Eric Marcus

SWEDEN? Not Sweden!

Filed By Eric Marcus | November 02, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Barbara West, bicycle lanes, Copenhagen, Joe Biden, Scandinavia, socialism, Sweden, universal healthcare

A little more than a week ago, a local ABC News anchor in Florida concluded an inane interview with Joe Biden by asking him about Barack Obama wanting to turn the U.S. into a socialist country like Sweden. Horrors! Can you imagine such a thing?

DSC02230-thumb-200x150.jpgHave you ever been to Sweden or one of the other Scandinavian countries? I'm just back from a trip to Copenhagen (I could see Sweden from Copenhagen) where my friends scratch their heads over why we tolerate a government that seems indifferent to meeting the basic needs of all Americans.

A couple of years back, my Danish friend Jan, who has a wife and two kids, was complaining about having to pay a new fee of $125 a year for dental insurance. Wanting to be sympathetic and knowing Jan's love of good wine, I said, "I bet that's $500 you'd rather spend on a case of your favorite red." He looked at me puzzled because it turns out he was paying $125 for dental insurance for his whole family! (I pay my periodontist $200+ for each semi-annual visit just to keep my teeth in my head.)

In this land of the toothless and sick, you have to wonder if "Sweden" and "socialism" could be tossed around like dirty words if more people got out of the country to see for themselves how well people live in high-tax, high-service places like Scandinavia.

My friends in Denmark enjoy universal healthcare, living wages, excellent employment benefits, paid maternity and paternity leave, free education, great mass transportation and on and on.

The difference between the U.S. and Denmark is dramatic and evident from the minute you get off the plane in Copenhagen. Gorgeous, efficient airport. A fourteen-minute ride on a new subway directly into Copenhagen. Perfectly maintained streets. More than 200 miles of dedicated bicycle lanes (have a look at this great bike blog maintained by a guy who took me on a tour of Copenhagen's bike lane system). Beautiful public spaces. Incredible community recreation centers. Fantastic schools with small classes and a student-teacher ratio that no one would think to even lobby for in this country.

No question that the price is steep. The Danes pay very high taxes on everything (180% on the purchase price of a car, for example). And people live more modestly than a lot of us do, but the general quality of life is better there than here in the U.S. For starters, they don't have to worry about being bankrupted by illness or left on the street because they've lost their house in a foreclosure. I don't want to romanticize Denmark, but there is a belief by Danes that "we're all in this together," in contrast to the Republican party, which seems to believe "every man, woman, and child for himself."

I wish Joe Biden had slapped back at the interviewer and asked: "What's so bad about Sweden? What's so bad about universal healthcare? And why are you so f@#%ing selfish?"

Sometimes I think we live in the old Soviet Union, a place where the populace was so clueless and isolated that they thought they lived in the best place on earth. Well, they didn't and we don't. And it's time to look to other countries where people live better than we do to see how they're doing it. It certainly wouldn't hurt to check out Sweden.

Oh, did I tell you that you can get from Denmark to Sweden by bridge? You can drive or take a train. That's what socialism will get you!

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Don't you know, Eric, that God hates Sweden? God hates Sweden so much that He caused the tsunami in the Indian Ocean on 12/26 to punish them for their wicked, gay-loving ways. Because it's not like Sweden has a coastline or anything.

But TV journalists see themselves as the guardians of conservative interests, which is probably why Jim Lehrer (who's usually pretty good), Tom Brokaw, and Bob Scheiffer each asked in their respective debates what programs (but not military ones, because military spending doesn't come from real money or something) Obama was going to cut because of the recession. It doesn't matter that that would be an awful idea to not invest in the country during a recession, these journalists have their ideas on the economy and they're sticking with them.

Just as they have their own silly conception of "real Americans," thinking that all of us are running around absolutely scared that we'll use any policy that looks like a European country's social policy. Never mind that many of them are doing much better than we are when it comes to the basics, we love our American freedom and not foreign, feminine, and unAmerican economic justice.

"The difference between the U.S. and Denmark is..." about 240,000,000 people! I'm constantly amazed that anyone of any political leanings can comparisons between an entire country of 5.5 million people and one of 245 million can have any validity or relevance. Denmark is over 90% Evangelical Lutheran. Not only is there a remarkable lack of ethnic diversity in Denmark, there's even a rigid religious uniformity to its culture. You can keep your whitebread paradise. I prefer a richer tapestry of diversity, even with the attendant problems and conflicts.

Call me picky, but if you're going to criticize, at least check your numbers first. The U.S. population is 305,561,724 (according to the U.S. Census: So really the population of Denmark is pocket change in comparison to the U.S.

Still, there's plenty to be learned from what the Danes have accomplished. I think it's a rather pathetic excuse to say we can't achieve some of the same good things that they have because we have such a large and diverse population. I live in NYC, where we consider our diverse population (of a little more than 8 millions) an advantage. And we happen to be a high tax, high service city. You might even say that we have Socialist tendencies.

I've heard the "There's too much ethnic diversity in the US to adopt good social policy" argument a few times before, and I'm trying to figure out what it means other than "Lazy minorities will just take, take, take and stop working if we try to set up an economic safety net."

Am I missing something?

A little Depression would do this country a lot of good. Nothing like thinking you could be next to put your mind to others I say.

I hasten to point out that Denmark is one of the most xenophobic countries in Western Europe, if not the most, and has an asylum policy that makes the US and the UK look like angels of mercy. Sweden has long held Denmark in extremely low regard for this, and not that many people revere the Danes. Google Pia Kjærsgaard. Denmark is an embarrassment.

Diversity can be threatening, especially if it means diversity of ideals and values. Denmark has pulled itself under the burqa of ignorance, but it bears asking how do you integrate other cultures which sometimes hold views which are antithetical to a nation's?

There are two things I think of when Scandinavia comes up. Tolerance and lingonberries.

I also think of the WWII stories I heard as a child about how the Danes rescued thousands of their Jewish neighbors from the hands of the occupying Germans by organizing a flotilla to spirit them away during the night to Sweden.

Denmark did save, en masse, almost 30000 Jews during World War II, and the resistance is one of the few listed as a collective group in the Righteous Among the Nations. It stands out when compared to the haven for religious tolerance that is the Netherlands, where co-operation in deportations was the norm. There have been a few studies done on why this is, and it would seem to suggest that you can have too much diversity, if only because it makes people too disconnected from one another. The way the Danes would explain the situation in WWII is that while they were indeed Jews, they were Danes, and you don't let people ship off "your own" to certain death.

It is also what makes it so disappointing that they have chosen the wrong way since the beginning of the 1990s.

Denmark has 5.5 million people, yes. There are more people in the US. Yes. But let's include the population of other progressive nations with similar cultural norms. Sweden [9 mil], Norway [5 mil], Finland [5 mil]. Let's chuck in Germany [82 mil] and Holland [16 mil].

Not that it matters. The central government in the US doesn't run the whole show. Your states have much more influence on the lives of the citizens. And your states are much more comparable to the size of a smallish European country.

Starting with Michigan's 10 million people, let's go down the list:
Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma... and Connecticut with 3.5 million.

So much for the tiresome 'we have 300 million people' argument.

17% of Copenhageners are foreign-born. It's quite a lovely, cosmopolitan city, like most cities in Europe. The anti-immigrant politics don't apply to the mentality in Copenhagen.