In his recent speech at Georgetown, Bernie Sanders “buried the lead” to some extent while mounting his defense of Democratic Socialism: his vision for America is, in many ways, a Conservative one, in the sense that he is proposing what is in essence a uniquely and strongly “pro-business” agenda for the 21st century.
Bernie is often criticised for holding up Denmark as a country we can learn from. Pages and web sites are filled with conservatives screaming about how Denmark is filled with lazy people living on the dole and it has a decrepit, top-heavy socialist government that taxes its citizens into poverty, burdens business and smothers entrepreneurship in its cradle.
Even Hillary Clinton was quick to assert in the first Democratic Debate that “we are not Denmark” and to launch into a defense of America by saying: “when I think about capitalism, I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families.”
What if she were wrong? What if America in the 21st century were not such a great place to start a business? What if there was a country that was more business friendly, a country that was NOT America, but which was named by Forbes Magazine as the “Best Country For Business”-?
There is such a country. It is called DENMARK.
The latest rankings from Forbes for the “Best Countries for Business” ranked Denmark No. 1. And this is not a fluke – Denmark recently captured the title of No. 1 best country for business for three straight years, from 2008-2010 (yes, while America was in the throes of an economic meltdown).
The Forbes article points out a few aspects of the Danish system that make it particularly good for business:
“One of the keys to Denmark’s pro-business climate is the flexible labor market known as “Flexisecurity,” where companies can easily hire and fire workers with out-of-work adults eligible for significant unemployment benefits. Unemployed workers are also eligible for training programs. It creates one of the most productive workforces in Europe. “The model encourages economic efficiency where employees end up in the job they are best suited for,” says Weis. “It allows employers to quickly change and reallocate resources in the workplace.”
Stop and think about that for a moment: the government provides significant unemployment benefits and training programs, and in return, businesses can hire and fire more easily. It is, in a way a perfect trade-off. Business gets the flexibility it needs whilst workers are guaranteed that they won’t be in a crisis if they do lose their job and have to find another one.
Denmark, of course, shares another business-friendly advantage with every other industrialized country except the US – universal “single payer” health care. This is one of Bernie’s centerpiece proposals, and it is one that would rejuvenate and transform American business and turbocharge American entrepreneurship.
Small business’s share of the U.S. economy is slowly shrinking and is less significant than in Denmark as well as many other European economies. This is because of crony Capitalism and “laissez-faire” attitude that believes in the so-called “Free Market” – when there is no such thing. Europe’s political and economic system is much more modern than America’s. Viewed in those terms, it is not hard to believe that the European-style “Democratic Socialism” that Bernie is pushing is the way to go for entrepreneurs and believers in free enterprise.
But don’t take my word on it – this is all from BusinessWeek.
Moreover, the advantages of a Social Democratic system don’t just accrete to small businesses. Large industries can also benefit. Let’s face it, the main reasons for joining a union these days are a decent (if not “Cadillac”) health care plan and substantial retirement and other benefits. Many large organizations, from automakers to airlines, have to negotiate with unions who seek to secure expensive benefits for their workers. Adopting a Social Democratic system, where the government provides decent health care, a dignified retirement, paid medical and family leave and so on removes these burdens from the company balance sheet, making them even more competitive in the worldwide marketplace. This is how European companies like BMW, Mercedes and others are able to compete while still affording their workers a high quality of life even as their salaries remain modest.
In the Forbes study, the US ranked 18th, behind all of Scandinavia, most of Europe, Australia and Canada – in other words, all Democratic Socialist countries with national single payer health care and strong worker benefits and retirement programs. Bernie is right when he says that we can learn from these countries, but what needs to be stressed is the “win-win” scenario for both workers and business owners that can result from adopting such programs.
No, Hillary, we are not Denmark. But if we heed Bernie Sanders and emulate what the Danes have done, maybe we can become more like them – at least enough to get into the top 10 on that Forbes list.
And what pro-business conservative could argue against that?