Ron Ridenour

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Denmark is not socialist Bernie: Social Welfare defers to neo-liberalism
[August 20, 2020]

(Much of the left, especially in the United States, views Denmark/Scandinavia as socialist or democratic socialist with a progressive population. Denmark is not socialist nor peaceful rather capitalist and imperialist, a small yet major US war partner, which the Obama government highly praised for such. This is the first in a series that will hopefully help progressives and socialists in the US and elsewhere understand that Scandinavia, with focus on Denmark, is not the solution to US’s greedy and corrupt capitalist economy with a political system run by well-greased politicians. Upcoming pieces will concentrate on Denmark as an imperialist warring nation whose politicians and media dare not seriously question its partner-in-war criminal foreign policies; Denmark’s systemic state racism; its short-lived and mild protests against racism in the US and Denmark.)

Anker Joergensen was the last real Social Democrat PM. He formed governments
five times between 1972 and 1982. He was the only working class PM. Anker had
been a warehouse worker and union leader. He opposed wars of aggression and
supported Latin American liberation.

Denmark’s former Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen told a Harvard University audience, October 30, 2015, that he rejected Bernie Sanders’ contention that Denmark is socialist.

“I know that some people in the United States associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism,” he said. “I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

In Rasmussen's view, “The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.”

Danish freedom includes being the first country in the world to legalize pornography, and films showing nudity and sex (1968-9), which became a major source of revenues.

Denmark has, as Rasmussen said, exactly the kind of single-payer health care system that Sanders favors. In Rasmussen's view, this “doesn't amount to socialism at all.”

For decades, Denmark’s market economy has been based upon neo-liberalism austerity with periodic tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals. That is also the case when Social Democrats (S.D.) win elections since the 1980s, including under its women prime ministers. The first one was Helle Thorning Schmidt, known as Gucci-Helle for her choice in handbags. She also became known for her austere budgeting agenda (2011-15). That led to a center-right government, which continued this policy as does the current S.D. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

Social Welfare

Denmark’s welfare system was founded on the principle of human rights, influenced by codification of human rights in the United Nations Charter.
In Denmark, especially following WWII, a form of social contract was agreed upon between citizens and the state, according to which everyone should have sustainable social security.

Taxes range from 38 to 57% of income. Sales tax is 25% for all goods. These taxes pay for a social welfare system, one, however, with consistently declining benefits following the last administration of Anker Joergensen.

Loopholes in the tax system for wealthy individuals and corporations, as well as tax havens (Panama Papers), make it relatively easy to cheat on taxes. Many bankers have been exposed for swindling, and money laundering for drug dealers and weapons smugglers. These matters have been a media story for the past two-three years. However, no bankers or corporate heads are sentenced to jail. At best, they pay fines out of illegal profits earned, leaving them richer for their crimes. Bankers have swindled in the billions of dollars. Individuals, however, who defraud the state are often jailed. One lone criminal was just sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for falsifying government documents for which he received a mere $70,000. Not much different here than in the United States.

Here are Danish welfare benefits.

1. All citizens-permanent residents are entitled to universal free (tax paid) health care run by the state. This covers general practice, psychologists and all specialties, home nursing care as well. Dental care is partially covered by taxes, but the major cost is paid by the patient.

2. All mothers have maternity leave (tax supported with full pay) four weeks prior to expected birth, and 14 weeks following birth. Fathers have two weeks leave following birth. Both parents can share an additional 32 weeks paid leave. Parents decide which of them take how much leave and when.

3. Daytime child care is guaranteed with up to 70% payment by the state.

4. No tuition for Danish state colleges-universities. Students receive a small stipend. This may not be enough to live on, but it helps. Loans must be paid back with high interests.

5. Paid sick leave from work.

6. Unemployment insurance after being on the job one year. Unemployment was 5% before the corona pandemic.

7. State pensions for all 67 years and older, just enough to live on.

8. If one has no income, one is entitled to a small cash assistance, not enough to cover most residential rentals. Costs of housing, rentals and ownership, is one of the highest in the world. Low income renters can obtain some state assistance. There are officially 6500 homeless people in Denmark, however most of them do not qualify for rental assistance.

9. Five weeks paid vacation for all.

10. Work week is 37.5 hours.

Danes have been ranked as the first, second or third happiest people in the world since the United Nations began sponsoring “world happiness reports”, in 2012.

Happy Danes even have a political party by that name (Lykke parti in Danish). Its slogan: “Everyone can help create a society that is a little happier tomorrow than it is today, so we can all be safe when we go to bed - and free when we wake up.”

Happy young Danes, or perhaps unhappy young Danes, are also Europe’s heaviest alcohol drinkers. The current World Health Organization report shows that 82% of 15-year old Danes drink alcohol compared with 59% of their European peers. Thirty-two percent of youth reported being drunk in the previous month when questioned during the 2017 report. The European average was 13%.

Bing drinking is so popular that newspaper articles report non-drinking students are sometimes bullied for not drinking. In fact, during the corona crisis, youths are meeting in public places with their alcohol. If they don’t get too close to one another, allegedly, police allow this.

Welfare Declining

Decreasing welfare is not limited to Denmark and Scandinavia but is general throughout Europe. Cutbacks in social and economic welfare are adversely affecting Danes. According to European Union statistics, 17.7 percent of the 5.8 million Danish population live in poverty—15.7 children, 9.9 seniors.

Numbers of Danes under the poverty line has doubled in the past half-dozen years. The value of pensions decrease, because there have been no real raises for many years. (1) Unemployment benefits have radically decreased. Real wages have also slightly decreased.

One hundred and twenty-three community-run senior homes have closed in rural areas this decade. Scores of hospitals have been closed or merged with others. Nevertheless, quality-cost comparisons show that Denmark’s heath care system ranks 1st in the world. The US is ranked 73rd .

The Danish state spends less on health care than the US. The World Bank rates health care costs at 10.11% of GDP for Denmark, and 17.06% for US.

Another way of comparing is what is spent per capita. In 2017, Danes spent $5.800 per annum compared with US Americans, $10.246.

While Denmark’s heath care system is clearly superb comparatively, declining working conditions in the vocation, as well as all other civil services—education, social workers, pedagogy, senior homes—is causing great pressure on employees. They must work harder with fewer hands. Stress is epidemic, the major cause of absence from work. This hits nurses especially now under corona pandemic. At least 1,000 more nurses are needed. Doctors are also hard pressed.

People grumble more about the decreasing quality in working conditions and stress than ever before since I first moved here 40 years ago. Yet many civil servants are afraid to speak out at their jobs. A recent report by their union shows that 42% of employees are afraid to complain for fear of being fired. That is twice the number a decade ago. Whistleblowers are definitely not rewarded.

While there are still solid and important benefits, cutbacks are keeping more people from attending entertainment, sports and recreation activities. Eleven percent of Danes say they cannot afford a vacation away from home.

Existing benefits sound like paradise to most US Americans, and especially for people in the “third world”. Some degree of social welfare has existed in much of Western Europe since shortly after World War 1 and the Russian revolution. Many European capitalists realized that the working class might well overthrow capitalism for the advantages of socialism, in which workers could gain real power. The key difference between most European capitalists and United States capitalists was (is) that the US was never truly threatened by a socialist revolution.

F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal included reforms that afforded the unemployed some government subsidies and state sponsored jobs. The intention was primarily to counter demands for socialism. Nevertheless, major capitalists sought to remove Roosevelt from office, even by murdering him, because they preferred fascist domination of the economy and government. Most even traded with and invested in fascist-Nazi governments of Germany, Italy and Spain including during WWII.

Henry Ford receiving Hitler's Grand Cross of the German Eagle pinned on by Hitler's counsels. Ford made sure Hitler had the vehicles he needed for his war. Ford opposed the New Deal and unions.

The Business Plot (aka The White House Coup Plot) was a political conspiracy, in 1933-4, exposed by retired Marine General Smedley Darlington Butler. He was approached by a representative of J.P. Morgan to organize a military coup d´état. Butler played along enough to inform the president, who was able to stop the process. Morgan and company—Du Pont, Rockefeller, GM, GE, ITT, on and on—offered millions for Roosevelt’s overthrow. None went to jail. (2) Several of these families own the Federal Reserve Bank, which loans money to governments at high interest rates.

Although there is still much more social welfare in Scandinavia, and much of Europe, than the United States, unlike in the US, however, Denmark imposes minimal tariffs on foreign goods; businesses are only lightly regulated, and corporate tax rate is much lower than in the United States. There is no minimum wage in Denmark, although most workers earn higher wages and salaries due to the bargaining strength of labor unions. Medium income is 20% higher than in the US.

Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria wrote: “Denmark, Sweden and Norway [are] examples of the kind of economic system [Sanders] wants to bring to the United States…Sanders has been clear on the topic: ‘Billionaires should not exist.’ But Sweden and Norway both have more billionaires per capita than the United States — Sweden almost twice as many. Not only that, these billionaires are able to pass on their wealth to their children tax-free. Inheritance taxes in Sweden and Norway are zero, and in Denmark 15 percent. The United States, by contrast, has the fourth-highest estate taxes in the industrialized world at 40 percent.” (3)

Zakaria continued, “( ) bringing the economic system of Denmark, Sweden and Norway to the United States would mean embracing more flexible labor markets, light regulations and a deeper commitment to free trade. It would mean a more generous set of social benefits — to be paid for by taxes on the middle class and poor. If Sanders embraced all that, it would be radical indeed.”

Nick Allentoft, journalist/author, expert on welfare, is chief editor of (“The Public”, a website dedicated to following the welfare system). In his April 26, 2018 piece, “Welfare state crumbles and that hits all of us”, he states that as economic growth diminished in the early 1980s, the centrist government under Poul Schlüter (a good friend of Ronald Reagan), launched the “Modernization Program”, which started the decay.

“Unemployed people are hunted down and sanctioned for mistakes, while the system gets away with miserable case processing. Patients are met with demands to get well as soon as possible - even when they are dying. People in life crises no longer find the security in the welfare state that they were brought up to expect…the social contract is lifted.”

This is written by a man who is a centrist in Danish politics, well to the right of Bernie Sanders.

Allentoft offers three key reasons for the downturn.

1. “A social crisis that has grown out of the rigid and bureaucratic social and employment system, where citizens have to submit to systems and demands that in many cases destroy more than they do good for the people who face it.

2. Leadership Crisis. Here we see public leaders, who for ten years have been trained to stay in so-called management spaces where they must satisfy documentation requirements and bureaucracy, while holistic solutions and respect for the social contract come second.

3. Democracy crisis. In an attempt to find solutions, it will be natural to turn our attention to Christiansborg [Parliament] and the Central Administration. But there, a democratic crisis is nurtured. Large parts of the civil service, along with many politicians, have apparently forgotten the social contract and are toasting the welfare state while it is actually being weakened.”

Allentoft does not criticize the capitalist system per se, just some of its cold bureaucratic consequences. His solution is for people in important positions to realize the error of their ways. The welfare system, he says, can be revitalized by focusing on “openness”, “simplicity”, “freedom”, and “professionalism”.

Another centrist, former Social Democrat party chairman and former chairman of the United Nations General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft spoke to journalist Amélie Reichmuth about how to correct the declining welfare system.

“The Nordic countries have been hit by what one can call the ‘neoliberal bacteria’, and our welfare system and Nordic international engagement is weaker than it was for 10-15 years ago. But our ordered society and our professional thinking is still on course with what is necessary…Those like Reagan and Thatcher, glad for cutting back on welfare, have begun to fear for the [widespread] dissatisfaction that inequality and insecurity have created, which can go towards a pre-revolutionary atmosphere among people, and can end anywhere. That is the challenge to social democracy.”

Without saying so directly, characteristic of this sly politician, he refers to what occurred following the bloody, totally senseless first world war that led to the Russian Revolution. Workers wanted benefits that capitalism wasn’t granting, and they were protesting and striking.

Danes, in fact, are quite conservative when it comes to protesting. Generally, they trust their government no matter what parties lead them, and are obedient. Between 80 and 90% of Danes vote in national elections compared to 50-55% of US Americans. Danes simply want their tax money to function for them. As a whole, they are indifferent about their governments going to war alongside the US for the past three decades. Only 68 Danish mercenaries have been killed in a dozen wars since 1991 when it began warring for the US. (4)

Most Danes are also indifferent to the plight of refugees and immigrants who come from countries that Denmark invades, or other refugees fleeing countries where people live without basic survial means. Danish government accepts few refugees, especially those of color. Even human rights organizations and UN institutions criticize Denmark for this discrimination. (5) It would behoove leftists to drop the idea of this kind of “socialism”, and work to eradicate strategies of capitalism, and create strategies and tactics to create a working class-led socialist economy and society.


1. As I write, PM Frederiksen announced that her minority government proposes to allow early pensions for workers 61+ years of age who have worked for 42+ years. This unusual benefit is to be financed by a special tax of high profiteering banks, and some industries. The amount for early pensions will be less than full pension. It is estimated to cost half a billion US dollars equivalent annually. Bank CEOs refuse to pay this from profits of ca. $15 billion dollars. They say customers will pay for the special tax. Clearly a capitalist response.

2. See chapter eight of my book, “The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert” See also, Trading with the Enemy: An exposé of the Nazi American Money Plot by Charles Higham.

3. While the US has the greatest number of billionaires in the world (614 out of 2,095, according to Forbes, in 2020 their percentage of the population (1.8 of one million) is less than that of Sweden (3.2 with 31), and Norway (2.8 with 12). Denmark has 8 billionaires for a percentage of 1.4 per million.

4. Danes are not forced to go to war if their homeland is not invaded, but they can volunteer at higher pay. Danish soldiers can be sent to UN peace-keeping missions. Only a handful have been killed in such situations.

5. See forthcoming articles.

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