Denmark and Sweden: Expectations versus Experience
By Bryan Caplan
I’m amazed by how many Swedes knew about my list of Scandinavian expectations. Now that I’m back, I’m ready to compare expectations to experience:
1. Denmark and Sweden will be more aesthetically pleasing than most of the U.S., but markedly less so than Alpine Switzerland.
Overall, the parts of Denmark I saw weren’t that beautiful. It compares favorably to Northridge, California, but not to Jersey City, New Jersey or Reston, Virignia. In contrast, the parts of Sweden that I saw lived up to my expectations.
Middle-class Danes and Swedes will be noticeably poorer than
middle-class Americans, especially on the vital dimensions of living
space, car ownership, and meat consumption.
I’m not sure about the meat consumption. But otherwise, matters were worse than I expected – especially in Denmark, where I got to see the “happiest people on earth” miserably bike to work in the rain.
3. There will be 75%
fewer beggars per block than in major U.S. cities, but somehow even in
“the People’s Home,” they’ll be there.
4. I will perceive the
Danish and Swedish systems to be extremely oppressive of high-ability
and materialistic people. In fact, all things considered, I will deem
Singapore a freer country.
I do so deem.
5. However, aside from a few
indigenous libertarians, these oppressed classes will suffer from false
consciousness – just like the Singaporeans who laughed in unison when I
denounced conscription as state slavery.
My observation: Their false consciousness is so strong that several Scandinavians asked me if this was a joke! But you hardly have to be a libertarian to find 50% tax/GDP ratios oppressive.
Overall reaction: Scandinavia (especially Stockholm) is a nice place to visit – especially if you earn your money elsewhere – but you wouldn’t want to live there. The HDI notwithstanding, it’s not the peak of civilization. In fact, if there were a reality t.v. show called “Swapping Countries” where middle-class Americans and Swedes lived in each other’s countries for a year, I predict that only 5% of Americans wouldn’t want to go home – versus about 50% of Swedes.