An absurd debate is opening up in the 2020 election cycle.
Both sides of the political divide are now in agreement that they want to copycat the Swedish welfare state. Sweden has, plain and simple, emerged as the role model that both Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul want to follow.
They want to do it for different ideological reasons, of course:
- Bernie Sanders wants the Swedish welfare state because he thinks Sweden is a "democratic" socialist country;
- Rand Paul wants the Swedish welfare state because he thinks Sweden is a robustly capitalist country.
Why don't the two unite around one presidential ticket and get it all over with?
The problem is that nobody is actually looking at how the Swedish welfare state really works, and why it is such a thoroughly bad idea to import it to America. I wrote an entire book about this - more on that in a moment - but the knowledge gap among conservatives is so vast that it will swallow our entire country, if we are not careful. By embracing Sweden, conservatives will plunge us into the same mess of industrial poverty and economic stagnation that has been sinking the Swedish economy since the early 1990s.
America's conservatives and socialists want the Swedish welfare state for different reasons. The conservative approach is that the Swedes have mastered some kind of balance between the private sector and government. The socialist approach is that the Swedes have mastered some kind of balance between government and the private sector. In the end, though, they both end up with a welfare state that taxes away, redistributes and entitles back about half of the economy.
In addition to the Medicaid-for-All idea that Sanders is touting wide and loud on the campaign trail, the American left wants to import another idea that has long been a blemish on Swedish society: socialized upbringing of children.
Kids in Sweden often go into daycare at 12 months. That is when their paid-leave benefits run out, or they are forced to go back to work because the benefits are not enough to cover their cost of living. While the child-care entitlement is often viewed as an entitlement, its origin is a bit more sinister than that.
In 1934 Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal and his wife, sociologist and later cabinet member Alva Myrdal, published a book with the Swedish title Kris i befolkningsfrågan. The proper English title would be "The Demographic Crisis", although the book has never been translated to English. There is a good reason for this: the book is a festival of central economic planning and social engineering at a level eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. One of their key concepts was demographic planning, or eugenics as we also know it.
Myrdal wanted to reconfigure the Swedish population so as to make it stronger and more productive. The goal was to build a "population stock" that would be productive enough to keep economic growth at its maximum at all times. That, in turn, was needed to maximize tax revenue, by means of which government could pay for all its programs.
One of the key elements in building a productive population stock was to weed out undesirable genes from the population. As I explain in my book The Rise of Big Government - the only introduction of the Myrdal book to the English-speaking world - they wanted mandatory sterilization and abortion programs for individuals that government decided should not reproduce. The children of those individuals would simply be too much of a cost to government and too much of a drag on workforce productivity.
Yes, that is literally why the Myrdals wanted a big welfare state in Sweden, and it is literally why the Swedish social democrats started building it in the 1930s.
Another key element of their demographic ambitions was a child-care program from a very early age. The goal was, essentially, to reduce parents to feeder units for the children; by collectivizing upbringing from a very early age, the socialists in the Swedish government of that time sought to instill their own values and train kids to become productive citizens.
The privilege to define "productive" was, of course, retained by government. A productive citizen in the socialist dreamland is a citizen who upholds socialist values and works hard at whatever job government has deemed he or she will be best at. The entire education system, from pre-K through college and even graduate school, is designed to steer students into a job that government determines they will be most productive at.
Again, to maximize the tax base and thereby fund government.
Over the years, the idea of government-run child care has morphed from a central-planning necessity into an entitlement. The reason for this is simple: at the heart of the socialist ideology lies the moral premise that economic differences are inherently unjust. One person's life choices should not differentiate him economically from another person who makes entirely different choices. This egalitarian principle is behind every welfare-state entitlement program; the policy practice is to redistribute income and consumption between citizens until the point is reached where we all economically have the same life.
When Bernie Sanders wants to dole out a slew of new entitlements, he does it not in the Myrdal context, but on strictly egalitarian premises. His latest is child care from infancy and up:
Socialist presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has unveiled his plans to fund free universal child care and pre-kindergarten programs that would mean all children in the U.S. from infancy would have access to taxpayer funded, full-day, full-week child care and would enter pre-kindergarten beginning at three years old, "regardless of income." Sanders says the $1.5 trillion proposal would be funded through a tax on "extreme wealth."
But that is not all. Sanders promises that, as president, he will provide "every child in America free full-day, full-week, high-quality child care from infancy through age three, regardless of income".
Since the welfare state that Sanders wants will require enormous tax increases, every parent in America, regardless of income, will pay significantly higher taxes. Taxes on the wealthy will not suffice; even if there were enough of it around, you can only tax wealth once. Wealth, namely, is like money saved in the bank. Jeff Bezos is extremely wealthy, because he owns stock in Amazon. If you tax that stock, he has to sell it to pay the tax. Next time you come back he has less wealth, and less again, and...
There is not even enough income among the "extremely wealthy" to pay for all the entitlements that Sanders wants. Even if you confiscated the entire income - entire income - for the approximately 400,000 Americans who make $1 million or more, it would still only amount to just over $1 trillion per year.
And who would be motivated to make that much money if government took every cent of it?
However, the cost of the program is not even the biggest problem with the Sanders idea. The biggest problem is that conservatives are struggling to counter it. Not that they don't oppose it - there are many people out there voicing well-articulated concerns about socializing children's upbringing - but they are finding it difficult to frame the Sanders plans in systematic terms.
Put plainly: is his child-care plan a socialist idea, or is it not?
Again, Sanders claims that it is, while Rand Paul and others on the conservative side would say that it is not. To them, it is a free-market, capitalist solution involving government. The taxes happen to be the same, the socialization of children's upbringing has the same destructive effects, and the impact on the well-being of families is the same. But if conservatives bring universal child care to America, then of course it is not a socialist entitlement program. Obviously not.
The truth, of course, is that Sweden is a terrible country from a public-policy viewpoint, none of which we should import to America. The other Nordic countries are not much better. There is a lot to be said about how poorly those welfare states work, something that apparently both sides of the aisle need to hear about.
And as always, it is incumbent upon yours truly to do the job...