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Misreading the Nordic Model

How American Admirers Get Scandinavia Wrong

The old town district of Stockholm, March 2009. Bob Strong / Reuters

Bernie Sanders, the left-wing populist who for months competed with Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, has popularized a simple vision for reform: introduce a Nordic-style welfare state in the United States. In a debate with Clinton, Sanders explained that his aim is to popularize the concept of Scandinavian democratic socialism: “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people.”

Sanders and his supporters are not alone in praising the Nordic model. In 2013, President Barack Obama followed suit by making the first bilateral visit by a U.S. president to Sweden, complimenting his hosts about their country’s economic model. He escalated the praise at a U.S.-Nordic summit in May 2016, where he explained: "In a world of growing economic disparities, Nordic countries have some of the least income inequality in the world—which may

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