At last night's townhall hosted by MSNBC, Bernie Sanders talked about democratic socialism. Setting Medicare for All as the central theme, Sanders explained that when he talks about "democratic socialism," he's not looking to Cuba or Venezuela, but rather to countries like Denmark and Sweden.
The question is why. For one thing, the comparison is inaccurate. What Bernie is proposing, a single-payer health insurance system, is not what Denmark or Sweden have. Denmark has a system closely resembling socialized medicine. The key difference between single payer (Canada, for example) and socialized medicine is that in a single payer, the providers and hospitals are still private, while in a socialized medicine environment, for example in Denmark, physicians work for the government, and hospitals are owned and run by the government. Sweden has a hybrid system, although the largest hospital facilities are in fact owned by county governments in Sweden and most doctors work for them.
Neither Sweden nor Denmark has a single-payer system akin to what Bernie Sanders is proposing. Remarkably in both Sweden and Denmark, the regulations and administration of health care delivery is governed at the regional and local levels, while the central governments provide broad guidance. Sanders is looking to expand Medicare - a single payer system in which the federal government does all the administration and sets all the regulations.
Clearly, Bernie Sanders isn't trying target countries that have put his exact plan in place in his examples. He is only trying to provide examples of countries with universal health coverage (and a bunch of other 'free' things).
So then, why Sweden and Denmark, and not, say, Japan, Singapore, Chile, Brazil, Thailand, Costa Rica or South Korea? Heck, Brazil even has tuition-free college. Japan and South Korea have lower income inequality than the United States
I suggest the association with the Nordic countries might have something to do with the following statistic: in both Denmark and Sweden, their relatively small populations are overwhelmingly white, to the tune of around 95% (which nicely tracks with Vermont's racial makeup). Of the less than 6 million people who live in Denmark, only 8% are immigrants, and even the immigrant population is overwhelmingly of European origin. Of the roughly 10 million residents of Sweden, about 600,000 are of non-Western European origin.
It's no surprise, then, that Bernie constantly spouts out Scandinavian countries on the stump as his examples of democratic socialism, even though his campaign website includes the names of a few other countries.
For those who are about to argue "but but but Sweden and Denmark because those are "developed" economies like the United States", stuff it. For one thing, that you cannot find a single country you can call "developed" outside the countries with small, monolithic white populations should be quite telling - not to mention anything of the rising scourge of racism in the Nordic. For another, have you been to Seoul, Singapore, Rio, or Tokyo? The level of development in some of these countries can put us to shame easily.
And there's the rub. The reason Bernie has to keep blabbering about Scandinavia in his push for this democratic socialist utopia are two-fold: Bernie's indifference in trying to build a model that works for a diverse population that accounts for racial, ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences, and his inability to find a single example of a non-super-white (or even a large) country that could serve as a model.
Two sides of the same coin, that combination could also describe why as examples of democratic socialist programs within the United States, Sanders chose Social Security and Medicare - both of which started out largely as programs restricted to the white middle class. At its start, Social Security did not include fields of work dominated by people of color, and you can't have affordable Medicare (premiums waived) if you haven't earned social security wages.
The one broad social safety-net program Bernie did not include in his description of democratic socialism? The Affordable Care Act, which excludes no one based on the type of work they do, and has had the biggest impact, from the start, on communities of color. He also left out the Children's Health Insurance Program - a public program no less - which was most beneficial to families, especially poorer families which tend to be disproportionately black and brown, and which, along with Obamacare is now responsible for near-universal health coverage for children in America.
Willful ignorance or callous indifference? I don't really care. What I do know is that if we want to truly built stronger and better social safety net in America, we cannot just use small, monolithic white countries in Western Europe, we must also look to models in countries with different ethnic and cultural make-ups. We cannot just be looking to social insurance programs with universal benefits participants but racially narrow beginning reach; we must also look to needs-based solutions and expansions that serve a multicultural, multiracial population from the start.
What I do know is that we need the next president of the United States to understand this.