October 18, 2017

Cognitive bias – it can be a problem for the “nudgers”, too

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ilya Somin says that replacing private decisions with “rational” government nudges does not guarantee that there are no cognitive biases still being expressed:

Economist Richard Thaler recently won the 2017 Nobel Prize in economics for his important work documenting widespread cognitive errors in human decision-making. All too often, people fail to act as rationally as conventional economic models assume, and at least some of those errors are systematic in nature. Such errors can lead to mistakes that greatly diminish our health, happiness, and welfare.

Thaler and many other behavioral economics scholars argue that government should intervene to protect people against their cognitive biases, by various forms of paternalistic policies. In the best-case scenario, government regulators can “nudge” us into correcting our cognitive errors, thereby enhancing our welfare without significantly curtailing freedom.

Irrational Nudgers

But can we trust government to be less prone to cognitive error than the private-sector consumers whose mistakes we want to correct? If not, paternalistic policies might just replace one form of cognitive bias with another, perhaps even worse one. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that politicians are prone to severe cognitive biases too – especially when they consider ideologically charged issues. Danish scholars Caspar Dahlmann and Niels Bjorn Petersen summarize their findings from a study of Danish politicians:

    We conducted a survey of 954 Danish local politicians. In Denmark, local politicians make decisions over crucial services such as schools, day care, elder care and various social and health services. Depending on their ideological beliefs, some politicians think that public provision of these services is better than private provision. Others think just the opposite. We wanted to see how these beliefs affected the ways in which politicians interpreted evidence….

    In our first test, we asked the politicians to evaluate parents’ satisfaction ratings for a public and a private school. We had deliberately set up the comparison so one school performed better than the other. We then divided the politicians into two groups. One group got the data — but without any information as to whether the school was public or private. The schools were just labeled “School A” and “School B.” The other group got the exact same data, but instead of “School A” and “School B,” the schools’ titles were “Public School” and “Private School.”

    If politicians are influenced by their ideologies, we would expect that they would be able to interpret the information about “School B” and “School A” correctly. However, the other group would be influenced by their ideological beliefs about private versus public provision of welfare services in ways that might lead them to make mistakes….

    This is exactly what we found. Most politicians interpreting data from “School A” and “School B” were perfectly capable of interpreting the information correctly. However, when they were asked to interpret data about a “Public School” and a “Private School” they often misinterpreted it, to make the evidence fit their desired conclusion.

Even when presented additional evidence to help them correct their mistakes, Dahlmann and Petersen found that the politicians tended to double down on their errors rather than admit they might have been wrong. And it’s worth noting that Denmark is often held up as a model of good government that other countries should imitate. If Danish politicians are prone to severe ideological bias in their interpretation of evidence, the same – or worse – is likely to be true of their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere.

October 3, 2017

Between Gulasch Barons and Defending Neutrality – Denmark in WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 2 Oct 2017

Denmark, Germany’s northern neighbour, declared neutrality when World War 1 broke out. But after the defeat against Germany in the 19th century, they were still worried and readied their defences. At the same time Germany’s hunger for supplies created a new rich elite which were called Gulasch Barons. 30,000 Danes also fought for Germany since they lived in a territory previously belonging to Denmark.

August 25, 2017

Great Northern War – I: When Sweden Ruled the World – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Russia — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 19 Aug 2017

A young boy king had inherited the crown of the Swedish Empire, and his neighbors saw an opportunity to attack. To their surprise, young Charles XII of Sweden turned out to be a fearsome opponent who quickly repelled their assaults – and then sought revenge.

April 7, 2017

Unintended consequences of “good” policies

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle discusses when some otherwise nice-seeming policy changes have not-so-nice unforeseen side effects:

What happens when you suddenly offer parents generous family leave benefits, paid at the expense of the government? You can probably think of dozens of outcomes. But here’s one you might not have been expecting: people die.

That’s the finding of Benjamin Friedrich and Martin Hackmann, in a new working paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The culprit? Nurses, who skew female, provide a lot of vital health care, and made heavy use of Denmark’s new paid family leave benefit when it passed in 1994. Since the supply of nurses was limited, and their skills could not easily be replaced, hospital readmissions went up, and more troublingly, mortality spiked among elderly patients in nursing homes.

Advocates of paid parental leave are no doubt bristling at the implication that their favorite benefit might kill people. But that’s not quite the right implication to take away from this paper. What it really highlights is how difficult it is to know how a given policy will turn out. Had officials understood that in advance, they might have taken steps to mitigate the effects — such as training extra nurses beforehand. The problem, in other words, wasn’t necessarily family leave policy, but the limited visibility policymakers have into the outcomes of their plans.

To see why, consider what the paper actually found. When parental leave came along, it reduced the supply of nurses. But that impact wasn’t felt evenly. In hospitals, where doctors make more of the medical decisions, it seems to have been costly to patient health. But in nursing homes, where nursing staff have more power over daily operations, it seems to have made a much bigger difference. Meanwhile, nursing assistants seem to have been little impacted by the change in leave policy; while they were also likely to make generous use of the leave, health-care facilities seem to have had little difficulty replacing them.

March 21, 2017

Icelandic standup about Nordic neighbours in general and Finnish language in particular

Filed under: Europe, Humour — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Dec 1, 2016

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

February 11, 2017

QotD: The Nazi Final Solution in Denmark and Bulgaria

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… most nations of Central and Eastern Europe were occupied by or allied with Germany during this period. The Nazis made it clear that deporting their Jews to the concentration camps in Nazi territory was a condition for continued good relations; a serious threat, when bad relations could turn a protectorate-type situation into an outright invasion and occupation.

Pride of place goes to Denmark and Bulgaria, both of which resisted all Nazi demands despite the Germans having almost complete power over them. Most people have heard the legend of how, when the Germans ordered that all Jews must wear gold stars, the King of Denmark said he would wear one too. These kinds of actions weren’t just symbolic; without cooperation from the Gentile population and common knowledge of who was or wasn’t Jewish, the Nazis had no good way to round people up for concentration camps. Nothing happened until 1943, when Himmler became so annoyed that he sent his personal agent Rolf Gunther to clean things up. Gunther tried hard but found the going impossible. Danish police refused to go door-to-door rounding up Jews, and when Gunther imported police from Germany, the Danes told them that they couldn’t break into apartments or else they would arrest them for breaking and entering. Then the Danish police tipped off Danish Jews not to open their doors to knocks since those might be German police. When it became clear that the Nazis weren’t going to accept any more delays, Danish fishermen offered to ferry Jews to neutral Sweden for free. In the end the Nazis only got a few hundred Danish Jews, and the Danish government made such a “fuss” (Arendt’s word) about them that the Nazis agreed to send them all to Theresienstadt, their less-murderous-than-usual camp, and let Red Cross observers in to make sure they were treated well. In the end, only 48 Danish Jews died in the entire Holocaust.

Bulgaria’s resistance was less immediately heroic, and looked less like the king proudly proclaiming his identity with oppressed people everywhere than with the whole government just dragging their feet so long that nothing got done. Eichmann sent an agent named Theodor Dannecker to get them moving, but as per Arendt:

    not until about six months later did they take the first step in the direction of “radical” measures – the introduction of the Jewish badge. For the Nazis, even this turned out to be a great disappointment. In the first place, as they dutifully reported, the badge was only a “very little star”; second, most Jews simply did not wear it; and, third, those who did wear it received “so many manifestations of sympathy from the misled population that they actually are proud of their sign” – as Walter Schellenberg, Chief of Counterintelligence in the R.S.H.A., wrote in an S.D. report transmitted to the Foreign Office in November, 1942. Whereupon the Bulgarian government revoked the decree. Under great German pressure, the Bulgarian government finally decided to expel all Jews from Sofia to rural areas, but this measure was definitely not what the Germans demanded, since it dispersed the Jews instead of concentrating them.

The Bulgarians continued their policy of vaguely agreeing in principle to Nazi demands and then doing nothing, all the way until the Russians invaded and the time of danger was over. The result was that not a single Bulgarian Jew died in the Holocaust.

Scott Alexander, “Book review: Eichmann in Jerusalem”, Slate Star Codex, 2017-01-30.

December 12, 2016

QotD: Don’t mess with the market

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Please note that this is nothing to do with a debate about capitalism or socialism: they are descriptions of who owns the productive assets in a society. It’s also nothing at all to do with whatever the correct level of taxation, state provision or anything about what redistribution should be in a society. It’s purely a point about how you try to achieve the goals that you’ve set yourself.

It’s entirely possible to alter or ameliorate the outcomes of market process. But the temptation to direct those market processes is where the problems come in. Take Venezuela: as I’ve repeatedly said there’s nothing immoral or necessarily undesirable about increasing the incomes of the poor or of reducing inequality. It’s just that the method that one uses to do this has to be taking money from richer people and then giving it to poorer people. Not, as they have done, attempting to do a whole series of price fixing. This was something that New Labour, under Blair and Brown, largely did get. Allow the economy to hum along and tax it to then pay for the results that you want.

Miliband was arguing the other way. That we should be doing that price fixing, that interference directly into the market, in order to achieve our goals. And that is the Venezuelan mistake.

We do in fact have in front of us an example of what most leftists consider to be a generally desirable outcome: the Nordics. They’re high tax, high redistribution states, oh yes they are. But they’re also, underneath that, markedly more classically liberal than either the UK or the US. That’s what makes the places tick. They don’t have minimum wages for example, let alone price fixing for energy. As Scott Sumner has pointed out Denmark might be the most classically liberal economy on the planet.

The real lesson I think the left needs to learn is that markets work. You can change the outcome through tax and redistribution if you wish: but don’t mess with the workings of the market itself.

Tim Worstall, “Under Miliband Britain Would Have Become Like Venezuela”, Forbes, 2015-05-09.

July 25, 2016

Danish psychologist on “the relationship between cultural background and criminal behavior”

Filed under: Europe, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Nicolai Sennels is a Danish psychologist who became the focus of debate on the influence of cultural and religious background and criminality:

After having consulted with 150 young Muslim clients in therapy and 100 Danish clients (who, on average, shared the same age and social background as their Muslim inmates), my findings were that the Muslims’ cultural and religious experiences played a central role in their psychological development and criminal behavior. “Criminal foreigners” is not just a generalizing and imprecise term. It is unfair to non-Muslim foreigners and generally misleading.

Discussing psychological characteristics of the Muslim culture is important. Denmark has foreigners from all over the world and according to official statistics from Danmarks Statistik all non-Muslim groups of immigrants are less criminal than the ethnic Danes. Even after adjusting, according to educational and economic levels, all Muslim groups are more criminal than any other ethnic group. Seven out of 10, in the youth prison where I worked, were Muslim.


Muslim culture has a very different view of anger and in many ways opposite to what we experience here in the West.

Expressions of anger and threats are probably the quickest way to lose one’s face in Western culture. In discussions, those who lose their temper have automatically lost, and I guess most people have observed the feeling of shame and loss of social status following expressions of aggression at one’s work place or at home. In the Muslim culture, aggressive behavior, especially threats, are generally seen to be accepted, and even expected as a way of handling conflicts and social discrepancies. If a Muslim does not respond in a threatening way to insults or social irritation, he, not “she” (Muslim women are, mostly, expected to be humble and to not show power) is seen as weak, as someone who cannot be depended upon and loses face.

In the eyes of most Westerners it looks immature and childish when people try to use threatening behavior, to mark their dislikes. A Danish saying goes “…Only small dogs bark. Big dogs do not have to.” That saying is deeply rooted in our cultural psychology as a guideline for civilized social behavior. To us, aggressive behavior is a clear sign of weakness. It is a sign of not being in control of oneself and lacking ability to handle a situation. We see peoples’ ability to remain calm as self confidence, allowing them to create a constructive dialogue. Their knowledge of facts, use of common sense and ability in producing valid arguments is seen as a sign of strength.

The Islamic expression of “holy anger” is therefore completely contradictory to any Western understanding. Those two words in the same sentence sound contradictory to us. The terror-threatening and violent reaction of Muslims to the Danish Mohammed cartoons showing their prophet as a man willing to use violence to spread his message, is seen from our Western eyes as ironic. Muslims’ aggressive reaction to a picture showing their prophet as aggressive, completely confirms the truth of the statement made by Kurt Westergaard in his satiric drawing.

This cultural difference is exceedingly important when dealing with Muslim regimes and organizations. Our way of handling political disagreement goes through diplomatic dialogue, and calls on Muslim leaders to use compassion, compromise and common sense. This peaceful approach is seen by Muslims as an expression of weakness and lack of courage. Thus avoiding the risks of a real fight is seen by them as weakness; when experienced in Muslim culture, it is an invitation to exploitation.

May 22, 2016

Perhaps the US Navy can learn from Denmark on getting the “Little Crappy Ships” right

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

On the National Interest Blog, James Hasik points out that the idea of the Littoral Combat Ships of the US Navy was successfully implemented more than twenty years ago (and much more economically, too):

In contrast, we know it’s possible to get modularity right, because the Royal Danish Navy has been getting it right since the early 1990s. Way back in 1985, Danyard laid down the Flyvefisken (Flying Fish), the first of a class of 14 patrol vessels. The ships were intended to fight the Warsaw Pact on the Baltic — a sea littoral throughout, with an average depth of 180 feet, and a width nowhere greater than 120 miles. Any navy on its waters might find itself fighting surface ships, diesel submarines, rapidly ingressing aircraft, and sea mines in close order. On the budget of a country of fewer than six million people, the Danes figured that they should maximize the utility of any given ship. That meant standardizing a system of modules for flexible mission assignment. The result was the Stanflex modular payload system.

At 450 tons full load, a Flyvefisken is much smaller than a Freedom (3900 tons) or an Independence (3100 tons). Her complement is much smaller too: 19 to 29, depending on the role. At not more than 15 tons, the Stanflex modules are also smaller than the particular system designed anew for the LCSs. But a Flyvefisken came with four such slots (one forward, three aft), and a range of modules surprisingly broad […]

Swapping modules pier-side requires a few hours and a 15-ton crane. Truing the gun module takes some hours longer. Retraining the crew is another matter, but modular specialists can be swapped too. The concept has had some staying power. The Flyvefiskens served Denmark as recently as 2010. In a commercial vote of confidence, the Lithuanian Navy bought three secondhand, and the Portuguese Navy four (as well as a fifth for spare parts). Over time, the Royal Danish Navy has provided Stanflex slots and modules to all its subsequent ships: the former Niels Juel-class corvettes, the Thetis-class frigates, the Knud Rasmussen-class patrol ships, the well-regarded Absalon-class command-and-support ships, and the new Ivar Huitfeldt-class frigates.

HDMS Skaden (hull number P561) and HDMS Thetis (F357) in Copenhagen

Flyvefisken-class patrol ship HDMS Skaden (hull number P561) and HDMS Thetis (F357) in Copenhagen (via WikiMedia)

In short, 25 years ago the Danes figured out how a single ship could hunt and kill mines, submarines and surface ships. A small ship can’t do all those things well at once, but that’s a choice in fleet architecture. Whatever we think of the LCS program, we shouldn’t draw the wrong lessons from it. Why is this important? Modularity is economical, as the Danes have long known. Critically, modularity also lends flexibility in recovering from wartime surprise, in that platforms can be readily provided new payloads without starting from scratch. Because on December the 8th, when you need a face-punched plan, you’d rather be building new boxes than new whole new ships.

Wikipedia has this image of the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt:

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

December 8, 2015

Still more to learn about the human immune system

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A brief post at Real Clear Science on a recent discovery in human immunology:

Think again if you thought that doctors had long since identified and described exactly how the body defends itself against microorganisms.

Scientists have recently discovered a whole new side to the immune system: a rapid immune response that kicks in well before any of the other known mechanisms.

“I hate to use the term ‘text books will write about this’, but this [discovery] really is brand new and we will need to write a new chapter,” says co-author Søren R. Paludan, professor of virology and immunology form the Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University, Denmark.

In collaboration with groups from the US and Germany, the scientists showed that when the body’s outer defence, the mucosa lining that surrounds certain organs, is disturbed by a virus, the underlying layer of cells are the first to react and sound the alarm. They summon the body’s cell soldiers, which attack the invading virus.

Both this alarm system and the ‘soldier’ cells operate completely separately from what were believed to be the first responders to immune system attacks.

November 1, 2015

Terry Teachout on the great Victor Borge

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Terry Teachout wrote about Danish comedian/pianist Victor Borge back in 2005:

I doubt that many people under the age of forty remember Victor Borge, the comedian-pianist who died in 2000 at the miraculous age of ninety-one. He was a star for a very long time, first on radio, then TV, and Comedy in Music, his 1953 one-man show, ran for 849 consecutive performances on Broadway, a record which so far as I know remains unbroken. From there he went on the road and stayed there, giving sixty-odd concerts in the season before his death. Borge spent his old age basically doing Comedy in Music over and over again, which never seemed to bother anybody. I reviewed it twice for the Kansas City Star in the Seventies, and loved it both times. His Danish-accented delivery was so droll and his timing so devastatingly exact that even the most familiar of his charming classical-music spoofs somehow remained fresh, as you can see by watching any of the various videos of his act.

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when so popular a comedian started out as a serious musician, much less one who became popular by making witty fun of the classics. Such a thing could only have happened in the days when America’s middlebrow culture was still intact and at the height of its influence. Back then the mass media, especially TV, went out of their way to introduce ordinary people to classical music and encouraged them to take it seriously–which didn’t mean they couldn’t laugh at it, too, as Borge proved whenever he sat down to play.

Borge’s act resembled a straight piano recital gone wrong. He’d start to play a familiar piece like Clair de lune or the “Moonlight” Sonata, then swerve off in some improbable-sounding direction, never getting around to finishing what he started. Yet he was clearly an accomplished pianist, though few of his latter-day fans had any idea how good he’d been (he studied with Egon Petri, Busoni’s greatest pupil). He usually made a point of playing a piece from start to finish toward the end of every concert, and I remember how delighted I was each time I heard him ripple through one of Ignaz Friedman’s bittersweet Viennese-waltz arrangements, which he played with a deceptively nonchalant old-world panache that never failed to leave me longing for an encore. Alas, he never obliged, and in later years I found myself wondering whether he’d really been quite so fine as my memory told me.

April 22, 2015

Denmark’s Bornholm Island draws Russian attention

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Strategy Page, Austin Bay talks about the unusual attention paid to a Danish island in the Baltic Sea by Russian military forces:

Denmark’s Bornholm Island apparently troubles Vladimir Putin’s 21st-century Kremlin war planners as much as it vexed their Cold War Soviet-era predecessors.

More on Bornholm’s specifics in a moment, but first let’s cover one more example of Putin Russia’s aggressive wrong doing. According to an open-source Danish security assessment, in mid-June 2014, three months after Putin’s Kremlin attacked and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russian aircraft carrying live missiles bluffed an attack on Bornholm. Though the report doesn’t provide the exact date, the bomber “probe” occurred during the three-day period the island hosted a touchy-feely “peoples festival.” The festival’s 90,000 participants were unaware they were seeking peaceful solutions on a bulls-eye.

The Bornholm faux-attack reprised Soviet Cold War “tests” of Danish defenses and is but one of a score of serious Russian military probes since 2008 designed to rattle Northern Europe. These Kremlin air and naval probes, backed by harsh rhetoric, have led Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland to reassess their military defenses. “Nordic cooperation” with an emphasis on territorial defense was the first formulation. The Nordics, however, acknowledged ties to Baltic states (and NATO members) Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since the Crimea invasion, Denmark and Norway (NATO members) want to reinvigorate NATO military capabilities. Continued Russian aggression in Ukraine has led a few habitually neutral Swedes to voice an interest in joining NATO.

Bornholm Island (via Google Maps)

Bornholm Island (via Google Maps)

Back to Bornholm: the island’s location and geology irritated Soviet-era Kremlin strategists. Located in the Baltic Sea east of peninsular Denmark, north of Poland’s coast and to the rear of what was East Germany, Bornholm gave the Free World outpost north of and behind Warsaw Pact lines.

Soviet communications security officers despised the place. Bornholm’s electronic intercept systems, quite literally, bugged them.

As for geology, unlike Jutland’s flat peninsula, Bornholm is rock. In the 1970s, while serving a U.S. Army tour in West Germany, I heard a senior officer describe Bornholm as “sort of a Gibraltar.” His exaggeration had a point. Dig tunnels and Bornholm became a hard target for Soviet conventional weapons.

March 18, 2015

What About Canada? I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 16 Mar 2015

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom to answer your questions about World War 1. This week you asked about the chance of Scandinavia joining the war and what was the deal with Canada?

January 13, 2015

The oddity that is Denmark

Filed under: Europe, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

In the New York Post, Kyle Smith has a go at de-smugging one of the smuggest countries in the world … no, it’s not Canada (but we’re pretty damned smug ourselves):

Want proof that the liberal social-democratic society works?

Look to Denmark, the country that routinely leads the world in happiness surveys. It’s also notable for having the highest taxes on Earth, plus a comfy social-safety net: Child care is mostly free, as is public school and even private school, and you can stay on unemployment benefits for a long time. Everyone is on an equal footing, both income-wise and socially: Go to a party and you wouldn’t be surprised to see a TV star talking to a roofer.

The combination of massive taxes and benefits for the unsuccessful means top and bottom get shaved off: Pretty much everyone is proudly middle class. Danes belong to more civic associations and clubs than anyone else; they love performing in large groups. At Christmas they do wacky things like hold hands and run around the house together, singing festive songs. They’re a real-life Whoville.

In the American liberal compass, the needle is always pointing to places like Denmark. Everything they most fervently hope for here has already happened there.

So: Why does no one seem particularly interested in visiting Denmark? (“Honey, on our European trip, I want to see Tuscany, Paris, Berlin and … Jutland!”) Visitors say Danes are joyless to be around. Denmark suffers from high rates of alcoholism. In its use of antidepressants it ranks fourth in the world. (Its fellow Nordics the Icelanders are in front by a wide margin.) Some 5% of Danish men have had sex with an animal. Denmark’s productivity is in decline, its workers put in only 28 hours a week, and everybody you meet seems to have a government job. Oh, and as The Telegraph put it, it’s “the cancer capital of the world.”

So how happy can these drunk, depressed, lazy, tumor-ridden, pig-bonking bureaucrats really be?

December 23, 2014

Turning the United States into something like Scandinavia

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Government, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:13

In his daily-or-so Forbes post, Tim Worstall explains the real reason why it will be somewhere between difficult and impossible to turn the United States into a Scandinavian mixed economy like Denmark:

The essence of the argument is that sure, we’d like quite a lot of equity in how the economy works out. Wouldn’t mind that large (but efficient! of which more later) welfare state. We’d also like to have continuing economic growth of course, so that our children are better off than we are, theirs than they and so on. And we can have that welfare state and equity just by taxing the snot out of everyone but that does rather impact upon that growth. So, the solution is to have as classically liberal an economy as one can, with the least regulation of who does what and how, then tax the snot out of it to pay for that welfare state. Not that Sumner put it in quite those words of course.

The lesson so far being that if the American left want to turn the US into Scandinavia, well, OK, but they’re going to have to pull back on most of the economic regulation they’ve encumbered the country with over the past 50 years.

The other point is an observation of my own. Which is that those Scandinavian welfare states are very local. To give you my oft used example, the national income tax rate in Denmark starts out at 3.76% and peaks at 15%. There’s also very stiff, 25-30% of income, taxes at the commune level. A commune being possibly as small as a township in the US, 10,000 people. The point being that this welfare state is paid for out of taxes raised locally and spent locally. Entirely the opposite way around from the way that the American left tells us that the US should work: all that money goes off to Washington and then the bright technocrats disburse it.

Instead they have what I call the Bjorn’s Beer Effect. You’re in a society of 10,000 people. You know the guy who raises the local tax money and allocates that local tax money. You also know where he has a beer on a Friday night. More importantly Bjorn knows that everyone knows he collects and spends the money: and also where he has a beer on a Friday. That money is going to be rather better spent than if it travels off possibly 3,000 miles into some faceless bureaucracy. I give you as an example Danish social housing or the vertical slums that HUD has built in the past. And if people think their money is being well spent then they’re likely to support more of it being spent.


So, the two things I would say need to be done as precursors to turning the united States into Scandinavia are the following. First we need to move back to a much less regulated, more classically liberal, economy. Secondly we need to push the whole tax system and welfare state provision down from the Federal government down to much smaller units. Possibly even right down to the counties. The first of these will generate the economic growth to pay for that expanded welfare state, the second make people more willing to pay for it.

If you find any American leftists out there willing to agree to these two preconditions do let me know. Because I’ve never met a single one who would think that those were things worth doing in order to get that social democracy they say they desire.

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