Sorry Bernie Bros But Nordic Countries Are Not Socialist

The myth of Nordic socialism is partially created by a confusion between socialism, meaning government exerting control or ownership of businesses, and the welfare state in the form of government-provided social safety net programs. However, the left’s embrace of socialism is not merely a case of redefining a word. Simply look at the long-running affinity of leftists with socialist dictators in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela for proof many on the left long for real socialism.

To the extent that the left wants to point to an example of successful socialism, not just generous welfare states, the Nordic countries are actually a poor case to cite. Regardless of the perception, in reality the Nordic countries practice mostly free market economics paired with high taxes exchanged for generous government entitlement programs.

First, it is worth noting that the Nordic counties were economic successes before they built their welfare states. Those productive economies, generating good incomes for their workers, allowed the governments to raise the tax revenue needed to pay for the social benefits. It was not the government benefits that created wealth, but wealth that allowed the luxury of such generous government programs.


Socialism can take the form of government controlling or interfering with free markets, nationalizing industries, and subsidizing favored ones (green energy, anyone?). The Nordic countries don’t actually do much of those things. Yes, they offer government-paid healthcare, in some cases tuition-free university educations, and rather generous social safety nets, all financed with high taxes. However, it is possible to do these things without interfering in the private sector more than required. It is allowing businesses to be productive that produces the high corporate and personal incomes that support the tax collections making the government benefits feasible. The Nordic countries are smart enough not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

If the left insists on naming a system of generous government benefits combined with a free market democratic socialism, I cannot stop them. That seems unnecessarily confusing since the government is actually running no industries other than education (and meddling somewhat in healthcare). It certainly isn’t socialism. In fact, the only reason most such countries can afford those benefits is that their market economies are so productive they can cover the expense of the government’s generosity. Perhaps a better name for what the Nordic countries practice would be compassionate capitalism.