This is not a post on last Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, which is old news by now. I’ve tweeted numerous analyses/commentaries of it over the past five days that I thought were on target and/or interesting, so one knows—if one read them, of course—that I agree with the MSM pundits that Hillary Clinton was very good and Bernie Sanders too. It was a fine debate. I’ve been nervous about Hillary—in view of her high negatives in the polls and the visceral dislike of her by many Democratic voters (and notably on the left; I see gauchiste Hillary hate every day on social media)—but am now less so. I’m confident she’ll be a good candidate in the general election—and barring stunning new scandal or major, game-changing revelation in the email business, she will be the Dems’ nominee—and if voters turn out on Nov. 8th ’16 in the same proportions as they did in ’12 and ’08, she will most certainly win (yep, I just said it). As for Bernie, I like him and am glad he’s running—to pull the debate to the left and energize young people—but he ain’t gonna be the Dem nominee. Not a chance. O’Malley and Webb: I hope they raise their profiles and do respectably in the early primaries and caucuses, so as to position themselves as plausible running mates for Hillary (and particularly O’Malley; I can’t see a Hillary-Bernie ticket and for a variety of reasons). Before the debate I was hoping that Biden would enter the race—mainly out of Hillary nervousness—but now think it would probably be better if he didn’t.
One moment in the debate that attracted attention was Bernie saying that America “should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” Of course. America should naturally look to the experiences of the Scandinavian countries—and to France, Germany, and other advanced democracies—to see what can be learned from them (and what should not be learned). And vice-versa. Politicians and policy-makers should always study other countries.
Bernie’s Denmark comment provoked the inevitable snarky reactions on the right, e.g. this one by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, which misses Bernie’s point; it is, as we say here, à côté de la plaque. There has, however, been one reaction from that side of the spectrum—and which inspired this post—that I find most interesting, “Double-edged Denmark,” by Will Wilkinson, who is vice-president for policy at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank in Washington founded last year. Wilkinson seconds the observation by Williamson and other rightists that Denmark, despite its robust welfare state, has embarked on major free market reforms to the point where it is now more “capitalistic” than the US (a development Williamson suggests that Bernie ignores, which is nonsense). This is well-understood by anyone with a cursory knowledge of that country’s politics, including in France, where the Danish “flexicurity” model has been studied by policy intellectuals and politicians, with its applicability to the French context provoking debate, notably on the left (e.g. in the pages of Le Monde, Alternatives Économiques, and other such publications). But Wilkinson sees a symbiotic relationship between Denmark’s free market reforms and its strong social safety net that other conservatives miss. Money quotes
Right-leaning arguments about the free-market marvel that is Denmark cut both ways. Denmark shows us that a much larger public sector and a much more robust social-insurance system need not come at the expense of a dynamic market economy. In other words, Denmark shows us that capitalism and a large welfare state are perfectly compatible and possibly complementary. (…)
The lesson free-marketeers need to learn is that Denmark may be beating the U.S. in terms of economic freedom because it’s easier to get people to buy in to capitalism when they’re well-insured against its downside risks. That’s the flipside irony of free-market “socialism.” (…)
The possibility that generous social insurance can bolster support for capitalism is worth taking seriously, not only because the truth (whatever it is) is important in its own right, but because the truth of the matter could have profound implications for other libertarian policy priorities. (…)
So if one wants a bona fide neoliberal free market economy, Wilkinson suggests, the trade-off—in an advanced democracy at least—is a strong social safety net. It’s not every day one gets such insights from a libertarian—though Friedrich Hayek, who did not object to state-organized social insurance schemes, would possibly say much the same thing if he were around today.
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias—who is no libertarian—has also weighed in on the Danish model (October 16th), in answering “9 questions about Denmark, Bernie Sanders’s favorite socialist utopia.”
UPDATE: Paul Krugman’s NYT column today (October 19th) is on Denmark.