Nordic Thrift

Peter Goodman’s piece in the New York Times reporting on Denmark’s response to the coronavirus is an example of the Times’s maddening habit of being pretty good on everything except U.S. affairs. It is truly irritating.

Goodman reports that Denmark has decided to effectively nationalize its business payrolls in response to the coronavirus shutdown, paying most of the wages for furloughed workers as well as providing some support for business. That’s all true and interesting. And then he adds that this would be difficult to do in the United States: “In a country that tends to find cash for tax cuts and military spending while pleading insolvency to everything else, that makes it politically unimaginable.”

Military spending constitutes 16.2 percent of federal outlays. The great majority of federal spending in the United States is the same as it is in the Nordic welfare states: social programs, in our case Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which together make up more than half of federal spending.

Goodman argues that what’s needed is — surprise! — higher taxes. Skinflint Americans: You know the story.

But if Goodman’s numbers are to be believed, the problem is not that Americans are too cheap but that they are not cheap enough. He reports a cost of 42.6 billion Danish kroner, or about $1,125 per capita, for the program in Denmark. Our stimulus bill, on the other hand, will come in at $2 trillion, or $6,116 per capita. Unless I am missing something, we are spending five-and-a-half times what the Danes are. Sign me up for that miserly Nordic model.

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