By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
An interesting article at The Washington Post looks at whether the Bernie Sanders allegory of America being like Denmark has drawbacks. Over the years we’ve always had to hear stories about how, if only America could be like the Netherlands or like Cuba, it would be a great paradise. Invariably these comparisons always involve shoe-horning 350 million Americans into a policy that works for some tiny country of several million people.
So when Bernie Sanders or others look at their own backyard in Vermont and imagine an American Scandinavia they have a point. Vermont could be like Denmark. In many ways it is. It is wealthy and white. And that’s really the dream of many of these Americans who look to some tiny nordic country for their “future” America. It is based on a pure-white utopianism.
Denmark has a population of 5 million, Norway also 5 million, Sweden about 9.5 million and Finland 5.5 million.
If America took a bunch of mostly white rural states, like Vermont (95% white), Maine (94%), New Hampshire (95%), West Virginia (94%), Wyoming (94%), Iowa (93%), North Dakota (90%) and Montana (90%), and added in an oil rich state like Alaska (63% white) and one other economically powerful state such as Connecticut, one could create a sort of “Scandinavia in America.”
The fact is that all these little white states have a high GDP per capita (Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming are in the top five), and they even share demographic heritage with Scandinavia since some immigrants from the nordic states settled in these states.
But the 90% white and rich fantasy of rural American perfection has to coexist alongside the rest of America, the urban cities, the diversity, the poorer parts. And that’s like putting perfect Scandinavia alongside the rest of Europe. That’s the real story, America is sort of like Europe, a big, fat diverse conglomerate. However America functions better than Europe. It handles immigration and integration better. America has many failings, its health care policy, the cost of education, the massive number of undocumented migrants, are all problematic, as is the increasing wealth disparities. But the real European story can be found in countries like Spain, Italy and Greece where unemployment among youth soars to 40%, where tax collection in some cases barely exists, where the wealth disparities are not even measured because the wealthy people, who are mostly landed gentry from times of old, hide their money in Swiss accounts. People in America talk about the rich paying their fair share, in many parts of Europe there is conspicuous consumption by a moneyed elite who have yachts and massive wealth but never pay taxes and whose wealth is not even measured. When we look behind the curtain of “pure” Europe, like Sepp Blatter’s FIFA, we find dark networks of corruption. Europe’s cities are suffering from slow internal decay as they mismanage migration and allow portions of themselves to be “no go zones” like New York was in the 1970s and 1980s, surrendering the urban environment to corrosion and violence.
Many parts of Europe look nice on the outside. Manicured lawns and massive public areas, old estates and feudal castles, but it hides massive social problems that are burgeoning. Extremist politicians, terrorism and intolerance are growing. Can America learn from elements of the European experiment? Yes. But it cannot transform itself into little homogenous European nordic states. Those states are becoming more like America, they are not becoming more Nordic over time. The policies that worked for most of these countries were invented when these countries were basically middle class, all white and all Christian, like Vermont.
But America is Texas and Mississippi and New York City and Florida and Arizona, it’s just not Scandinavia. If you want it to be, you’d have to deport 90% of the people. Which sounds more like fascism, than some egalitarian dream.