NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should Uncle Sam Chase a Scandinavian Model?

August 13, 2013

When American progressives dream their future vision of America, no place entices them more than the sparsely populated countries of Scandinavia. After all, here are countries that remain strongly democratic and successfully capitalist, yet appear to have done so despite enormously pervasive welfare systems, says Joel Kotkin, a distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University.

It is important to recognize that not only is relatively small, historically homogenous Scandinavia an ill-suited role model for a mega-power like the United States, but that, in many ways, the Nordic system may be far more limited than its admirers might acknowledge.

In addition, not all the reasons for Scandinavia's relative health are those that would warm the heart of U.S. progressives.

  • These countries, led by Sweden, have reformed many aspects of their welfare state, including such things as labor laws, and reduced taxes in ways that make them more competitive, and far less egalitarian, than in the past.
  • Another positive factor for Scandinavia lies in their exploitation of resources, something many progressives, notably green policy aficionados, tend to view with disdain.
  • Sweden exports loads of iron ore to drive its economy and employs massive dams to drive hydropower, which accounts for 42.8 percent of its energy.
  • Norway benefits from a gusher of oil and gas that, producing nearly 2 million barrels of oil per day, making it the 14th largest oil producer in the world despite having a population of 5 million.

There's also the matter of scale. Demographically, Scandinavia's population is microscopic compared to the United States' vast multiethnic Republic. Taken together, the four Scandinavian countries -- Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway -- are home to barely 26 million people, far fewer than California and about the same as Texas.

To be sure, America faces many of these same problems, but it seems silly to look for solutions in a region of the world that is not only fundamentally different but also faces equal, or even greater, challenges.

Source: Joel Kotkin, "Should Uncle Sam Chase a Scandinavian Model?" New Geography, July 29, 2013.


Browse more articles on Government Issues