In the first Democratic primary debate, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spoke of their fondness for Denmark.
Sanders, in particular, suggested that the US could adopt a socialist system by emulating Scandinavia. “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people,” said the US presidential candidate, who identifies himself as a “democratic socialist.”
But Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government this week, says Sanders got more than a few things wrong.
“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.”
Rasmussen added he had no problem with Denmark being upheld as a political ideal—“it’s definitely not a perfect country, but it is close to it perhaps,” he said. The Danish Prime Minister listed some of the virtues of Denmark’s expanded welfare state, including free health care, unemployment benefits, one year of maternity leave, and a free education system.
As Quartz reported during the Democratic debate, Sanders’ admiration for Denmark’s left-leaning policies is a little outdated: Rasmussen was elected as part of a center-right coalition, with the right-wing, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party becoming the second-largest party in parliament.
And some of the confusion may stem from the definition of socialism in the first place: Technically, a socialist state as set out by Vladimir Lenin is one where the government owns all means of production, which is certainly not the case in the Nordic countries. But in general parlance it has come to be used as a shorthand for a market economy fused with a comprehensive and generous welfare state.