Yesterday, Mitch Kokai of the John Locke Foundation wrote an interesting piece that seemed to fly in the face of everything the Locke Foundation advocates. Kokai noted that a lecturer at Duke University pointed out that northern European countries like Norway and Sweden are not socialist. I think the point of the article was to show that countries that the new wave of self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists admire are, in fact, capitalist countries with high degrees of “economic freedom.” 

Not only do Sweden, Denmark and Norway support free markets, they support their people. According to the UN World Happiness Report, the people in northern European nations are the  happiest in the world. Among the top ten most satisfied citizens are those from Finland (1), Norway (2), Denmark (3), Iceland (4), The Netherlands (6) and Sweden (9). The United States is listed at 18. 

In addition to a high degree of economic freedom, all of these countries offer much more substantial social safety nets than the United States. And that is what the young people who support people like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seek. They don’t want socialism. They want security that supply-side economics doesn’t offer. 

In Sweden, where my daughter and her Swedish fiancée will move this summer, parents receive 16 months of leave per child. Republicans and Democratic Socialists might call that socialism but it’s really what a very family friendly policy looks like. Sweden also covers all child care expenses and after school care. It also has universal health care. That’s pretty appealing to people thinking about starting a family.

To a Swede who has spent his late 20s and early thirties in America, US policies appear depressingly family unfriendly, even if the country seems pretty dynamic. As his American friends marry and have children, he sees couples carrying mortgaged-sized debts from student loans. Both parents work full-time jobs to pay for child care costs that can top $25,000 per year for two children. Many stay attached to unrewarding jobs because they can’t survive without the health care benefits they offer. They sure don’t look like they’re getting ahead and it sure doesn’t look like economic freedom to him. 

So while the authors of the Economic Freedom Index are right that Sweden and Norway aren’t really socialist countries, the Democratic Socialists who point to them as examples are correct in noting those countries have more satisfied populations than the US. Northern European countries have reached a balance of both creating wealth while ensuring that the country as a whole benefits from it.

Which gets to a bigger political point. Republicans who think they can win by calling Democrats socialists don’t understand the people embracing faux socialism. The argument that Democrats are socialist baby killers might appeal to the right-wing GOP base, it doesn’t ring true to most Americans. Just like I criticized Democrats who want to run on a slogan, the Green New Deal, Republicans should be wary of buying into a campaign strategy based on name-calling. 

Again, the voters who will determine election are self-interested and want to know what politicians can do for them. Promising relief from student debt, cheaper child care, more affordable college and job training, and universal health care is far more appealing than protecting the country from imaginary socialists. 

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