Johan Hassel, the international secretary for Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, visited Iowa before the caucuses, and he wasn’t impressed with America’s standard bearer for democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “We were at a Sanders event, and it was like being at a Left Party meeting,” he told Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, according to one translation. “It was a mixture of very young people and old Marxists, who think they were right all along. There were no ordinary people there, simply.”
Hassel was most “impressed” with Pete Buttigieg, though he also liked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Eric Kleefeld, assiduous student of foreign politics, provides some context on Sweden’s Social Democrats:
Some more context: The “Left Party” he talks about in there is the old Communist Party back home in Sweden. (They changed their name around 1990 or so — wonder why.)
The Left/Communists have worked with the Social Democrats in minority parliaments, but never included in cabinet.
— Eric Kleefeld (@EricKleefeld) February 18, 2020
Why would a Swedish Social Democrat favor Buttigieg over Sanders? Well, democratic socialism is different than Sweden’s social democracy — the “Nordic model” Sanders touts — “and, unfortunately, Sanders has contributed to this confusion,” writes MIT political economist Daron Acemoglu. Democratic socialism seeks to fix the iniquities of the market economy by handing control of the means of production to a company’s workers or “an administrative structure operated by the state,” he explains. “European social democracy is a system for regulating the market economy, not for supplanting it.”
Lars Løkke Rasmussen, then the prime minister of Denmark, made a similar point in a speech at Harvard in 2015, when Sanders was gaining national attention. “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism,” he said. “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” albeit with “an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security to its citizens.”
Rasmussen’s model, Vox‘s Matthew Yglesias wrote at the time, “is not especially different, as a substantive matter, from what Sanders is saying.” Sanders wants “higher taxes, a lot more social welfare spending,” and single-payer health care, he adds. “But in Rasmussen’s view, this doesn’t amount to socialism at all.” Which may explain why, in Wednesday’s debate, Warren affirmed she is a capitalist and Buttigieg held up Denmark as the paragon of the American Dream. Peter Weber