That lower G.D.P. number conceals two important points. First, by any measure people in the lower part of the income distribution are much better off in Nordic societies than their U.S. counterparts. That is, there is a lot less misery in Scandinavia — and because everyone has some chance of falling into low income, this reduces the risk of misery for a much larger share of the population
Second, much of the gap in real G.D.P. represents a choice, not a cost. Nordic workers have much more vacation, much more time for family and leisure, than their counterparts in our “no vacation nation.”
.. They aren’t “socialist,” if that means government control of the means of production. They are, however, quite strongly social-democratic: as Exhibit 1 shows, they have high taxes, which finance much more generous social benefits than we have here. They also have policies on wages, working hours, and more that tilt the balance toward workers in a number of dimensions.
.. Clearly, the Nordic economies are better for lower-income families — roughly the bottom 30 percent of the population.
.. But this understates the case, because these data don’t include “in kind” benefits like health care and education. All of the Nordic countries have universal health care — not just single-payer, but for the most part direct government provision (a.k.a. “socialized medicine.”)
Nordic education also lacks the glaring inequality in quality all too characteristic of the U.S. system.
.. Once you take these benefits into account, it’s likely that at least half the Nordic population are better off materially than their U.S. counterparts. But what about the upper half?
.. a large part of the difference — in the case of Denmark, more than all of it — comes from a lower number of hours worked annually per worker. This does not reflect mass underemployment. Instead, it reflects policy: all of the Nordic countries require that employers give workers a minimum of 25 days of paid vacation every year, while the U.S. has no leave policy at all.
.. Once you take vacations into account, Denmark and Sweden basically look comparable in performance to the U.S.
.. The point for welfare comparisons is that while Nordic families at, say, the 60th percentile of the income distribution have lower purchasing power than their American counterparts, they also have much more free time and an arguably better work-life balance. Are they really worse off? You can make a good case that taking all of this into account, the majority of Nordic citizens are actually better off than Americans.
.. The O.E.C.D. publishes measures of self-reported “life satisfaction”; all of the Nordic nations rank above the U.S. Objective measures like life expectancy and mortality rates are also much better in Scandinavia.
All around the world, strongmen are seizing power and subverting liberal norms.
fascism came out of particular historical circumstances that do not obtain today—
- a devastating world war,
- drastic economic upheaval, the
- fear of Bolshevism.
.. When Naomi Wolf and others insisted that George W. Bush was taking us down the path of 1930s Germany, I thought they were being histrionic. The essence of fascism after all was the obliteration of democracy. Did anyone seriously believe that Bush would cancel elections and refuse to exit the White House?
.. So maybe fascism isn’t the right term for where we are heading. Fascism, after all, was all about big government—grandiose public works, jobs jobs jobs, state benefits of all kinds, government control of every area of life. It wasn’t just about looting the state on behalf of yourself and your cronies, although there was plenty of that too. Seeing Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the press conference following their private meeting in Helsinki, though, I think maybe I’ve been a bit pedantic. Watching those two thuggish, immensely wealthy, corrupt bullies, I felt as if I was glimpsing a new world order—not even at its birth but already in its toddler phase. The two men are different versions of an increasingly common type of leader:
- elected strongmen ‘who exploit weak spots in procedural democracy to come to power, and
- once ensconced do everything they can to weaken democracy further,
- while inflaming powerful popular currents of
- reactionary religion,
- homophobia, and
- resentments of all kinds.
.. At the press conference Putin said that associates of the billionaire businessman Bill Browder gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign $400 million, a claim Politifact rates “pants on fire” and about which The New York Times’ Kenneth Vogel tweeted, “it was so completely without evidence that there were no pants to light on fire, so I hereby deem it ‘WITHOUT PANTS.’”
.. A Freudian might say that his obsession with the imaginary sins of Clinton suggests he’s hiding something. Why else, almost two years later, is he still trying to prove he deserved to win? At no point in the press conference did he say or do anything incompatible with the popular theory that he is Putin’s tool and fool.
.. These pantsless overlords are not alone. All over the world, antidemocratic forces are winning elections—sometimes fairly, sometimes not—and then using their power to subvert democratic procedures.
There’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—remember how when he first took office, back in 2014, he was seen as a harmless moderate, his Justice and Development Party the Muslim equivalent of Germany’s Christian Democrats? Now he’s shackling the press, imprisoning his opponents, trashing the universities, and trying to take away women’s rights and push them into having at least three, and possibly even five, kids because there just aren’t enough Turks.
.. Then there’s Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who coined the term “illiberal democracy” to describe these elected authoritarian regimes, now busily shaping the government to his own xenophobic ends, and
.. Poland’s Andrzej Duda, doing much the same—packing the courts, banning abortion, promoting the interests of the Catholic church.
Before World War II Poland was a multiethnic country, with large minorities of Jews, Roma, Ukrainians, and other peoples. Now it boasts of its (fictional) ethnic purity and, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, bars the door to Muslim refugees in the name of Christian nationalism.
One could mention
- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,
- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,
- Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and
- India’s Narendra Modi as well.
Pushed by anti-immigrant feeling, which is promoted by
- unemployment and
right-wing “populist” parties are surging in
- the Netherlands,
- Austria, and even
- Sweden and
And don’t forget Brexit—boosted by pie-in-the-sky lies about the bounty that would flow from leaving the European Union but emotionally fueled by racism, nativism, and sheer stupidity.
.. At home, Donald Trump energizes similarly antidemocratic and nativist forces. Last year, outright neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, and Trump called them “very fine people.” This year, Nazis and Holocaust deniers are running in elections as Republicans, and far-right misogynist hate groups like the Proud Boys are meeting in ordinary bars and cafés.
.. The worst of it is that once the leaders get into power, they create their own reality, just as Karl Rove said they would:
- They control the media,
- pack the courts
- .. lay waste to regulatory agencies,
- “reform” education,
- abolish long-standing precedents, and
- use outright cruelty—of which the family separations on the border are just one example—to create fear.
While everybody was fixated on the spectacle in Helsinki, Trump’s IRS announced new rules that let dark-money groups like the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity keep their donors secret.
.. American democracy might not be in its death throes yet, but every week brings a thousand paper cuts.
.. There’s nothing inevitable about liberal democracy, religious pluralism, acceptance of ethnic diversity, gender and racial equality, and the other elements of what we think of as contemporary progress.
.. He has consolidated a bloc of voters united in their grievances and their fantasies of redress. The
- fundamentalist stay-home moms, the
- MAGA-hat wearing toughs, the
- Fox-addicted retirees, the
- hedge-fund multimillionaires and the
- gun nuts have found one another.
.. Why would they retreat and go their separate ways just because they lost an election or even two? Around the world it may be the same story: Democracy is easy to destroy and hard to repair, even if people want to do so, and it’s not so clear that enough of them do.
To the surprise of many, even in Sweden, Nordbat 2 quickly established a reputation as one of the most trigger-happy UN units in Bosnia. The troops and officers from some of the least belligerent nations in the world turned out to be quite adept at both using force and playing the odds in a high-stakes political game. This article outlines how a well-entrenched culture of mission command enabled Nordbat 2 to take on completely new and unexpected situations with remarkable results. While this culture of mission command turned out to be a potent force multiplier and an exceptionally effective strategic asset, it also had another side: Nordbat 2 on multiple occasions utterly disregarded orders from its highest political authorities, to the frustration of the Swedish government.
The culture of mission command in Sweden dates back to 1943, when senior Swedish army officers were taking note of the tactical superiority of German troops fighting Soviets on the Eastern Front. Sweden, being a small nation with several large and frequently hostile neighbors, had to prepare to fight an enemy which possessed overwhelming numerical superiority.
.. The Swedish Army estimated that a breakdown of command and control was a likely scenario as the Soviets would inevitably disrupt communications, destroy command centers, and seize territory, thereby isolating segments of the Swedish Army. In order to cope with this contingency, all units were trained to engage in what was known as “the free war,” (i.e. autonomous operations against local targets, without centralized command). The free war was intended as a last resort, which would only end when the invader had finally retreated. The official doctrine stated that all Swedish citizens were to, without exception, consider any order to surrender to be false, regardless of its origin
.. The officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), all the way down to the lowest-ranking enlisted men, were taught that the only truly mortal sin was to hesitate. To seize the initiative and act was the primary imperative. There was no priority higher than that of achieving the mission objectives at hand. Orders could be disobeyed, rules could be broken—as long as the mission was successful.
.. While several other countries preferred to send lightly armed vehicles to avoid provoking the parties to the conflict, Henricsson wanted the main infantry fighting vehicle of the Swedish Army at the time. This vehicle, known as the Pbv 302, featured a 20mm automatic cannon and fairly respectable armor for a vehicle of its type.
.. Henricsson even decided to bring the latest portable Swedish anti-tank guided missiles.
.. Henricsson, however, had his own set of expectations. He let the media know he would personally ensure Nordbat 2 brought body bags and that everyone who served under him would be ordered to write their wills before departing.
.. Henricsson made it clear that his interpretation of the mission objectives (which he had developed himself on the basis of the original UN mandate, rather than taking clues from his political superiors) was that protection of the civilian population was the highest priority. In order to achieve this, Henricsson expected that force might be used, and that losses were a real possibility.
.. When fired at, Nordbat 2 often shot back, frequently disregarding the UN rules of engagement. Colonel Henricsson made it clear that he would not respect rules and regulations that threatened to prevent him from achieving his mission objectives.
.. When his own government tried to rein him in, he simply told his radio operator to pretend that the link was down until he had a fait accompli to present to Stockholm.
.. Nevertheless, Nordbat 2 had once again refused to let the parties to the conflict dictate the terms of its deployment. In several other incidents, Nordbat 2 personnel intervened to protect refugees and took action to prevent the cover-up of ethnic cleansing operations.
.. On several occasions this took the form of forcing passage through roadblocks. During one such event, the battalion commander himself forced a sentry to remove the anti-tank mines used to block passage by threatening to blow the sentry’s head off with a heavy machine gun.
.. Instead of taking on regular troops in mechanized combat, Nordbat 2 found itself in a conflict characterized by ethnic cleansing, massacres, smuggling and random violence. Nevertheless, it was able to operate with a surprising degree of effectiveness.
.. The Dutch peacekeepers, representing a professional elite airborne unit, were more or less helpless for more than a year inside the Srebrenica enclave because they were unwilling to initiate any confrontations with the parties to the conflict, and because they were willing to be micromanaged by their home government. Nordbat 2, on the other hand, was something of a loose cannon, and earned a reputation as a force to be reckoned with. It even became known as “Shootbat” for its tendency to return fire, regardless of the formal rules of engagement.
.. Nordbat 2’s willingness to bend or even break the rules, and disregard direct orders from both UN command and its own government, enabled it to achieve its mission objectives as defined by the first battalion commander: protect the civilians at all cost.
.. on several occasions Nordbat 2 did not accept the control of its civilian leadership. Accustomed to mission command, Nordbat 2 acted as it had been taught: rules can be broken as long as it is done to achieve the mission objectives.
.. As long as political leaders can trust the local commander to make the right choices, mission command can be an incredibly powerful force multiplier
.. Even though Nordbat 2’s first battalion commanders were very unpopular with the Swedish government for their refusal to take orders from home, they were nevertheless greeted as heroes upon their return and remain viewed so to this day.
.. This meant the Swedish government did not have to deal with the political fallout of the otherwise failed UN mission. The Dutch government, for example, was hard-pressed by public opinion after the massacre at Srebrenica in the summer of 1995.
.. the basic rule of mission command remains relevant: it is better to make a mistake than to do nothing at all.
Or perhaps with the fact that comparing Syrians to Skittles carries echoes of the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher comparing Jews to mushrooms in a popular children’s book that posited the ticklish dilemma of how to distinguish poisonous toadstools from edible fungus; and has a mother saying to her son Franz:
“Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk.”
.. The co-founder of Google, co-founder of Tesla, and founder of eBay were all immigrants. Steve Jobs’ biological father was a Syrian immigrant. In fact, earlier this year, the National Foundation for American Policy found that 51 percent of the country’s start-up companies valued at over $1 billion had at least one immigrant founder. A study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of governors and business leaders, found that in 2013 more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including seven of the world’s 10 most valuable brands, were started by immigrants or their children.
.. Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was a German immigrant. He arrived in the United States in October 1885. For decades, the family lied: They said he hailed from Sweden. In his book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump says his grandfather “came here from Sweden as a child.” The family historian, John Walter, explained that Trump’s father, Fred, “had a lot of Jewish tenants and it wasn’t a good thing to be German in those days.”