The myth of a Social-Democratic America - it won't work

Given the multiracial and multiethnic character of America, the end-result of applying a Scandinavian model would be toxic. Opinion.

Rafael Castro ,

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden
Flash 90

In recent years liberal America has spread the narrative that America would be a more just and better society if it jettisoned rugged individualism and adopted a Scandinavian-style welfare system. This narrative has been countered by conservatives with criticism of the Scandinavian model. High taxes Scandinavians pay are routinely cited by conservative pundits as the main reason a Scandinavian tax code should not be introduced into America.

This conservative line of argument is flawed and profoundly unconservative. Scandinavian societies, with their traditional egalitarianism and affluence are not the product of a tax code. The Scandinavian tax code mirrors values and priorities deeply grounded in Scandinavian culture and history. The Scandinavian welfare state was a natural development for extremely homogeneous societies forced to fend off a harsh and unforgiving climate together.

In other words, the Scandinavian welfare state mirrors the unique historical, sociological and geographical conditions of Northern Europe.

To believe that America would mirror Scandinavia if it adopted the Scandinavian taxation code, shows utter disregard for the absence in America of the collectivist ethos which undergirds the Scandinavian model. In Sweden, Norway and Denmark people are ready to pay high taxes because they traditionally believed a generous welfare state made everyone better off. This attitude was buttressed by a very strong civic spirit deterring people from taking advantage of society.

Without this collectivist culture and strong civic spirit, a welfare state easily degenerates into a factory of welfare exploiters. These are exactly the dynamics visible in Scandinavia today. In recent decades the welfare state was curbed in Scandinavia not just due to the burden it imposed on business competitiveness. There were two other ominous reasons the welfare state was retrenched:

Firstly, younger generations of Scandinavians, pampered by a generous welfare state, gradually realized it was easier to coast through life by studying and working little instead of working hard and being taxed at exorbitant rates.

Secondly, immigrants realized that a visa to Scandinavia paved the way to a carefree existence that in other societies demands decades of hard work. As a result, whereas entrepreneurial immigrants moved to America or Australia, less ambitious ones flooded the Nordic nations.

The consequences are ugly. The Scandinavian welfare state has become a mechanism that increasingly transfers wealth from natives to immigrants and their children. As a result, many hitherto liberal and cosmopolitan Scandinavians now support xenophobic parties. These parties argue that the welfare state, far from being a vehicle for social mobility, perpetuates cultural handicaps and deters the absorption of Scandinavian work ethics. As a result, even moderate Scandinavians are no longer willing to support the generous welfare state that once provided citizens with a carefree existence.

These dynamics are instructive, because they are a microcosm of dynamics that a welfare state might unleash in America.

An American welfare state would not be a natural stage in the evolution of a small, homogeneous and traditionally agrarian society. Instead, it would run counter to virtually every cultural and psychological instinct of America. In the absence of the collectivist values and the civic-mindedness of Scandinavia, an American welfare state would quickly degenerate into a free-for-all rush to secure individual advantages. American individualism, which laissez-faire economics channel into entrepreneurship, self-help and self-reliance, would now push people to exploit taxpayers.


Once a welfare state accustoms Americans to the principle that society has the right to take away wealth on a massive scale, it will not be long before affluent American Jews are targeted by demagogues and hate-mongering politicians.
Given the multiracial and multiethnic character of America, the end-result of a Scandinavian model in America would be toxic. Whites and Asians would soon realize that the welfare state is a mechanism to transfer wealth on a massive scale to underperforming minorities, as they are already demanding.

As a result, the welfare state would aggravate racial strife and resentment in America far more than laissez-faire capitalism has ever done.

Those who believe that a Scandinavian-style welfare state would eradicate the misery of American inner-cities, might want to visit the periphery of Malmö and other Scandinavian cities, where a ghetto mentality has festered thanks to – rather than despite – a generous welfare state.

The allure of a welfare state should be particularly resisted by American Jews. The United States has been the Goldene Medina precisely because the American consensus always was that the state should never be a Robin Hood. Once a welfare state accustoms Americans to the principle that society has the right to take away wealth on a massive scale, it will not be long before affluent American Jews are targeted by demagogues and hate-mongering politicians.

An American model needs to be reformed in order to strengthen the meritocracy and opportunities offered by capitalism to ambitious and hard-working citizens. Importing a foreign model that evolved under very different historical, cultural and social conditions is bound to be a ruinous experiment.

True historical insight and political wisdom involves blending the best of the American experience with the best of the Scandinavian model.

The love for freedom and self-reliance which made America great should be blended with the equality of opportunities which makes Scandinavian societies just.

Small-government egalitarianism, by combining low taxation rates with progressive taxation, is faithful to the best of both models and the finest Jewish ethical traditions.



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