Socialism Debunked In… The New York Times?!?

A while back, Vermont’s socialist congressman Bernie Sanders went into a frothing rage when Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan credited the United States for having “the highest standard of living in the world” at a congressional hearing.

Sanders responded, quite angrily, “No, we do not. You go to Scandinavia, and you will find that people have a much higher standard of living, in terms of education, health care and decent paying jobs. Wrong, Mister.”

Now, I’m no Nostradamus, but I feel secure in predicting that Bernie isn’t going to get his normal enjoyment out of reading the Sunday New York Times today. The Times (to my surprise and the paper’s credit) ran a really interesting and data-chocked analysis by Bruce Bawer, an American freelancer living in Oslo, Norway, comparing the standards of living for Americans and various Scandinavians. Bawer includes both telling anecdotes from his own experience:

After I moved here six years ago, I quickly noticed that Norwegians live more frugally than Americans do. They hang on to old appliances and furniture that we would throw out. And they drive around in wrecks. In 2003, when my partner and I took his teenage brother to New York – his first trip outside of Europe – he stared boggle-eyed at the cars in the Newark Airport parking lot, as mesmerized as Robin Williams in a New York grocery store in “Moscow on the Hudson.”

One image in particular sticks in my mind. In a Norwegian language class, my teacher illustrated the meaning of the word matpakke – “packed lunch” – by reaching into her backpack and pulling out a hero sandwich wrapped in wax paper. It was her lunch. She held it up for all to see.

Yes, teachers are underpaid everywhere. But in Norway the matpakke is ubiquitous, from classroom to boardroom. In New York, an office worker might pop out at lunchtime to a deli; in Paris, she might enjoy quiche and a glass of wine at a brasserie. In Norway, she will sit at her desk with a sandwich from home.

It is not simply a matter of tradition, or a preference for a basic, nonmaterialistic life. Dining out is just too pricey in a country where teachers, for example, make about $50,000 a year before taxes. Even the humblest of meals – a large pizza delivered from Oslo’s most popular pizza joint – will run from $34 to $48, including delivery fee and a 25 percent value added tax.

Not that groceries are cheap, either. Every weekend, armies of Norwegians drive to Sweden to stock up at supermarkets that are a bargain only by Norwegian standards. And this isn’t a great solution, either, since gasoline (in this oil-exporting nation) costs more than $6 a gallon.

… and a great deal of statistical analysis from several sources:

All this was illuminated last year in a study by a Swedish research organization, Timbro, which compared the gross domestic products of the 15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the 50 American states and the District of Columbia. (Norway, not being a member of the union, was not included.)

After adjusting the figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the only European country whose economic output per person was greater than the United States average was the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.

The next European country on the list was Ireland, down at 41st place out of 66; Sweden was 14th from the bottom (after Alabama), followed by Oklahoma, and then Britain, France, Finland, Germany and Italy. The bottom three spots on the list went to Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Alternatively, the study found, if the E.U. was treated as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the bottom, topping only Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia and Mississippi.

As a native of Alabama and current resident of Georgia, I must admit that I take no small satisfaction in the last. Continuing:

In short, while Scandinavians are constantly told how much better they have it than Americans, Timbro’s statistics suggest otherwise. So did a paper by a Swedish economics writer, Johan Norberg.

Contrasting “the American dream” with “the European daydream,” Mr. Norberg described the difference: “Economic growth in the last 25 years has been 3 percent per annum in the U.S., compared to 2.2 percent in the E.U. That means that the American economy has almost doubled, whereas the E.U. economy has grown by slightly more than half. The purchasing power in the U.S. is $36,100 per capita, and in the E.U. $26,000 – and the gap is constantly widening.”

Believe it or not, there’s plenty more. Read the whole thing, and try to imagine Sanders’ apoplexy as he was flipping through the Times this morning…

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48 Responses to “Socialism Debunked In… The New York Times?!?”

  1. William Young Says:

    Sanders won’t read that article because, sensing the headline, he will realize it doesn’t conform to his worldview and forces him to confront his prejudices of the world with information that will refute them, meaning he’d have to change his mind to align with the new facts.

    And no political animal observable in the wild will do that. It’s not in their DNA.

  2. erp Says:

    Saunders has been around (on our dime, naturally) and knows reality. His outbursts are for public consumption to be believed only by the dolts who think he’s progressive and independent. A poor boy’s journey from the Bronx to Burlington — truly an “Only in America” story. I kinda feel that Bernie understands the irony that the country he so despises has afforded him the ability to rise into the top level of government and he even probably feels a twitch of envy when he’s around his progressive colleagues and their mega million dollar life styles.

  3. James Says:

    Here is the url for the pdf file containing the report by Timbro.

    http://www.timbro.com/euvsusa/pdf/EU_vs_USA_English.pdf

  4. Everyman Says:

    Prosperity Myth

    It is generally understood in some quarters – and I have the relatives who live there to prove it – that although the tax rates in Scandanavia, and in much of Europe, are daunting, the quality of life there makes it all worthwhile.

    Maybe not, even b…

  5. Nobrainer's Blog Says:

    More evidence – Europe is lacking.

    Well, it comes from the NYT, so take it with a grain of salt. Apparently, after actually studying the situation, most of Western Europe really does appear to have a lower standard of living than we, stupid, ignorant, redneck, good-for-nothing American…

  6. old maltese Says:

    But you’re detailing ‘economic output per person’.

    Sanders is speaking ‘in terms of education, health care and decent paying jobs’.

    See, you can’t beat Congressman Sanders at his mantra.

  7. richard mcenroe Says:

    Somehow I’ll take the opinion of Mark Steyn on socialized healthcare, or the experiences of the people I know who’ve suffered and died under it, over Bernie Saunders’ any day,

    I could also mention my brother and my sister-in-law, the daughter of Swedish diplomats, who seriously considered moving to Sweden, got there, took one look at the schools, and beat feet back to NYC.

  8. cleek Says:

    In New York, an office worker might pop out at lunchtime to a deli; in Paris, she might enjoy quiche and a glass of wine at a brasserie. In Norway, she will sit at her desk with a sandwich from home

    1. when did Norway become a huge cosmopolitan city?

    2. people all over the f’in US pack their lunches for work, too. not everyone works in a place where you can “pop out” for lunch – i have to hop in my car and drive if i want to ‘pop-out’ for lunch, and it costs like three time as much as if i just grab a Budget Gourmet from the freezer or bring leftovers.

    3. i’m pretty sure not everyone who works in NYC goes out for lunch every day.

    in other words – the article is a bunch of half-assed generalizations.

  9. Scott Says:

    Not really. I was recently in London. Went to Chinatown for dinner. Had mediocre, ordinary Chinese food, Cantonese style, in a plain, run of the mill place. The bill was almost $70 for two. In San Francisco, that place would be laughed out of business. I ended up eating lunch at Pret a Porter the rest of my trip.

  10. richard mcenroe Says:

    But don’t you see? They’re all equally squalid… except of course for their enlightened leaders.

  11. Pejmanesque Says:

    UTOPIA . . . NOT

    Do you ever find yourself wistfully wishing that we could live lives as uncomplicated, hassle-free, prosperous and resplendent with high standards of living as do the good and estimable people of Scandinavia? Well, stop….

  12. The Listless Lawyer Says:

    The EU Economy

    If the E.U. was treated as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the bottom, topping only Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia and Mississippi. via Vodkapundit….

  13. Russell Wardlow Says:

    Uh, Cleek, the whole point of the bagged lunch example seemed to be that almost nobody was able to do antyhign else, not that there weren’t some people in America who brown bag.

    Reading comprehension is a valuable skill.

  14. John "Akatsukami" Braue Says:

    when did Norway become a huge cosmopolitan city?

    Never. It’s Sa’udi Arabia with blond Lutherans.

  15. INSANEASSYLUM.COM Says:

    European Standards of Living

    This article at Vodkapundit lines up pretty well with my experiences of European standards of living.

    Granted, I haven’t visited every country, or been everywhere in every country. But I did interact closely with locals during my one week or two we…

  16. Drew W Says:

    Well, Sanders’ apoplexy couldn’t have been greater than my own astonishment that the NY Times would dedicate any real estate at all to an article by Bruce Bawer. Bawer is the author of the Hudson Review article “Hating America,” which paints a similar picture of European Yank-hatred, but on a far broader canvas.

    I remembered “Hating America” fondly when a European-born friend expounded to me about the insidious international influence of that most corrupting of American exports, McDonald’s. Read the article to get Bawer’s take on the dreadfully divisive role played by Mickey D’s, along with other cultural flashpoints. The piece is long, but well worth reading:

    http://www.hudsonreview.com/BawerSp04.html

    At any rate, I suppose the Times deserves credit for running Bawer’s piece today.

  17. Ben Says:

    Anecdotal and subjective are two words that come to my mind reading Bawer’s article. Based on my single trip to visit my relatives near Oslo, let me add some flesh to Bawer’s bones. 1) Norwegians are a single generation away from hardscrabble poverty. Do you have Depression-era parents? I do and they make every penny scream 2) Norwegians are just a little bit boring and so is their national cuisine and so are their eating/entertainment habits. I’m not so surprised to hear most would rather pack a couple Kroner worth of sack lunch than pay to eat out. Even in cosmopolitan, world-city Oslo 🙂

  18. richard mcenroe Says:

    Yep… they’m just Joads

  19. Tim P Says:

    Mr. r mcenroe throws some wicked barbs. Especially the first one about the equal squalor.

    What’s wrong with eating your lunch at your desk? I get a wholesome home cooked meal, that tastes great, is healthier and cost a fraction of eating out. Plus I get to spend a little time butt-surfin the blogs I like to visit. Is that a bad thing?

    And what person with the least bit of wit and perception hasn’t quickly deduced that while Europe may be fun to visit, there’s no place like home.

  20. hey Says:

    $35 pizza??? like, even in manhattan thats robbery. Oslo???

    $35 lunches = everybody brown bags it.

    lots of people bag it across the Us for health taste and economy, but its instead of the $5-10 lunches (or less a la value menu). not instead of $30-40 lunches.

    scandinavia isnt even a great place to visit. when traveling you tend to drink, alot, and its stupidly expensive to drink in nordic countries. true the liberated blondes do make up for it, but still, harsh place.

  21. Alan K. Henderson Says:

    I was recently in London. Went to Chinatown for dinner. Had mediocre, ordinary Chinese food, Cantonese style, in a plain, run of the mill place. The bill was almost $70 for two.

    Chinese restaurants (buffet or otherwise) cost anywhere from $6 to $15 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Let’s hear it for Texas!

  22. Will Collier Says:

    My biggest shock was the revelation that Norwegians go shopping for bargains… in Sweden.

    The mind absolutely boggles.

    Bawer’s “Hating America” is definitely a must-read. Believe it was referenced here (and a lot of other places, too) a while back.

  23. One Fine Jay Says:

    Daydream Believers

    Will Collier at Vodkapundit shares an article in the New York Times that sheds light on how life is in one of those Scandinavian socialist paradises. A quote that really hits hard:

    One image in particular sticks in my mind. In a Norwegian langua…

  24. The World According to Nick Says:

    The European Economy

    VodkaPundit points to a great article in the NY Times about the relative buying power of European nations vs. U.S. states. I found it especially good after reading “The United States of Europe”. Quite a contrast.

  25. JR Says:

    Sorry, guys, the truth is that Norway IS the richest country in the world. According to the World Bank, Norway has the highest GDP per capita of any country except for the tax havens of Luxembourgh and Bermuda (where the GDP data is distorted).

    When you look at patterns of consumption of consumer goods, the difference between Norway and the US is that Norway has the lowest poverty rate in the world and a very flat income distribution. It also has universal health care, old-age pensions, maternal programs, and disability payment schemes.

    The moral of Bawer’s article is simple: Some rich countries will put up with a high degree of income inequality in order to make sure that lots of better-off people can buy an SUV. Others want to make sure that no child goes to bed hungry. Take your choice. But you can’t deny that Norway as a country is very rich, even though upper middle class individuals in the US like Bawer and his friends are, by the magic of income inequality, richer than upper middle class Norwegians.

    Oh, one last point- in the US, that SUV is likely to be bought on credit. Norway’s savings rate is three times that of the US, and the country is net creditor with its trading partners.

    Remember that book, The Millionaire Next Door? That’s Norway. The US, on the other hand, is the rapper with the bling.

  26. JR Says:

    PS: Yes, I know it’s Luxembourg without an h.

    But why do people persist in thinking that the NY Times is a liberal paper? It’s got some socially mildly liberal views, but politically it’s strictly moderate and a purveyor of the purest conventional wisdom.

    And you can see the World Bank data here: http://www.worldbank.org/data/databytopic/GNIPC.pdf

  27. Elise Says:

    I live in Norway and had a hard time recognizing the Norway that Bawer described in his article. I

  28. Robert Cecrle Says:

    Yeah!!! According to JR everybody in Norway is at least equally poor. Hint to J.R. – the article was dealing with “quality of life” not GDP of a country. Again, it’s that reading comprehension thing.

  29. Robert Cecrle Says:

    Yeah!!! According to JR everybody in Norway is at least equally poor. Hint to J.R. – the article was dealing with “quality of life” not GDP of a country. Again, it’s that reading comprehension thing.

  30. Robert Cecrle Says:

    Oops, double post, sorry.

  31. The Key Monk Says:

    The Reverse Millionnaires

    In Norway, however, the inverse is true: people are paid decently well, the per capita GDP is high and the Norwegians consider themselves among the wealthiest people in the world. Except for one thing: they cannot afford to buy anything.

  32. Les Jones Says:

    Bruce Bawer’s Hating America

    Via VodkaPundit. Bruce Bawer’s Hating America. Bawer is an American who went to Europe assuming it was superior in every way to the US. Six years of living there has altered his viewpoint. Here, he’s discussing Jean-Fran

  33. Pixy Misa Says:

    Elise – Good post. I know someone who lived in Norway until recently, so I took Bawer’s article with a pinch of salt. But there are truths mixed in with the generalisations and exaggerations, as you note.

    Yes, it

  34. Pixy Misa Says:

    Hmm. Just got back from lunch. Place just round the corner from my office (in the Sydney CBD) does large pizzas for $6.99, though I don’t know how good – or how large – they are. Maybe I’ll get one tomorrow. 🙂

    (That’s US$5.38.)

  35. Pixy Misa Says:

    When you look at patterns of consumption of consumer goods, the difference between Norway and the US is that Norway has the lowest poverty rate in the world and a very flat income distribution.

    Many people see a flat income distribution as something very much to be avoided. For example, people who want to get a pizza delivered.

    If pizza deliverers can get paid three times as much in Norway, and engineers get paid three times as much in America, then America fills up with engineers and Norway fills up with pizza deliverers.

    By the way, for those who don’t know (I didn’t) the population of Norway is about 4.5 million – slightly more than Sydney. I wonder what the per-capita GDP for Sydney is?

    Also, Norway’s GDP is growing at 0.6%, compared to 3.0% for Australia and 3.1% for the U.S.

    Hmm. Spain 2.4%, U.K. 2.2%, France 0.5%, Italy 0.4%, Germany -0.1%.

    Japan is at 2.7%, which is rather better than during the 90’s, if not up to their spectacular early levels.

    New Zealand is at 3.5%, which is something of a surprise to me. I guess sheep don’t demand 35-hour weeks. 😉

  36. Pixy Misa Says:

    But you can’t deny that Norway as a country is very rich, even though upper middle class individuals in the US like Bawer and his friends are, by the magic of income inequality, richer than upper middle class Norwegians.

    I have to comment on that, because the logic is remarkably backwards.

    Income inequality is the result of people getting paid different amounts for different work. And that is the result of different work being valued differently. And that is simply do to supply and demand. That is, if you don’t apply artificial constraints, some people will end up with more money than others.

    And artifical constraints invariably result in higher prices and lower growth. Case in point: Norway.

  37. Pixy Misa Says:

    One final note: There are two ways to give the poor a bigger slice of the pie.

    One way is to take pie away from the middle-class and rich.

    The other way is to make the pie bigger.

    I think you can guess which way I think is best.

    You can of course mix the two, and some mixture rather than pure pie-growth might provide an optimal outcome for a complex set of values. But if the pie isn’t growing at least as fast as the population, it doesn’t matter how you distribute it.

  38. Sharpshooter Says:

    I rather suspect Greenspan looks at data all day long while Sanders looks at his Marx, Lenin and Castro posters on the wall.

  39. Sharpshooter Says:

    JR: When you look at patterns of consumption of consumer goods, the difference between Norway and the US is that Norway has the lowest poverty rate in the world and a very flat income distribution.

    And those two together means no one is otivated to rise to “slightly above poverty”. A flat income distribution means that broom pushers and doctors are equally valued. While this might sound commendable to an unmotivated, irresponsible and willfully ignorant person (bird’s of a feather), even the doctor’s work quality is going to be suspect as it’s contrary to human nature.

    An uneven income distribution is valuable as it also demonstrates/measures the uneven PRODUCTION OF VALUE of the members of that distribution population.

    I notice that the ones in favor of even income distribution either, 1)are chronically non-productive or, 2) do their damnest to isolate and sequester their own wealth (such as Hollywood

  40. semiconductor Says:

    No joke, Sharpshooter. My pals in grad school were a coupla Swedes who used that very same example to illustrate their woes: if they returned to Sweden with their EE PhDs, they complained, they’d make less money teaching in the top universities than the guy who sweeps the lecture hall floor.

    Where are they now?

    They emigrated, of course, and now both have built their careers in the US. They LOVE America. And America seems to love, or at least to value, them.

    Sweden’s loss, America’s gain.

    Collectivism’s loss, individualism’s gain.

  41. Luke Says:

    Sharpshooter, surely you don’t mean to imply that a Norwegian who has found the motivation to train to become a doctor is then going to slack off when he or she is actually doing the job? I didn’t think so, because that’d just be a plain lazy statement to support your overall views!

    I think it’s quite revealing to read some of the sneering remarks made regarding a society where low poverty and income equality are possibly highly valued. Some people do actually find it possible to gain personal gratification from providing a useful purpose to society, rather than being able to afford the latest SUV. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. There will always be exceptions (last post) but it sounds like a good thing to me.

  42. semiconductor Says:

    Luke: “Some people do actually find it possible to gain personal gratification from providing a useful purpose to society, rather than being able to afford the latest SUV.”

    Luke, I think that’s a false dilemma.

    Two questions:

    1. What’s wrong with society rewarding the individual financially for his/her service?

    2. A talented young person can (a) provide a useful purpose to society and get paid well for it, or (b) provide a useful purpose to society and get paid poorly for it. If you were that talented young person, or if you were in a position to advise him/her, which would you choose?

    Look, the world is increasingly a single market for capital, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) for talent. Societies (including America) need to think carefully how they want to develop and reward talent, lest they find it literally flying away. (IMHO America is good at rewarding and increasingly weak at developing.)

  43. semiconductor Says:

    Also, speaking of “sneering,” the “being able to afford the latest SUV” comment makes it sound as if the only attraction to an individualistic society is personal financial gain. This is not true.

    America doesn’t just offer higher salaries, it offers larger research budgets, too. For a lot of scholars it has nothing to do with driving an SUV, and everything to do with doing top-quality work. That’s why so many “American” Nobel laureates are international scholars who have done their work in America.

  44. Isaac Schrödinger Says:

    A True Superpower

    NYTimes:Alternatively, the study found, if the E.U. was treated as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the

  45. Les Jones Says:

    European Economies Not Doing Well Compared to US

    Bruce Bawer in the NY Times, via VodkaPundit. After adjusting the figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the only European country whose economic output per person was greater than the United States average was the tiny tax…

  46. The LLama Butchers Says:

    In the immortal words of Joey Lawrence

    Whoa….

  47. 21st Century Paladin Says:

    Link Dump

    Blogging With Clippy
    WuzzaDem is hilarious. Check it.
    A Good Laugh
    Everyone needs a good laugh every now and then.
    Translation From PR-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Adobe’s ‘FAQ’ Regarding Their Acquisition of Macromedia
    Like…

  48. Baseball Crank Says:

    POLITICS: EU Living Standards

    Will Collier takes a look….

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