Bernie Sanders has long referred to himself as a socialist rather than a member of the Democratic Party, which has naturally led to a lot of questions about what socialism means to him. He consistently references the social models of the Nordic states — especially Denmark — as his idea of what democratic socialism is all about. But in a speech Friday evening at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said that while he's flattered to see Denmark discussed in a widely watched US presidential debate he doesn't think the socialist shoe fits.
"I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism," he said. "Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy."
In Rasmussen's view, "The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish."
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This is not especially different, as a substantive matter, from what Sanders is saying. His platform calls for higher taxes, a lot more social welfare spending, but — with the important exception of health insurance — not the nationalization of whole industries. And Denmark has, as Rasmussen goes on to say a bit later in the talk, exactly the kind of single-payer health system that Sanders favors. But in Rasmussen's view, this doesn't amount to socialism at all.
Another interesting point the prime minister raises is that the level of disagreement between the main Danish political parties simply isn't all that high. He leads a right-of-center party, but he says that four years ago when he visited a US political convention he went to the Democratic convention, and so did his main opponent on the center left.