Does Scandinavian Socialism Work?

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But an additional reason for the low poverty rates in Scandinavian countries is that these are countries that have very few immigrants.  Poverty rates are high almost everywhere in Europe among migrants into those countries.  Scandinavian countries with the exception of Sweden have very few immigrants, both in absolute numbers and in terms of the portion of the overall population.

Here are the numbers:

Foreign born as a percent of total population by country:

Country Migrants as Percent of Population
Finland 2.7%
Denmark 7.4%
Norway 8.3%
Sweden 14.4%
UK 9.4%
France 11.7%
Germany 12.5%
USA 14.5%
Canada 22.4%
Switzerland 25.1%
Australia 27.4%


Source: OECD data (based on period close to 2000)
International Migrants in Developed, Emerging and Developing Countries: An Extended Profile – December, 2010

Because the US, Canada, UK, France and Germany are large countries, the absolute numbers of their immigrants are also very high, not just in percentages.

So is poverty low in Scandinavian countries because their “socialism” works, or because they have relatively few poor immigrants entering?  And if poverty is low because Scandinavian “socialism” works, should it not be working for migrants in those countries as well?

Separate poverty data for the migrant populations in Scandinavian countries are available and there are numerous indications that these are quite highAccording to one study, “While first and second generation immigrants constituted 44% of the poor children in 1997, they were 65% of all poor children in Sweden in 2008.  Only 5% of native Swedish children live in poverty. For immigrant children with both parents born outside of the Sweden, the child poverty rate is 39%.”  Poverty rates have also been shown to be high for immigrants in Denmark.  According to a recent study of poverty rates among immigrants in all Scandinavian countries, “While native children face yearly poverty risks of less than 10 percent in all three countries and for all years investigated the increasing proportion of immigrant children with an origin in middle and low income countries have poverty risks that varies from 38 and up to as much as 58 percent.”

So Scandinavian “socialism” is doing a remarkably poor job in eliminating poverty among non-Scandinavians living in those Scandinavian utopias.

The conclusion can only be one thing.  The low poverty rate among Scandinavians in Scandinavian countries is thanks to the fact that Scandinavians work.  It is NOT because socialism works!

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  • ObamaYoMoma

    Good stuff…thank you!

  • Tali

    Prof. Plaut, according to your source, Israel's poverty rate is 23%, putting it somewhere between Pakistan and Bhutan. Syria's poverty rate (again, based on your source) is 11.9, while Tunisia's falls below 4%. You might have a point about problems in measuring and comparing, but no matter how you turn it, the difference between 23% and 12% (Syria) or 4% (Tunisia) is substantive!

    • Yehuda

      All that pretty much proving how meaningless the statistics are. The poor in Israel live much much better than the rich in Syria, Tunisia and Bhutan.

    • Glib

      Because the 1% of poverty in Israel isn't equal to 1% of poverty in Syria.

    • Rae

      He's probably including the West Bank in Israel…that's a huge surge in poverty.

  • PhillipGaley

    Well, maybe the next thing in this line of thinking is to say something about the fact that, work is fun: Remembering the teacher who first held the pencil or crayon in your hand, the while, you telling her: "I can do it, I can do it.", have you ever seen the young person the same way, in some larger productive task, and that continuing into their twenties and on into retirement, where that older person is still gathering and pouring and stirring and pulling and pounding—this, in contrast to those who never learned that, work is fun?

  • Socialism no good

    I gave birth in Sweden, twice. Almost died both times. In second case, my son also needed surgery on his skull because it was misshapen due to being stuck for hours. (But I didn't have to pay for that…..wasn't I lucky!) Only one obstetrician in maternity, you see. For emergencies. Two emergencies at once, you're out of luck. A good socialist doesn't have difficulties giving birth. "Some women can do it." I was told.

  • mrbean

    Scandanavia is a high taxes mixed economy but with less controls than the US and other European countries on the private sector. They are “socialist” in the sense that they have very high taxes with very generous social welfare services provided by the state, the famous “cradle-to-grave” welfare state. They are vibrantly capitalist in the sense that they have low levels of interference in markets by the government, low levels of regulation, low levels of nationalization of industry and capital, and almost no protectionism. But with leftist in politics that will never last.

  • Davidka

    The main reason Sweden "works" to the extent it does, is what the writer pointed out at the start but didn't expand on: The state encourages business by leaving it alone! With small business, Sweden has almost a libertarian attitude. Not like the U.S., where dealing with the government tand its regulations takes up an enormous amount of time and effort even for the smallest business owner. Add to this asset a well-educated populace, Sweden's perfidious coziness with Nazi Germany during WWII, its minimal need for defense (the U.S. basically protects it) and ample land and resources. However, the influx of Muslim immigrants, who by and large do not share Swedish values, is changing everything. If you don't believe me, try walking down the street in one of the Muslim enclaves in Malmo or other cities while wearing a Jewish skullcap and watch what happens.

  • wsk

    The Swedish company Bofors sold weaponry to the Allies and Axis during WWII. Look it up.

  • wsk

    Does the recent Muslim influx count as poor, or are they omitted from the statistics?

  • Maxie

    "As a result Western groupies of Scandinavia hold its “socialism” up as the model for the rest of the world and certainly for the bastions of capitalist inequality and class conflict, especially the English-speaking nations."

    Socialism will work well enough given a relatively small, stable, monocultural population. The key ingredient in such a pandemic culture is TRUST which is built on honesty, reliabilty and a common work ethic. Capitalism works better in a populous polyglot milieu because these characteristics MUST emerge of necessity or you go out of business and die.
    The moral: Socialism is for monocultural communes; Capitalism is for nations. Not complicated.

  • Maxie

    "As a result Western groupies of Scandinavia hold its “socialisx” up as the model for the rest of the world and certainly for the bastions of capitalist inequality and class conflict, especially the English-speaking nations."

    Socialisx will work well enough given a relatively small, stable, monocultural population. The key ingredient in such a pandemic culture is TRUST which is built on honesty, reliabilty and a common work ethic. Capitalisx works better in a populous polyglot milieu because these characteristics MUST emerge of necessity or you go out of business and perish.
    The moral: Socialisx is for monocultural communes; Capitalisx is for nations. Not complicated.

  • Maxie

    "As a result Western groupies of Scandinavia hold its “socialxxx” up as the model for the rest of the world and certainly for the bastions of capitalxxx inequality and class conflict, especially the English-speaking nations."

    Socialxxx will work well enough given a relatively small, stable, monocultural population. The key ingredient in such a pandemic culture is TRUST which is built on honesty, reliabilty and a common work ethic. Capitalxxx works better in a populous polyglot milieu because these characteristics MUST emerge of necessity or you go out of business.

    • bingogringo

      I tend to agree. Small population means more scrutiny…less abuse of the system. It makes no sense being a scofflaw in a small community.

  • Maxie

    Once again the mis-spellings are deliberate in order to defeat the autoeditor which is ridiculous on a site like this one.

  • PacRim Jim

    Scandinavian socialism works as long as the parasitic countries can continue to rely on the U.S. taxpayer to pay for their defense.

  • alice

    No one seems to want to mention that European countries are Christian nations. They are in effect church states. In Norway, as in other countries, the church officials are civil servants paid out of government coffers. Children in their teens are confirmed in classes that serve to keep them out of trouble, hopefuly. If they don't behave, the family gets reported to the state and the family looses its stipend, –yes families get stipends for having and raising kids in the state religion which is Christian. The kids learn to behave whether they want to or not. Since confirmation classes began in 1500's the teenagers have had to be confirmed, very good rite of passage, apparently, and conducive to a high rate of literacy, since early on in their history. After getting drilled in the ten commandments and a few church creeds, most citizens feel ready to make a go of life, and do not chafe at being law abiding, even under a socialist form of government.

    • Fred

      Scandinavia has ridiculously high levels of atheists and agnostics. 75% of Norway, and in Norway at least, the church isn't even part of the state anymore. Religion has nothing to do with it. Even the religious people in Denmark and Norway (Most that is, there are of course exceptions) don't go to church or are what is called 'practicing Christians'. Let's not have a religious debate and where morals come from, but in countries such as the US, which is very religious, people are not nearly as honest and well behaved as Scandinavians. Could you put a food stand up and leave it unattended, expecting that everyone pays the correct sum and takes food accordingly, without any kind of verification, in countries such as the US or France or Belgium? No you couldn't, Scandinavia doesn't have morals because of religion, it is cultural

    • Jorn

      As a Norwegian, I am happy to get to use a British term. Alice, what you wrote is absolute Bollocks! Did you invent this yourself or did you read it in some fiction story?

  • Travis

    Would i be correct if i said Scandinavian socialism put Scandinavians to work, so if poverty is low because Scandinavians work, then Scandinavian socialism works.

    • Jawn

      "Would i be correct if i said Scandinavian socialism put Scandinavians to work"(?)
      You may want to read the article before you comment.

  • FaceIt

    The low poverty rate among Scandinavians in Scandinavian countries is thanks to the fact that Scandinavians work. Scandinavians works because they have free education. Free education allows everyone the opportunity for success. Face it, the systems works.

  • Maurice O'Reilly

    it is time that people debated the value of the stock market in capitalist countries. Stock markets play havoc with the trends of borrowing to support economic growth. In the latest stock market failure, capitalistic greed by a few, with no proper or informed supervision by the Govt has created a situation whereby the whole populace is left with problems,amounting to job losses,confidence in the economy and a variety of other negative outlooks. In capitalistic countries greed is encouraged. This may sound very infantile and trivial. But if a person holds a gun to your head,he is guilty of a heinous crime and is liable for incarceration for life/ On the other hand if a person starts up a business and falsely fleeces people out of their hard earned savings, is arrested and tried, and convicted (if) receives a very minimal sentence/ This takes us back to Norway, being a Christian country , with Christian values, honesty in every segment of society, values hard work and trust. America should not try to be the guardian angel of every country, but to ensure every American gets a decent education,good health cover and a promise of a good future

    • Sue Donovan

      I was not going to add anything since this is an old topic but then I saw your post. I could not agree more. Perhaps we can file this topic under "the grass is always greener". Some (conservative) folks in Europe look to the US and say: "See! The US has capitalism and it WOULD work if there were no government interference…" I just have to chuckle at that. Yes, we have a capitalist economy. We also have an enormous divide between rich and poor. (You almost never see that portrayed in movies). A small percentage of our population has taken over the Republican party (aka the conservative wing). Talk about interference! A group of fundamentalist Christians now dictates that agenda. And, for the most part, the public goes along. (Because the right feeds on fear, anger and ignorance). What is there to say about reducing/eliminating government interference? Look at the 8 year reign of George W. Bush who considered all federal government agencies evil. (Except those who suited his purpose of making the wealthy even more so). Eight long years of neoCon policies almost destroyed this economy. Neither pure capitalism nor pure socialism is workable; I suspect a hybrid economy is more appropriate. Capitalism may work in certain instances – but Maurice is correct. The stock market encourages – no, depends on, a modicum of greed. It might not have started out that way – but that's how it is. I doubt the founders of this country ever envisioned the degree of corruption that has taken hold here. We are a country so divided. The religious right – referenced in the beginning – has poisoned the debate by tapping into the lowest common denominator. There was a time when the adults in the room (government and elected reps) called upon the angels of our better nature. However, now the negativity is couched in religious terms. In the US, that means "hands off." And so – if there are poor – that isn't MY problem. I got mine and too bad for the rest. What hasn't penetrated yet is that poverty has ramifications for us ALL: social unrest, disease, crime. Great empires have fallen when the divide between rich & poor became too vast. . Even the purest of capitalists will understand the wisdom of these words: "If you won't give out of goodness, you'll give to get some peace." Safety nets are essential. Some socialism is necessary bc the common good is the core of every community. How have we forgotten that most basic of principles?

  • Thomas

    What people seem to miss in this debate is how the "socialist democracy" has shaped and formed the mentality of the people living there. For more than a 100 years these people has put great emphasis on helping others. They see a society as a family. If your brother or sister is in trouble you put aside your own needs and help them with money, shelter, food or whatever. What else is the point of living together in a society?

  • Thomas

    And people should also really try to comprehend that the scandinavian countries are as much capitalist as they are socialist. IMO they have found th perfect balance of socialism and capitalism. In the US they usually think that more deregulation equals more freedom. Just like they gun politics. They seem to think that the more weapons you can carry around on the street the more free isthe people.
    Well, freedom to me is letting my children walk to school and back home all alone knowing that they wont pass dozens of people carrying firearms. In Denmark you get 1 year jail time if you are cought with a gun, loaded or not. So nobody has guns. That's freedom in my opinion and takes alot of stress and fear away from us. The reason why Scandinavians are among the best functioning countries in the world is because of trust, honesty, enlightend people and a fair distribution of income.
    Btw. the best and easiest place in the world to start a bussiness is in Denmark according to several reports.

    • hollyhill

      And once again one of the many the reasons gun control wouldn't make much difference in the US is because you have too many gun-wielding gangstah thugs (or volatile rednecks for that matter) who don't give a rat's a$$ about jail time, because it is more advantageous for them to carry a gun ( regardless of the penalty) to facilitate "safe passage" in their world. You have to start with the premise that citizens of the given society play by are willing or trained to play by the rules (ala Scandinavia…) for the most part and actually consider jail time a deterrent.

  • Okey Van Wy

    I think the obvious is overlooked in many nations. Sweden’s welfare state works because Swedes like to work and have a strong work ethic, as apposed to some sub cultures in America. There are currently hundreds of thousands of available jobs in the US and yet many still live on government assistance. They don’t think they should have to put forth more than a slight effort to find employement. Switzerland on the other hand has “workfare” instead of welfare. I believe the US would actualy be more comfortable with workfare. Many Americans do not like to work and will therefore forever be on government assistance – even the able-bodied. This must stop. Its not so much the system as it is that unbrideled gree exists at the top and a dislike of work at the bottom. Maybe Switzerland or Sweden could help America out!

  • jamesieboy

    There is a TV programme in the UK called Shameless. It is a comedy. It is based around layabouts and malingerers who spend their days in the pub drinking, with frequent visits to the betting shop, living an incestuous, welfare-dependent lifestyle all their lives. Their offspring live similar lives and the worst four-letter word in their community is 'work'. Sadly these characters are based on hundreds of thousands of similar people who live similar lives all over the UK, and that is no comedy.
    On Sweden, I lived there ten years ago and worked as a teacher. It is a very developed, civilised, advanced country. Some Turkish students used to tease me and say I wouldn't dare go down to Rinkeby, which was one of the most notorious areas of Stockholm and where there was a big immigrant community. Local Swedes told me it was a ghetto and it would be dangerous to go. In the event for a pizza and a beer, and I wore kilt. The people couldn't have been nicer. They invited me to their house and the area was, by UK standards, reasonable. Yet this was supposed to be one of the poorest areas in Sweden. Take it from me, there is no poverty in Sweden, and that's comparing it to the standards of other countries in Europe.

  • Mikael

    Socialism in Sweden works very well, sure we have high taxes but we are more economicly equal then the u.s we dont need to worry about paying expensive things like , health care, collage .. even thue the liberals are trying to make the rich richer ((yes the liberals are equal to your rebulicans for us ,, and your republicans not to offend any body are fascists in my eye,s )) and trying to kill of our welfare system to benefit the rich.

    but Swedish socialist modell is succesfull i think is becouse we useed the market economy as an servant to the state instead of the ruler and the spread the wealth, you can still get moderate rich in sweden.

    Don´t really understand why the US hasent gone the same road as Sweden..

    well maby obama is trying but for us in sweden hes not even left wing ,he is consider a Right wing here in sweden haha ;D

    • Cozmolyne

      "we useed the market economy as an servant to the state instead of the ruler and the spread the wealth"

      If your giving the economy to the government, you're giving it to the ruler. The market shouldn't be a servant to the State, it shouldn't be a servant to anyone. It should be a way for hard-working people to the money they earn and to keep it without it being taken away. If people were allowed to KEEP their money, they might be able to afford things like healthcare, college, etc. instead for being forced to buy it.

  • Chantal

    According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, Americans work more than anyone else in the industrialized world. Higher education is also free in Scandinavian countries: expats are usually highly educated, and hence it follows that they should do well in any country they choose to work in.

  • Nicki

    I think your logic is flawed, and can’t see that the evidence you use (ie, Scandinavians work) leads without directly to your argument that low poverty rates are not about socialism. I also find your argument undermined by the sarcastic, anti-socialism, pro-capitalism tone.

  • Aporia27

    It should be noted that while Canada and Australia have high percentages of foreign born inhabitants, levels of poverty are lower than in the States. The evidence is right in front of your eyes, if you go to a major American city, versus one in Canada or Australia. By and large, the later do not have a “bad side of town” where it is dangerous to go. There are, by and large, no urban slums (the only example I can think of is Vancouver’s East Side). The part of the story that this article completely ignores is the level of racism that still persists in American society, and that manifests itself in the extra hardship of finding a job as a black person (check out the study in which identical resumes were sent out with black and white sounding names) and in disproportionate attention to black drug use and drug dealing, versus that of whites (e.g., trying to achieve a certain number of arrests by looking for dealers and users in a black neighbourhood, and ignoring white drug use). This means that there is still a great deal of systemic poverty in the States.

    • Hy Alldredge

      It’s because of the makeup of the foreign born population in Candada and Australia. They’re mostly Asian. Asian neighborhoods in the US are safe too. Black and Hispanic ones are not. It’s not because of racism, or poverty. Chinatown here in NYC is quite poor, but very safe. I’d walk around there at 2am. Bed-Stuy? No way. It seems that, worldwide, the standard of living in a country, city, or neighborhood is almost always directly correlated to race. The conclusions one might draw from this are disturbing, but reality doesn’t lie. In France Muslim neighborhoods have become no go zones. In Sweden ethnic minorities set fire to a city. Central and Southern Africa is a constant hotbed of violence, corruption, and poverty. Haiti has been in the toilet since they killed and drove out the French. You can’t blame whitey everywhere.

      • An American Citizen

        That is a HUGE generalization. Based on what..? Your presumptions of ALL the bad neighborhoods in ALL the countries around the world? Minorites have struggled in many countries because even if a citizen they are not treated as such through systematic and subliminal practices that hold them back and give those of the majority/dominant group a better chance. This is the most evident in the United States where the meaning of citizenship hardly correlates with the rights given. EG:
        Japanese Americans detained and confined (many of which were American citizens for years, even generations); African Americans not being allowed to vote during the Civil Rights Era; Native Americans being denied their rights even though they are the ONLY “real” Americans; WOMEN not being allowed to voted even though considered a citizen. Or a more current example of the Patriot Act which so conveniently allows for systematic racism through detaining anyone who they THINK is a terrorist without respect to their rights. United States has a LONG history of suppressing minorities in order to give way to keep the dominant group ..well dominant, which would be WHITE MALES. I will blame whitey, thank you very much.

        • Sun

          Your excuses are BULLSHIT. Many minorities do well such as Jews and Asians. No Africans do crap. You wrote this one year ago but it is STILL stupid.

    • Angry Jimmy

      Pretty much every major Canadian city has a “bad side of town”. We’re not much different from you, our handgun-G unit-thuggery isn’t as high that’s all, though it most definitely exists.

  • Joseph

    So you insult Sweden for making money out of World War Two and not fighting. Sorry not the whole world enjoys going to war and having their populations killed in a war they could never have won.

    But anyway, yeah what selfish heartless bastards that made money out of the war. I mean, America definitely made no money out of the war did they? What with their war subsidies at sky high intrest rates that nations didn’t finish paying till 10 years ago, or their ‘requisition’ of German intellectuals that put America into space.

    Oh, wait……

  • iakovos
  • MasterS

    Socialism is not bad nor is it evil, In fact Socialism is much much better then any other type of system we use today, however the point where it fails is in the people.
    People are bad and some are evil, but most all are greedy, this is what destroys socialism and Communism, Greedy people at the top making others suffer, it is in fact what destroys all systems, if people were all good socialism would work very very well and if people didn’t have this need to feel they are better than others Socialism would work wonderfully, the problem isn’t the systems it is the people.

    • Tjeu Hermse

      there are many ways around this. for example, i live of wellfare right now. i dont want to. i want to provide for my own. most people in wellfare do. nobody wants to be subsidized by the state. its something most people feel ashamed for. we feel like a failure. the world is not about money. the world is about respect. and some people think money is the same as respect. its not. a lot of money often shows succes, but having no money or living from wellfare is the same amount of failure. wellfare will make your life easier but it wont make your self image better. i want to provide for people like me, i want to work so i can help them stand up again.

  • Stacey P.

    I saw where this was going……the writer is pro capitalism…..most people are, and I used to be. So in the end its not socialism that works but hard work. Bullshit. A lot of people in the U.S that work hard are getting closer and closer to poverty wages. But the rich are getting increasingly richer. In the end…this person does not want to admit that just maybe socialism does work. But point taken…if socialism is to work, you need a non-immigrant society…..have pride in your own….take care of your own. Danes are proud of their country and are concerned with the welfare of fellow Danes which we lack in our society in the U.S because we have created a dog eat dog materialist situation. The author of this article did not even bother to mention that Denmark has also been labeled (through studies from the world report) to have the worlds most happiest and healthiest people. No wonder…..they are not so busy running after money and worrying about health insurance and retirement….they can focus on their work and can afford to do whatever they love because in the end, even though they are taxed out of the wazu…..they know that their basics are taken care of. I understand the argument between capitalism and Socialism..but as I have gotten older and have become increasingly aware that the search for money and security leads to spiritual depravity and well… Greed; I think the Nordic countries have much for the rest of the world to learn from. Take care of your own and have pride in that, work hard, yes the government will scoop up much of your money…but you are guaranteed a decent and modest standard of living.

    • į âm KìÑG hęrê

      Norway is higher ranked than the U.S. when it comes to suicides, most if not all of the Scandinavian countries are by the way.

  • mudpooch

    There is no hope for humanity judging by the tone of the piece itself and the comments thereafter:(