By Eliza Gray
October 14, 2015

When CNN’s Anderson Cooper challenged Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders on his socialist agenda in Tuesday night’s debate, Sanders countered with this: his policies aren’t so radical when you compare them to life in Denmark.

The debate is not the first time Sander extolled the virtues of this tiny country of 5.6 million. But why exactly is Sanders so wild for Denmark? Here are some of the benefits of living in Denmark as opposed to the U.S.:

  • The biggest difference is the welfare state. Denmark has one of the highest expenditures on social welfare, as compared to the other 33 countries in the OECD, spending more than 30% of its GDP on social support. The United States, by contrast, spends less than 20%.
  • Danish kids are also smarter. For example, Danish boys rank 27th in the world in math according to the OECD’s most recent PISA, a triennial assessment that compares test results of 15-year-old students around the world. Boys in the U.S. rank a measly 27.
  • The air might also feel cleaner. Americans emit almost three times more CO2 than the Danes (16.2 tonnes per capita to their 6.6).
  • Maternity leave is much more generous in Denmark than in the U.S. In Denmark, parents are entitled to a combined 52 weeks of leave, with 18 weeks of maternity leave for the mother, two weeks of paternity leave for the father, and 32 weeks of parental leave that can be split up between both parents as they choose. The government pays a percentage of the salary of each parent during these weeks in varying amounts, depending on their job, and they may get a portion of their salaries as well, depending on the employer. The US, by contrast only offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
  • Denmark also offers healthcare to all of its citizens free of charge through a tax-funded health care system.
  • In addition to free tuition, Denmark also offers a monthly subsidy of roughly $900 to its university students just to study.

That doesn’t mean Denmark is a utopia.

  • Social welfare comes with a cost. Taxes on personal income make up 26.4% of Denmark’s GDP, compared to only 9.8% in the U.S., according to data provided by the OECD
  • Danes have a lot of personal debt. OECD data shows that household debt as a percentage of personal income is three times as high in Denmark as it is in the U.S.
  • Despite it’s communitarian values, Denmark has been remarkably unfriendly to refugees. In response to the refugee crisis this summer and fall, Denmark has cut welfare benefits for refugees, tightened asylum rules to allow for only a one year residency, and made it more difficult for refugees to bring their families over. The anti-refugee sentiment in Denmark also took on a more dramatic cast when Danish authorities closed its border to trains coming in from Germany; and when the government placed ads in Lebanese newspapers to discourage migrants.

Good and bad policies aside, there’s another reason why Hilary Clinton might have professed to “love” Denmark even if her approach is different to that of Sanders. Apparently the Danish political drama Borgen, about a fictional Danish female prime minister, is a favorite show.

 

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