New American 
August 26, 2015
Supporters of Big Government and the nanny state everywhere have for decades glorified the imagined success of Scandinavia’s massive welfare states, citing Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland as alleged proof that drastic restrictions on economic liberty can co-exist with prosperity.
In the new book Scandinavian Unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism, however, academic Nima Sanandaji, Ph.D., makes an iron-clad case showing that the Nordic nations’ relative success predates the welfare state. Indeed, the region actually provides bountiful evidence of the benefits of free markets and economic freedom, and of the harm wrought by Big Government.
With one of the leading 2016 U.S. presidential contenders, self-styled socialist Bernie Sanders , openly advocating the transformation of America into a Scandinavian-style welfare-state utopia on national television, the book’s message is timely indeed from an American perspective. But as the monograph explains, Sanders, whose campaign has recently surged past Hillary Clinton’s among voters in the key primary state of New Hampshire, is hardly alone in totally misunderstanding the lessons Scandinavia can offer Americans and the world. Left-wing celebrities, politicians, journalists, and ideologues worldwide have also been pointing to the Nordic nations for decades as a model to emulate.
As Sanandaji explains clearly in his meticulously sourced book, though, what most Big Government advocates see as desirable outcomes in Scandinavia — relative prosperity, high levels of income equality, long lifespans, good health, low levels of poverty, and more — all predate the welfare state. On life expectancy, for example, four out of the top five OECD nations were in Scandinavia in 1960, with Norway at the very top. On income, meanwhile, most of the shift toward “equality” happened between 1870 and 1950 — long before the welfare state took over. Ironically, the emergence of Big Government even put some of that at risk, along with the long-established cultural norms such as the Protestant work ethic, honesty, social trust, entrepreneurship, innovation, and more that made those advances possible to begin with.
Indeed, before the emergence of welfare-state policies beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, Sweden was among the most prosperous and fast-growing economies on the planet. Between 1870 and 1936, when Sweden was characterized by relatively free markets, the nation enjoyed the highest rate of growth in the industrialized world. Innovation and entrepreneurship flourished, making Sweden one of the richest countries on Earth. Then came the radical Social Democratic period characterized by an ever-larger and more expensive government. Between 1975 and the mid-1990s — marked by the radical, if short-lived, experiment in “Third Way” socialism — Sweden dropped from being the fourth richest nation in the world down to the 13th richest.
Read more