13 Mar 2018          home | more politics

Responses to Elizabeth Bruenig's Nordic Socialism

In her opinion column in the Washington Post, Elizabeth Bruenig (a young mother perhaps under thirty with a sense of humor) continued yesterday with her defense of socialism, not the totalitarian form of socialism "nor for its most devastatingly ill-managed variants." So far there a 1,930 responding comments that tell something about where Americans are on the subject.

She states some facts. Norway's government (as of 2015) owns roughly 59 percent of that country’s wealth. China owns only 32 percent of its national wealth. Norway's government also "owns about a third of the country’s stock market, along with some 70 businesses valued at almost 90 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product." About one in three workers in Norway as well as Denmark is employed by the government. In Finland, 64 state-owned enterprises produce around 50 percent of nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and more 90 percent of Finland's workers are covered by union contracts, compared with 89 percent for Sweden, 84 percent for Denmark, and only 11.9 percent of workers in the USA.

She concludes:

Taken together, this means that the people of the Nordic states have come a long way toward democratizing ownership, dispersing wealth, lowering inequality and placing workers’ lives under their own control — in other words, the socialism of the Nordic states seems pretty close to the kind of socialism that I wrote would satisfy me.

Away from Bruenig for a moment, regarding wealth distribution, the CIA Factbook lists Finland as most equal (the Gini Index). The US is 110 nation-states behind Finland in equality (between Cameroon and Peru). But the Finnish economist Tuomas Malinen writes,

Finland has high taxes and quite equal distribution of income but a stagnating economy, and not just because of the euro. Because our income and wealth are so equally distributed, Finland has only limited amounts of venture capital available which constrains the birth and growth of new firms.

Perhaps Finland is a little too equal in its wealth distribution, but adjustments may be made. I find myself with Norway's Conservative Party prime minister, Ema Solberg, who is staying with much of her country's socialist policies, as is Germany's Angela Merkle — two "conservatives" supporting policies that on the US political spectrum would be Leftist.

Someone who objects to Bruenig's writing pretends an intellectuality that permits calling her "totally clueless" about history, economics and human nature. This critic, I'll call her Madam Critic, lauds those who criticized Bruenig for being a "naïve utopian who has almost no appreciation of what harm can befall a large society that centralizes power in order to cater to redistribution and the baser instincts of envy and jealousy." Madam Critic lauds those who claim that the natural result of Bruenig's "naïve views IS totalitarianism and mass suffering. And Madam Critic advises Bruenig to "Grow up. Learn something. Study history."

Madam Critic goes on to describe Bruenig as "a classic example of the failure of our education system. I dare say she doesn't even know what a "five year plan" was ... It is laughable that she is held up as any kind of economics "expert". (Yeah, yeah, I know she "gave a talk at Harvard"...... so what?)

I wonder if in all her reading of history, Madam Critic came upon that long and bitter acrimony, and sometimes violence, between Social Democrats and Leninists, from before 1917 (including Eduard Bernstein versus Rosa Luxemburg, Russia's Mensheviks versus Lenin's Bolsheviks, with Stalin was on the side of Lenin and the Bolsheviks). Eventually in Europe the Social Democrats won and the Marxist-Leninist parties collapsed. Blurring them into identical movements as Madam Critic is doing appears often among anti-socialists pretending knowledge.

The National Review has responded with an article titled "Ten Reasons We Can't, and Shouldn't, Be Nordic." Reason number one: "The Nordic system kills innovation" — as we flounder about with our out-of-date infrastructure and other backwardness.

If you like big GDPs, by the way, Norway leads the US on a per capita bases (the measurement that counts): Norway $70,600, the US $59,500 (2017 estimates). Norway leads in the US in wealth distribution. It leads the US in infant mortality, at 2.5 per thousand compared to 5.8 per thousand for the US, in life expectancy at birth at 81.9 years compared to 80.00 for the US. And Norwegians, I understand, are generally happier than Americans according to people who work at this measure.

(I know there are ideologues in the US tired of these comparisons and believe the US should be leading in the world in all things good.)

Bruenig's article has, as of this minute, 1971 comments. Some with Bruenig and some against. Most of them better than the entries described here by Madam Critic.

Bruenig's article and all comments are here.

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Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.