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Variations | The undead

SOMEONE once asked American writer (and former Marxist) David Horowitz, “Do you ever feel that you are wasting your time? Do you think that truth will ever matter? No matter what you prove or disprove, in the end the truth will remain in the shadows of what people want to hear and want to believe.”

Horowitz said he agreed “more with this thought than I care to.” On the one hand, he said, is a political viewpoint that accepts limits which “the human condition places on human hope”; but on the other is a more attractive creed sparked by our “inability to come to terms with who were are” — “the obstinate, compulsive, destructive belief in the fantasy of transformation, in the desperate hope of an earthly redemption.” Politics, Horowitz added, “is indeed irrational and socialism a wish as deep as any religious faith…. [A] lie grounded in human desire is too powerful for reason to kill.”

In the summer of 2016, a U.S. election year, Iranian-Swedish author and policy wonk Nima Sanandaji’s “Debunking Utopia” was published. It effectively demolished Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism,” including his claim that the Nordic welfare systems should be role models for the U.S. to follow.

Four years later, the senator is again running for president, and this time he is just one of the many “democratic socialists” and/or Nordic enthusiasts in the national political arena. Socialism — or what many believe is socialism — is now fashionable (again), especially the “socialism” of Sweden, Denmark or Norway.

“I fully understand the Left’s admiration for the Nordic countries,” Sanandaji writes in “Debunking Utopia. “In 1989 I emigrated with my family from Iran to Sweden and grew up in a typical immigrant household, supported mainly by welfare benefits. I graduated, got my PhD, and started writing about politics. Since then I have written more than a hundred policy reports and some twenty books about various societal issues in Sweden and other northern European countries. This part of the world has indeed fascinating social systems. It is true, as Bernie Sanders and his supporters say, that the Nordic welfare states provide a host of benefits….”

However, he added, a “closer look at the systems…shatters the rosy illusion of the Left. The welfare states of the north are dealing with challenges stemming from the long-term effects of high taxes, generous benefits, and public-sector monopolies.”

Sanandaji said “it might seem odd that Nordic-style democratic socialism is all the rage among leftist ideologues in other countries, but to a large degree is rejected by the people in the Nordic countries themselves.”

One of the most popular misconceptions about the Nordic countries is that their success was made possible by their welfare systems. Actually, Sanandaji said, the Nordic countries became economically and socially successful before they transitioned to large welfare states. And their “secret” is not “democratic socialism” but culture. Specifically, Nordic culture. Nordic nations have homogenous populations which means that the majority of their citizens share the same culture. And it is a culture that emphasizes individual responsibility and hard work.

In Nordic countries, for example, there is a strong sense of cooperation that exists in most workplaces, Sanandaji said. The people “value punctuality, follow meeting agendas and tend to adhere to schedules.” They have strong work ethics. And all this was true even before their countries embraced the welfare system. “The common theme from historic sources,” Sanandaji said, “is that the Nordic people were honest and hardworking, doing their best to survive and thrive in their countries’ unforgiving climates. It is this historic heritage on which much of the region’s current success rests.”

Based on historical records, Sanandaji said “social outcomes are to a large extent determined by the choices that people make, which in turn is influenced by culture. A country cannot just copy the policies of another country and hope to gain the same social outcomes.”

But then again, “ideologues have a tendency to vastly exaggerate the power of politics to change society.”

So Bern baby, Bern.

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