White House Socialism Report Triggers Angry Response in Scandanavia

(Bloomberg) -- Bernie Sanders’ praise for Denmark has come back to haunt the Nordic nation. Again.

Just two months after trying to explain to a Fox Business anchor that, actually, they do not live in a “socialist hellhole,” Danish politicians are now figuring out how to address a report published this month by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

The 72-page document, entitled “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism,” places Scandinavia in the same basket as Venezuela and argues that “the experiences of the Nordic countries also support the conclusion that socialism reduces living standards.” What’s more, “even poor American households have better living standards than the average person living in a Nordic country,” the report states.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen couldn’t let the assertions go uncontested.

“I’m ready to enter a competition at any time with the Americans on who has the best societal model,” Rasmussen wrote on his Facebook page on Monday. “Because I know that Denmark would win every time.”

Nick Haekkerup, foreign policy spokesman for Denmark’s biggest party in parliament, the opposition Social Democrats, called the White House report “deeply worrying,” and used one of President Donald Trump’s favorite expressions to characterize the information in it. It’s “fake news,” he said in an interview with state broadcaster DR on Monday.

He wants Rasmussen to ask the White House to explain the assumptions in the report.

While acknowledging that Scandinavia no longer applies the punishingly high tax rates seen in the 1970s, the report makes only passing references to what its citizens get in return -- the safety net of a welfare state that provides free education, universal health care, unemployment benefits and paid parental leave.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman argues that once such benefits are taken into account, “it’s likely that at least half the Nordic population are better off materially than their U.S. counterparts,” according to a column published in the New York Times.

Read more on Krugman’s counter-arguments to the White House report

Krugman also points out that a major reason why gross domestic product per capita is lower in the Nordics is the result of a different work-life balance: Swedes, Danes and Norwegians take far more vacation than Americans (the minimum period of paid leave is 25 days).

Danes take particular exception to assertions made on page 34 of the White House report, where it points out that owning and operating a pickup truck is much more affordable in the U.S. Denmark, which pioneered wind energy, has made a conscious decision to make gas guzzlers more expensive and recently announced a ban on the sale of new fossil-fueled road vehicles in 2030.

“It’s laughable, and clearly intended for the mid-terms,” Michael Aastrup Jensen, foreign policy spokesman for Rasmussen’s Liberals, said of the report. “It’s quite obvious that its purpose is to discredit the positive view some U.S. politicians have of Denmark.”

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