Most of that is myth. The Scandanavian countries have become icons for the "Socialism", while the US is an icon for "Capitalism", but the truth is that the difference between them is not that wide. All developed countries all mixed-economies at this point like you said, and correlations between the outcomes for the slightly-more-interventionalist and slightly-less-interventionalist are spurious at best. At this level of similarity, the nature of public policy (such as the corporate tax rate) will be more important than the quantity, not to mention non-policy factors like demographic homogeny or natural resources like oil.
Agreed. What also been taken into account is that Scandinavian countries have homogeneous, small, and stable populations. They really cannot be compared to a country that is as economically, culturally, and ethnically diverse and dynamic as the United States.
GDP per capita rank:
Total Social Spending as % of GDP
Corporate Tax Rate:
The numbers presented here seem to have been selected deliberately to be misleading. Take the corporate tax rate. Why not include other tax rates, like the vat tax, or the personal income tax? The tax burden as a percentage of GDP is around 50% in Scandinavian countries, whereas in the United States it is about 27 percent(counting all levels of taxation, local, state, and federal). As far as total social spending, I don't even know what that means. In Denmark, government spending as a percentage of GDP is about 52%. In the United States, government spending as a percentage of GDP is about 38%. However, in Scandinavian countries, health care and education is fully provided by the government, as well as other forms of basic healthcare. When you throw in healthcare costs and education costs and other costs, a person in the United States actually pays more than 60% of their wages for these services, and in the United there is not universal healthcare nor is there free higher education.
On the GDP per capita, the reason that the United States has a higher GDP per capita is because people in the United States work more hours. Since 1979, the United States is the only country in North America and Europe to increase average working time; in all European nations average hours worked has declined. In the last decade working hours have actually declined, from a peak of about 1866 average to about 1768 in 2009. However, that decline is almost fully attributable to the significant increase in underemployment over the last decade. The tech bubble greatly reduced the demand for high skilled workers, and the bubble fueled consumption based economic growth of the last decade created jobs mostly in low skill part time industries. This reality is also mirrored in income statistics; the average worker today makes less money than the average worker did in 1997. The economy has to create 1-1.5 million jobs a year to keep up with population growth. During the Bush years, 1 million jobs where created, and 10 million needed to be created to keep up with population growth. In the Obama years, there has been a loss of about 3 million jobs, whereas about 4 million jobs needed to be created to keep up with population growth. All told, over the last decade the US economy has created 16 million fewer jobs than is necessary to keep up with population growth, and most of the jobs that were created (and that are being created) are in low wage industries. Why is this important? Because the decline in hours worked in the United States is involuntary, but unlike in Europe, the social safety net and public resources are not nearly as robust in the United States.
At the peak of the boom (when we had higher employment), the average worker in the US worked 1801 hours. In Denmark, to contrast, the average worker worked 1586 hours, which is 215 hours less, equivalent to about 5 fewer working weeks a year. In Germany, the average worker worked 1390 hours, or 411 hours less, equivalent to about 10 fewer working weeks a year. There is reason to believe, however, that average working time is overreported in European countries, whereas it is underreported in US countries. The reason is difference in incentives. In a European country, workers are motivated more by the prospects of leisure than they are by the prospects of higher pay. Consequently, the tendency for employers would be to give good workers opportunities to finish tasks in less time than the hours billed in order to boost the quality and productivity of their work. In the United States, however, workers are motivated by bigger paychecks. So the tendency is to offer higher pay, but to underestimate the actual number of hours it takes to complete a task. For example, my mother as a home health nurse makes 57 dollars an hour. She normally gets paid for about 35-40 hours of work a week, but the actual number of hours she works is about 50-60 hours a week. How does this happen? Well, for every patient she sees she gets credit for 30 minutes of work. 30 minutes, however, is the minimum amount of time she spends with a patient. On about half of her patients she spends 1-1.5 hours. The amount of time required to do paperwork is also grossly underestimated. But this is not atypical; most American workers work more hours than they get credit for.
Because Americans work more, they pay for things that in other countries people do for themselves. For instance, the percentage of mothers who work in America is much higher than the percentage of mothers who work in Europe. Consequently, Americans spend a lot more money on childcare than Europeans do. Part of this is also cultural; because a career (and the ability to make money) is seen as central to identity and status in America, (what's the first question Americans ask a stranger? What do you do for a living?) having a career is seen as almost essential to being a complete citizen and person. To not have a career to somehow be less of a person or somehow a subcitizen; so work and wages is essential to woman's rights. This is probably true everywhere, but it is especially pronounced in a country that values wealth as highly as Americans do. In most other countries, a job is just a job. There is not stigma or degradation from not having one.
Americans also pay to have their food prepared (processed food is essentially pre-prepared food), dry cleaning, gardening, and so forth. On average, American spend about fifteen percent more on basic services than citizens in other countries do. This has good and bad effects. The bad effects, of course, means that the higher wages of Americans are largely illusionary, because it comes at the expense of leisure. But this extra service spending also creates jobs and opportunities for low skill immigrants, which is why the American economy is more conducive towards immigrants from poorer countries than other economies.
People in Europe tend to value leisure and security, whereas people in the United States tend to value stuff. Its a difference of values and priorities. In Scandinavian countries, they will have less stuff and smaller homes. But they also have more leisure time and less stress and worry. They don't have to worry about paying for education or being bankrupted if someone in the family gets sick or loses their job.
Let's compare two poor families, one in America and one in a Scandinavian country. Chances are, the poor family in the US will have a bigger living space, and more stuff. An American will conclude that he is better off. However, in a Scandinavian country, a poor person will have access to the same healthcare that his middle class compatriots, to the same schools and education, to the same public transportation, and to the same educational opportunities. Meanwhile, the poor person in America will not have good access to healthcare, and will not have access to the same public infrastructure (i.e. schools and public transport) that his middle class compatriots have. So while the poor American family will be privately better off than the poor Scandinavian country, the person in the Scandinavian country will have much greater access to public resources. People can decide for themselves which is better, but I think it should also be considered that upward income mobility is much greater in Scandinavian countries than it is in the US. Inequality has other pernicious effects. A poor family in the United States will have to send their children to different and often inferior schools to those that middle class kids attend(thus, de facto segregation), and it is likely that there will be more crime and violence in the area that the poor family lives. Consequently, there will be less investment in the area, which means less work opportunities,as well as fewer "real world" role models.
So, after all this rambling, I get back to the point; are Scandinavian countries socialist, and the US capitalist? Or is the distinction purely in the imagination. A economy is more than its political economic structure. It is also the ethos of its people. In the United States, we value wealth probably more than anything else. We have one of the highest rates of inequality in the developed world, and we tend to be somewhat okay with that (although we tend to get more rankled during recessions). We also have lower taxes than most of the rest of the developed world (US tax burden as percentage of GDP is 26.9%, the OECD average is 35.1%). What matters is our values. I doubt any people is 100% capitalistic(we still support social security, medicare, progressive income taxes, universal education, public roads, and so forth) or 100% socialistic(people in Scandinavian countries complain about taxes too). But I highly doubt that people in Scandinavian countries would be willing to make significant alterations to their welfare state to achieve greater economic growth. Even after liberalization in the nineties the welfare state in Scandinavian countries is still very strong. So, Scandinavian countries are mixed economies, but what makes them socialistic vis a vis the United States is their commitment to welfare and egalitarianism. Though the United States has a relatively strong commitment to welfare (although much less than most other OECD countries), it has not a commitment to egalitarianism. Egalitarianism and socialism are not necessarily the same thing, but it is important to note that government is central in Scandinavia in achieving the egalitarian state, with a mandate from the people, thus making it socialistic, if not socialism. So I say that Scandinavian Socialism is not a myth.