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Op-ed

Bernie Sanders said his 'socialism' is just like Denmark's, but it's actually more like Cuba's

The former Danish prime minister has rebuked the 'socialist' label

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders often points to northern Europe as a prototype of the kinds of economies and societies he wants to build as president of the United States of America. At Wednesday night's Democratic debate, for instance, the 78-year-old candidate from Vermont said, "Let's talk about democratic socialism (...) let's talk about what goes on in countries like Denmark!"

The presidential hopeful's comment was in response to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg describing Sanders' agenda as "communism" during a heated exchange.

"We're not going to throw out capitalism. We tried that. Other countries tried that," Bloomberg told Sanders. "It was called communism, and it just didn't work."

Denmark or Cuba?

Sanders says his policies are just like Denmark's; Bloomberg says Sanders' agenda looks like something out of the Soviet Union. Who's right?

It's difficult to reduce entire economies to soundbites, but one thing is clear: On issue after issue, when you move past Sanders' bumper sticker slogans and study the details of his policies, they are often well to the left of what they have in Europe and closer to the practices of former Soviet states, like Cuba.

Here are some examples:

  • Health care: Sanders' marquee proposal is his Medicare For All system where the government would play the role of a public insurance company that covers every American (and undocumented immigrants) from cradle to the grave. Such a system is indeed common in much of Europe and Canada, but the similarities begin to end when you look at the details of his proposal. For instance, Sanders calls for banning private health insurance — this is unheard of Scandinavia and most of Europe. Sanders also says that under his plan Americans would have no co-payments, but European patients typically have co-payments (albeit, often modest ones). Under the Danish system, for instance, psychological treatments are not covered and patients still have to pay for prescription drugs. In fact, as TheBlaze reported last week, very few countries have anything that resembles Sanders' health care plan. The closest one that comes to mind — where private health insurance is banned and the government even covers medication, vision, mental health and dental care — is Cuba.
  • Taxes: Sanders says he would raise the U.S. corporate tax rate from 21% to 35%. Sounds European, right? Not really. Here, again, he employs a sleight of hand. While Americans correctly associate Europe with high taxes when it comes to personal income and sales taxes, Sanders' corporate tax rate would be far higher than the European average. Denmark and Sweden, for instance, only have a 22% corporate tax rate, almost the same as ours. The only European country with a corporate tax regimen resembling what Sanders is pitching is France (34.5%). The French have a lovely country, but it's hardly a model for a desirable business environment. According to the 2018 Financial Complexity Index by TMF Group, France has one of the most complex business climates in the world. In practical terms, that means it's among the hardest countries to comply with local business regulations and tax policies — making it a less desirable destination for companies and investors who create jobs. Oh, you know what other country does have a 35% corporate rate? Cuba, which imposes a 35% tax on foreign companies operating on the island.
  • Corporate Governance: Sanders' "Corporate Accountability and Democracy" plan would require publicly traded companies and corporations of a certain size to have 45% of their boards elected by workers and to give up 20% ownership to employees. As the Cato Institute's Ryan Bourne explained in a recent article, this is "far more radical than [British leftist Jeremy] Corbyn's Labour" proposals which only pitched 1/3 of corporate boards and 10% of company stock to be controlled by workers. It also runs well to the left of similar requirements in Scandinavia. In effect, Sanders' plan mandates moving toward collective control of the means of production and nationalization of major industries, the textbook definition of Cuban-style socialism.

Denmark: Stop calling us socialists!

Not only are Sanders' policies fundamentally different than Denmark's in key ways, the country's former prime minister has even explicitly rejected his characterization of their economy.

In a 2015 speech, then-Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said, "I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy."

Given the major policy differences between Sanders' proposals and what's commonly practiced in most of Europe, and the similarity to those of communist countries, Americans would be wise to view the Democratic front-runner's pitch for what it is: a bait-and-switch scam that must be rejected.

One last thing…
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