me of a time when I was a kid.” That’s fine. But posts like this strike as the commenter noting that the article said something nice about Denmark, so off they ran.

        • Well, someone once told me to always assume the best intentions of others in e-communications. It wuz you, Charlie, it wuz you …

          OTOH, as this site has many political posts, you’re gonna get trolls. And no doubt you are sick of them. I found this one a little more interesting because I find Denmark interesting. But probably just a troll.

          People complaining about “jante” are like the Danish equivalent of Randians. “They won’t acknowledge me because I am so brilliant I break their tiny minds!” Which there is some truth in, if anyone’s ever worked for some dipshit company. I will lay bets, however, that dipshit Danish companies are less bonkers than American ones.

          • Yeah, it wuz me, Terry. But the rule is really meant for people who know each other. If a friend writes to you and says, “I think you’re the stupidest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen” you should assume they are kidding. But if a stranger does it, well, they probably mean that you are the stupidest son of a bitch they’ve ever seen. But it is best to assume the best. I’ve just gotten cranky in my old age.

            • I don’t run a website, so I barely have to deal with trolls. I’m sure it’s wearying. Maybe one out of 100 means well and is just putting it poorly. Not really worth your time to find out. I currently have lots of time!

              It’s just that when I met Danes and heard this stuff, providing the American perspective on how great free-market everything is got through to one or two people. Some others it didn’t. It’s like anything. If you have an hour-long talk with a US conservative who’s open-minded, you can at least make your stance seem rational and not traitorous. You won’t convert them. And yet it only takes ten-second sound bites, repeated incessantly, to reinforce the Dark Side.

              • Yeah, in the past I’ve definitely turned trollish comments into constructive conversations. It’s a very good thing to do. But the margins are low: maybe 3%. But I’ve gotten a lot of experience with libertarians who want to launch into broad discussions. And they always bring up questions I’ve answered in other articles. I refer them to the search function on the website. But that causes them to either vanish or just continue on. It’s really a question of time. I do hope that soon you don’t have as much time! :-)

    • Not really a comment about the article… No place is perfect. No people are perfect. But to say that Denmark is “kommunisme” shows such a blinding lack of historical knowledge that I think you just have some political ax to grind that you aren’t being open about. I just don’t think the Denmark state has the resources to do what you are saying. Are you being hyperbolic? Oh well then, the exact same thing is true here in America. So what’s your point? That Denmark isn’t perfect? How silly of the grand total of zero people who thought it was. “Kommunisme.” Give me a break.

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