Nordic Nations and Socialism

Liberal politicians and media celebrities conflate Nordic nations and socialism. 
Nordic Nations and Socialism
By: George Noga – October 7, 2018

         The stunning victory of democratic-socialist Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez squarely inserted socialism as an issue for 2018 and 2020. Polls show more Democrats have a favorable view of socialism than of capitalism. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton praised Nordic countries as veritable socialist utopias. Joy Behar on The View cited Nordic countries as proof socialism works. The media, millennials, progressives and many regular Americans believe Nordic nations owe their success to socialism.

          This post addresses that issue head on. Please visit our website and read our posts of April 24, 2016Is Scandinavian Success Due to Socialism? and October 15, 2017, Socialism, Sweden and Scandinavia for background information. For brevity, this post focuses on Sweden; however, the same narrative, to varying degrees, applies to the other Nordic nations: Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

The Progressive Nordic Narrative

         Circa 1970, Sweden (and other Nordics) morphed into a big government, social welfare state; Swedes sharply increased taxes and public spending and discouraged private enterprise. Over the next two decades, public spending soared from 30% of GDP to 60%. Sweden instituted a cradle to grave welfare state with uber-generous benefits including heavily subsidized child care, preschool, university, maternity, family and sick leave, unemployment benefits, pensions and health care.

       During this same timeframe (1970-1990), Sweden was rich; in 1970 it was the fourth wealthiest country. Therefore, the liberal perspective is that Sweden was both wealthy and socialist at the same time. This narrative of the Nordics as successful socialist states is beguiling because, taken without context, it has the color of truth.

The Truth About Nordic Nations and Socialism

            During the 19th century, Sweden was so dirt poor it sent waves of immigrants to America. Circa 1870 Sweden turned to classic laissez-faire liberalism and began a century of rapid economic growth culminating in becoming the fourth richest country. During the 100 years it took Sweden to get wealthy, public spending was 10% of GDP and it was a capitalist economy. Also, Sweden was neutral during both world wars, profited from trade with all sides and preserved its industry and male population intact.

             From 1970 to 1990 Sweden was a social welfare state as described supra. By 1990 it all unraveled. There was Kafkaesque bureaucracy, drug addiction, welfare dependency and crime; the educated and affluent fled Sweden. The economy ground to a halt; inflation skyrocketed and no new private sector jobs were created for 20 years. Sweden dropped from 4th to 14th in wealth. By 1990 Swedes viewed their socialistic experiment as a colossal failure and reversed course; they cut taxes, deregulated, privatized, restored free markets, cut pensions, and voted out leftist governments.

Takeaways from Nordic Nations and Socialism

1. No Nordic ever was truly socialist, i.e. with government ownership or control over the means of production, distribution and finance. They were big-government, social welfare states, which liberals conflate with socialism when it suits their purpose. True socialist states are Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba. Sweden was a capitalist success and a socialistic failure; today, all Nordics have capitalist market economies.


2. Nordic people saw their socialistic experiment as an abject failure and rejected it. Moreover, their big-government social welfare model also is vastly underperforming. Nordic GDP growth is about half that of the US and other more laissez-faire states.


3. Sweden was rich prior to its socialistic flirtation; it became much poorer during it. Socialism turned Sweden’s big fortune into a small one, just as Venezuela, once the richest nation in South America, has been rendered a basket case under socialism.


4. No socialist economy ever has generated enough wealth to fund social benefits on a Nordic scale. No socialist economy ever has produced sustained prosperity; they only plunder wealth that already has been created. They create hunger amidst plenty.


5. Nordics are not as wealthy as Americans believe. The GDP of Houston, Texas is bigger than Sweden’s; if Sweden were a state, its per capita GDP would be similar to our poorest state. But Sweden is 30% more expensive than Mississippi, which means, that in terms of purchasing power, Sweden would be the poorest US state by 30%.

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