Lessons Better Left in Denmark
Note: The below post comes from Rasmus Brygger, President of the free market-oriented Liberal Alliance Youth in Denmark.
It isn’t always easy living in a country described as the land of milk and honey by socialists all over the world. They should, of course, love Denmark, since it’s by many measures the most socialist country in the Western hemisphere. Denmark is basically the closest thing to a socialist utopia you can find.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is one of those socialists deeply in love with Denmark. The senator recently wrote a very affectionate op-ed about what America can learn from Denmark. I’m sure there are several things you could learn from us, but perhaps it would also be enlightening to see the other side of the coin, and more specifically what you shouldn’t learn from Denmark.
On the surface, I really do seem to live in the land of milk and honey. As a student, the government provides me with publicly paid university education and a monthly stipend of about $1000 ($700 adjusted for buying power) to cover living costs. I live comfortably in a rather large apartment with its own garden and rent paid by taxpayers. In my home is a nice, big, flat screen TV on the wall and many other luxuries you wouldn’t normally expect from a 23-year-old student.
So what’s to complain about?
For one thing, this praised ‘free’ (according to Sanders) university education has such a huge problem with quality. Many students, myself included, barely need to invest any time to pass the exams. Why, you ask? Danish politicians came up with an “enlightened” finance system for the universities: The universities get paid for each student that passes their courses. Since each university can level the exams as they see fit, there’s no accountability for what is taught, only how many warm bodies pass the test. We have created an excellent example of what happens when politicians have no idea how incentives work.
When I finish my education and start working full time, I shouldn’t expect that big a change in living standards, seeing as Denmark has the highest tax pressure in the world. Fully 48.2% of everything produced in this country is controlled by the government (compared to 24.8% in the U.S.). This is just a percentage of Gross National Product, and therefore roughly what an average Dane pays in taxes. If you have a university degree, you will most likely pay the marginal tax rate of 68%. This tax rate, mind you, doesn’t only apply to the wealthiest people. Many people, including people in low paying jobs risk entering the highest tax bracket (we have two).
Losing two of every three dollars earned to the government, has, as you would expect, an effect on consumption.
Danes are, for example, often seen as a very ‘green’ and environmentally conscious people since we are one of the countries with most bicycles per capita and basically take our bikes anywhere we go. This might have something to do with us having to pay the price of up to three cars to buy one. We pay up to 180% in a so-called “registration tax” on cars and our gas costs $8-9 per gallon with taxes consuming 50% of the price.
Before the welfare state that Sanders and others see as the source for all happiness on Earth, Denmark was one of the richest countries in the world. Now, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD, in a few years we will be the poorest North of the Alps.
Similar to the U.S., the Danish government has extensive surveillance on our communication. What sets us apart though is that this has been common knowledge for a long time – and no one seems to mind! It is not only surveillance for potential terrorists that is the problem. For example, our tax agency can trespass on private property without a warrant if they suspect moonlighting. Individual rights are honored only when convenient for the system.
Trying to make the socialist paradise on Earth come true obviously has its toll on the little things in a society – like the economy and civil liberties. The examples in this blog post are just a few out of many of the things that you certainly wouldn’t want in America. I could write whole books about the horrendous laws that are implemented not because we want them, but because they are a necessity to keep the Danish social experiment alive.
Senator Bernie Sanders is clearly fascinated by my country and would, given the chance, implement most of our policies in a heartbeat. As a member of the ruling class, he doesn’t have an issue with the many negative consequences we suffer from, but you should.
America is running out of time to learn from the rest of the world. The socialist experiment has been weighed, measured, and found wanting.
Rasmus Brygger is National President of Liberal Alliance Youth, a youth organization to the Danish free market party, Liberal Alliance.