“I won’t dispute for one second the problems of a system that demands immense amount of fund-raisers by its legislators,” Jim Himes—a Democrat from Connecticut who supported the bankers’ recent bills and conveniently heads fundraising for House Democrats—conceded to the Times. Himes, who worked for Goldman Sachs before pretending to represent the people’s interest as an elected representative, is one of the top beneficiaries of Wall Street payoffs but claims to be distressed by the corruption that is his way of life. As he told the Times, “It’s appalling, it’s disgusting, it’s wasteful and it opens the possibility of conflicts of interest and corruption. It’s unfortunately the world we live in.”
No, buddy, it’s the world you guys make and wallow in. Other folks just lose their jobs and homes while you manage to slither out of the slime richer and more powerful than ever.
—Robert Sheer, “Congress Still Puts Out for Wall Street” Truthdig
The “banker’s bills” Sheer mentions are recent bills House Democrats and Republicans allowed banks to write in exchange for campaign funds and future lobbying/consulting jobs. Senator Bernie Sanders, like Robert Sheer, is a strong critic of the U.S. economic/social/political system. Neither accepts that our so-called “free market” system,—created and perpetuated by billionaires, in partnership with Republicans and Democrats like Jim Himes—is inevitable.
Bernie educates the people of Vermont on the Danish system
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist who runs as an independent, thinks there’s a better way. Americans, having been brainwashed for decades by corporate propaganda, are clueless about real alternatives, like the Danish “solidarity” system. So, this past March, Sanders invited Danish Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen to a series of town hall meetings introducing the people of Vermont to Danish social and economic policy. The town halls were very well attended. Bernie says about the Danish system, “To say the least, it’s a very different system than the one in which we live, because it provides extraordinary security and opportunity for the people of Denmark.” I would add that, unlike ours, the Danish system is a very humane and compassionate system.
You can read Bernie’s entire article on his town hall meetings about the Danish system here. The following are edited highlights:
- In Denmark, social policy in areas like health care, childcare, education and protecting the unemployed are part of a “solidarity system” that makes sure that almost no one falls into economic despair.
- Danes pay very high taxes, but in return enjoy a quality of life that many Americans find hard to believe. It’s true: In Denmark, you can’t become obscenely rich, but no one is allowed to be poor.
- The minimum wage in Denmark is about twice that of the United States. If you are out of the labor market or can’t take care of yourself, you have a basic income guarantee of about $100 per day.
- Health care in Denmark is universal, free of charge and high quality. The Danish health care system is popular, with patient satisfaction much higher than in our country. They spend about 11 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend almost 18 percent.
- Mothers get four weeks of paid leave before giving birth. They get another 14 weeks afterward. Expecting fathers get two paid weeks off, and both parents have the right to 32 more weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child’s life. The state covers three-quarters of the cost of child care, more for lower-income workers.
- Virtually all higher education in Denmark is free. That includes not just college but graduate schools as well, including medical school.
- The Danish government invests heavily in training programs so workers can learn new skills to meet changing workforce demands. If a worker loses his or her job in Denmark, unemployment insurance covers up to 90 percent of earnings for as long as two years.
- Every worker in Denmark is entitled to five weeks of paid vacation plus 11 paid holidays. The United States is the only major country that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation time.
- Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the Danish people rank among the happiest in the world among some 40 countries that were studied. America did not crack the top 10.
- The Danish social model has the political support of all parties across the political spectrum. Unlike the citizens of the United States, the Danes are, politically and economically, a very engaged and informed people. In their last election, which lasted all of three weeks and had no TV ads, 89 percent of Danes voted.
- In Denmark, more than 75 percent of the people are members of trade unions.
For decades, billionaires and their right wing think tanks have cynically and systematically indoctrinated the American people with their self-serving, greed driven message that “freedom” means freedom from government regulation and freedom from taxes. They have undermined labor laws and unions, pushed for the privatization of education, and partnered with corporate-friendly Democrats and Republicans in various efforts to chip away at or destroy the big three—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They have fostered the notion that social safety nets are un-American “socialist” programs, that we can’t “afford” them, and that they “harm U.S. competitiveness.” Yet, the truth is that Denmark and other Scandinavian countries with strong social safety nets have not made them less competitive. In fact, when it comes to economic competitiveness, they are way at the top of the list with the United States.
Senator Sanders reflects on the real meaning of “freedom:”
In America today, as a result of the political and economic power of corporate America and the billionaire class, we are seeing a sustained and brutal attack against the economic wellbeing of the American worker. As the middle class disappears, benefits and guarantees that workers have secured over the last century are now on the chopping block. Republicans, and too many Democrats, are supporting cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition, education, and other basic needs—at the same time as the very rich become much richer. Workers’ rights, the ability to organize unions, and the very existence of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are now under massive assault.
In the U.S. Senate today, my right-wing colleagues talk a lot about “freedom” and limiting the size of government. Here’s what they really mean.
They want ordinary Americans to have the freedom NOT to have health care in a country where 45,000 of our people die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should. They want young people in our country to have the freedom NOT to go to college, and join the 400,000 young Americans unable to afford a higher education and the millions struggling with huge college debts. They want children and seniors in our country to have the freedom NOT to have enough food to eat, and join the many millions who are already hungry. And on and on it goes!
In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what “freedom” means. In that country, they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that come with economic insecurity. Instead of promoting a system that allows a few to have enormous wealth, they have developed a system that guarantees a strong minimal standard of living to all—including the children, the elderly and the disabled.
The United States, in size, culture, and the diversity of our population, is a very different country from Denmark. Can we, however, learn some important lessons from them? You bet we can.