We are not Denmark — I love Denmark — we are the United States of America. We would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.
— Hillary Clinton, last night
Okay. When I heard that, I said, “Wow. Did she just say that Denmark isn’t a middle-class, capitalist, entrepreneurial country? And that that’s because it has universal healthcare, free college, subsidized day care, and guaranteed family and medical leave?
That struck me as a major gaffe. She is, after all, running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, not the Republican Party’s.
Sanders didn’t respond to it because, if I remember right, he didn’t have the chance. But I expected the political analysts to point this out afterward.
Silly me. It’s being hailed as a big moment for Clinton. By most commentators I’ve read, anyway. But not by Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, who wrote last night:
The odd thing here is that, despite his preferred nomenclature, Bernie Sanders isn’t really all that much of a socialist. Yes, the man is certainly on the left edge of mainstream American politics. He would like to raise taxes significantly on the wealthy, to spend more on infrastructure, to break up large Wall Street banks. He’d like to make public colleges tuition-free, but he isn’t pushing to eliminate private universities. Fundamentally, the man isn’t really running on an anti-capitalist platform of nationalizing private industry. The one exception, you could argue, would be his stance in favor of single-payer health care—that would amount to a government takeover of health insurance. But that would also basically bring the U.S. in league with decidedly capitalist nations such as Canada and Great Britain.
In the end, left writer Jesse Meyerson, himself a bona fide socialist, put is most simplyin Rolling Stone: “For now, the proposals at the core of his platform—for the most part very good—are standard fare for progressive Democrats.” That comment was from July but still holds.
Which brings us to the Northern Europe comparison. Typically, policy types refer to Scandinavia’s “social democracies,” because of the robust social safety nets in countries such as Norway, Sweden, and, yes, Denmark. But it’s not as if these places are antagonistic toward capitalism and business—by some measures, they’re about as entrepreneurial and innovative as the United States (at least if you adjust for the size of their economies). Saying we shouldn’t emulate Denmark because we want to preserve America’s spirit of industriousness, as Clinton suggests, is a bit strange.
I clicked the “by some measures” link, which is to an October 2012 article by Weissmann in The Atlantic titled “Think We’re the Most Entrepreneurial Country In the World? Not So Fast.” It’s subtitled “We’re the venture-capital capital of the world, but start-ups and young small businesses play a smaller role in America’s economy than in many other rich nations.” A key paragraph says:
Some of the most cutting-edge young companies in the world call Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and Austin, Texas home, partly because we have the financial backers to support them. According to the OECD, the U.S. ranks second overall in venture capital invested as a percentage of GDP, which wedges us between Israel at No. 1 and Sweden at No. 3. In sheer dollars, we dwarf everyone. That said, it’s not clear all that money floating around makes our start-ups much more creative. The OECD ranks us ninth out of 22 for the number of start-ups younger than five years old that issue patents, adjusted for the size of our economy (Denmark leads on that measure).
Weissmann’s right that Sanders isn’t really that much of a socialist. And if that statement by Clinton is an indication—and I think it is—Clinton isn’t really that much of a progressive. Or even that much of a Democrat.
Sanders now has the funds to start running internet and even television. I suggest to his campaign, should anyone from it happen upon this post, that the first ad they run shows a clip of Clinton saying what I quoted her above as saying, and juxtaposing it with the statistics that Weissmann cites in that Atlantic article, and a few statistics about Denmark’s standard of living.
If Clinton believes that venture capital for innovative startups, and bank loans for ordinary small businesses, will dry up if we have universal healthcare, free college, subsidized day care, and guaranteed family and medical leave, then she should maybe actually look into it a bit. Maybe she should even visit Denmark, which apparently on her trip there in which she came to love it didn’t notice that most of its residents weren’t living in poverty and didn’t realize that most of its businesses, large, small, and midsized, weren’t owned by the government. While she’s in the neighborhood, she also could visit Sweden and Norway. And if she can spare the time, even Germany.
But if she can’t fit a trip overseas into her schedule, well, Canada is just north of her home state of New York. She could even do a day trip there.
I mean it, Sanders campaign. Run ads of the sort I’ve suggested. Soon.