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What Can European Socialists Teach the American Left?

In the cities of Northern Europe, social democracy has a sophisticated playbook that balances public and private interests.
Should the DSA try the Danish way? Boats along the Copenhagen waterfront in 2017.
Should the DSA try the Danish way? Boats along the Copenhagen waterfront in 2017.Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

As the Democratic Party in the U.S. swings left, much has been written about its flirtation with “socialism” as a new source of intellectual and political energy. Among self-identified democratic socialists like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Congress and new waves of young elected officials in cities like Chicago, aggressive efforts to tax the wealthy, strengthen the social safety net, and regulate the financial and corporate sector are seen as essential steps towards fixing America’s vast economic, social, and spatial disparities.

These initiatives would look familiar to Northern Europe’s social democrats, particularly those in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. But the European parties go deeper—they have a multi-level playbook that balances markets and society, public and private, industry and inclusion, and national and local power. The Danish, German, and Swedish models of socialism are more sophisticated than the cartoon versions we hear about in U.S. political debates and advertisements. They offer broader solutions that, coupled with traditional interventions like the ones described above, are likely to channel market forces in ways that drive inclusive growth and create long-term public benefit.