Nima Sanandaji

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Nima Sanandaji
Nima Sanandaji speaking in Norway, 2017
Born (1981-06-30) June 30, 1981 (age 37)
Alma materRoyal Institute of Technology
OccupationAuthor, scientist
Notable work
Scandinavian Unexceptionalism
RelativesTino Sanandaji (brother)

Nima Sanandaji (born June 30, 1981) is an Iranian-Swedish author.[1] He has a background in natural sciences research and has published more than 25 books on innovation, entrepreneurship, women’s career opportunities, the history of enterprise and the future of the Nordic welfare states.[2][3][4][5]

Sanandaji is the president of the think tank European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform.[6] He is also a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies[7] and the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education,[8] both in London. He is a co-founder of the Stockholm-based think tank Captus, which he headed as CEO for several years until 2011.[9] He has conducted research at Chalmers University of Technology, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Cambridge University and holds a PhD from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.[10][11]

Dr. Sanandaji's work has been instrumental in policy formation in Sweden, as well as internationally. It is for example quoted in the Chapter "Market versus Socialism", of the 2019 Economic Report of the President, published by the US white house.[1]

1. White House (2019), p. 598. references Scandinavian Unexceptionalism as well as Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism, as source for understanding socialism in modern context.

White House (2019), Economic Report of the President: Together with The Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisers, March 2019.


Sanandaji was born to middle-class ethnic Kurdish parents in Tehran. His parents came to Sweden from Iran in 1989. Tracing their roots to the village of Kilaneh, the Sanandaji family, which since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 have moved to Europe and the United States, were the dominant land and farm owners in the state of Kurdistan throughout its modern history. Until the White Revolution during the Shah's reign, the Sanandaji family heavily influenced the economy and society of the region. It is for this reason that they bear the title of Khan and the name Sanandaji. The Sanandaji family had its wealth confiscated during the Iranian Revolution, prior to Nima Sanandaji's birth; and he was therefore raised in Stockholm under precarious migrant circumstances.[citation needed] Sanandaji has conducted research in structural biochemistry at Cambridge University and has a degree in biotechnology from Chalmers University of Technology. He has a Ph.D. from the Royal Institute of Technology in polymer engineering. Sanandaji has previously been chairman of the Free Moderate Student League and the Swedish-American Association, both based in Gothenburg.[10]


Sanandaji was one of the authors of the Timbro report "Welcome to Sweden! On political bias in the SFI literature, Swedish for immigrants" which criticized the Swedish for immigrants training for having a politicized message in favor of the Social Democrats.[12][13] He has published more than twenty books, mostly in Swedish, on policy issues such as women's career opportunities, integration, entrepreneurship and reforms to encourage innovation in the provision of public services.[2][3][4][5]

Sanandaji's first English book is Renaissance for Reforms, which was written with Professor Stefan Fölster. The book was published in 2014 in co-operation with the Swedish think tank Timbro and the United Kingdom-based think tank Institute of Economic Affairs. By analyzing modern democracies since the mid 1990s, the authors question the idea that reformist governments seldom are re-elected. Rather, they show that the governments that introduce market reforms are actually more likely to be re-elected. The book has gained the attention of media and thinktanks in a number of countries, including Sweden,[14] Austria,[15][16] Norway,[17] the United Kingdom[18][19] and Bulgaria.[20]

In 2014, Sanandaji published the book SuperEntrepreneurs co-authored with his brother Tino Sanandaji, an economist. The book looks into the background of the more than a thousand individuals around the world who have amassed more than $1 billion through entrepreneurship and examines the conditions that foster entrepreneurship. On its release, SuperEntrepreneurs gained massive international attention. It was the front page story of The Daily Telegraph[21] and independently also reported by The Times,[22] The Daily Mail,[23] and NBC News.[24] A range of international media followed up on these initial reports.[25]

NBC quoted SuperEntrepreneurs by stating: "The results indicate the American Dream – the notion that it is possible for individuals to rise to the top through effort, luck, and genius – is not yet dead. Self-made billionaire entrepreneurs have created millions of jobs, billions of dollars in private wealth and probably trillions of dollars of value for society".[24]

Richard Branson, the entrepreneur behind Virgin, criticized SuperEntrepreneurs for not having an emphasis on the need for public support of entrepreneurs. Branson wrote on his blog: "I am a big believer in the power of entrepreneurship as a key driver of economic growth, job creation, and innovation. However, if we want more successful entrepreneurs, they need to be supported by long-term thinking and creative support structures".[26]

He has also written contributions for the anthologies Self-Control or State Control? You Decide by Dr. Tom G. Palmer and A U-Turn on the Road to Serfdom by Grover G. Nordquist.[27][28]

Selected bibliography in English[edit]

  • Innate Confinement Effects in PCL Oligomers as a Route to Confined Space Crystallisation (2009). Licentiate thesis at Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
  • The Single Income Tax Final report of the 2020 Tax Commission (2012). Taxpayers Alliance. Contributed alongside Tino Sanandaji and Arvid Malm to the section regarding the correlation between income gaps, poverty and social outcome.
  • Different paths to explore confined crystallisation of PCL (2013). Doctorate thesis at Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
  • Renaissance for Reforms (2014). Institute of Economic Affairs/Timbro. Co-authored by Stefan Fölster.
  • SuperEntrepreneurs (2014). Center for Policy Studies. Co-authored by Tino Sanandaji.
  • The Spending Plan (2015). Taxpayers Alliance. Sanandaji contributed two chapters.
  • Scandinavian Unexceptionalism: Culture, Markets and the Failure of Third-Way Socialism (2015). Paperback.
  • The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox (2016). Timbro.
  • Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism (2016). Paperback.

Scandinavian Unexceptionalism[edit]

In his book Scandinavian Unexceptionalism, Sanandaji promotes the idea that unique norms and free markets can explain the economic and social success of Scandinavia rather than large welfare states. In June 2015, the book was published by the British think tank Institute of Economic Affairs[1] and was also released in Stockholm in co-operation with the think tank Timbro.[29] The foreword is written by American libertarian author Tom Palmer.

In the book, Sanandaji argues that particularly the left has long praised Scandinavian countries for their high levels of welfare provision and admirable societal outcomes. Although true that Scandinavian countries are successful, the author makes the case that this success pre-dates the welfare state. According to Sanandaji, Scandinavians became successful by combining a culture with strong emphasis on individual responsibility with economic freedom. This can also explain why Scandinavian Americans, who live outside Nordic welfare states, have low levels of poverty and high levels of prosperity.[30]

The book has been cited in more than a hundred international publications, including The Wall Street Journal,[31][32] The Daily Telegraph,[33] ABC,[34] Financial Post,[35] The New York Post,[36] Taiwanese publication Tech Finance News,[37] Chicago Tribune[38] and Forbes.[39] The Economist also cited the findings of the book that Nordic-Americans are considerably more prosperous than their cousins in the Nordics:[40]

Scandinavian Unexceptionalism has been translated to Polish, titled Mit Skandynawii.[41] Spanish translation has been released in South and Central America as well as Spain, with a foreword from Mauricio Rojas, associate professor of economic history at Lund University in Sweden and senior fellow at Chilean think tank FPP. The Spanish version, titled El poco excepcional modelo escandinavo, can be downloaded for free online.[42] Parts of the book and previous versions of it have been translated to Persian, German, French and Korean.

The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox[edit]

The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox is a book by Sanandaji which argues that the Nordic nations, which are often ranked as being the most gender-equal in the world, have policies that hinder women from reaching the top. In February 2016, the book was published by Swedish thinktank Timbro. The foreword is written by Timbro's president, Karin Svanborg-Sjövall [sv], and it has been cited widely by international media.[1]

Robert M. Sauer cited the book in The Jerusalem Times as an argument for why Israel should not copy Nordic welfare policies to achieve gender equality.[43] Steve Austin also interviewed Sanandaji for ABC Radio Brisbane in Australia.[53] In The Washington Examiner, Michael Barone related the book to then-President candidate Hillary Clinton's plan for equalizing salaries between men and women.[44]

Andrea Mrozek also wrote about the findings of the book in Canadian Financial Post as an argument against gender quotas.[35] American economist Tyler Cowen criticized the book for not having enough "formal econometric treatment" and stated that he did not regard it "to be the final word". Cowen also stated that the book was consistently interesting by revising many of the stereotypes of Nordic gender egalitarianism.[46] The book was also cited by media in other countries, including Russia,[47] Poland,[48][49] Norway,[50] Estonia[51] and Colombia.[52]

Debunking Utopia[edit]

In the summer of 2016, WND Books, an American conservative publisher and news outlet, published Debunking Utopia – Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism. In this book, Sanandaji expands on the same themes as Scandinavian Unexceptionalism. Parts of the two books are highly similar or even identical. Debunking Utopia is longer, written in an easier to read language compared to the more academically oriented Scandinavian Unexceptionalism and links the topic to the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic nomination which at the time was ongoing. A key argument made in the book is that already in 1960—before the shift towards high taxes and a large welfare state—Nordic countries were well ahead of the United States and other modern countries in terms of welfare measures such as long lifespan and low child mortality. Debunking Utopia states that in 1960 Danes on average lived 2.4 years longer than Americans, at a time when Denmark had a lower tax rate than the United States. The latest data for 2013, when Denmark had the highest tax rate in the world, instead show that the difference had shrunk to 1.5 years. This trend is also true for Sweden and Norway.[54]

The introduction to Debunking Utopia states that the book is written to address the rising popularity of Nordic-style social democracy in the United States and elsewhere.[55] Sanandaji was invited to write about the book in Foreign Affairs and National Review.[56] Shortly after its release, Debunking Utopia was promoted by many center-right and pro-market talk shows,[57] think tanks[58] and media outlets.[59] James Pethokoukis at the Washington-based conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute promoted the book by writing: "When it comes to democratic socialism, Feel the Bern Democrats are stuck in the past".[60] Dan Mitchell at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, also based in Washington, wrote about the book as well[61] and Cato Institute invited Nima Sanandaji to record a podcast[62] on why the United States should not adopt Nordic-style social democracy. American writer Joel Kotkin wrote an opinion piece originally published in the Orange County Register and syndicated by other publications with the title "What happened to my party?". Kotkin criticized left-leaning Democrats who idealize Nordic-style social democracy.[63]

Other conservatives and libertarians who referred to the book in the United States include Kevin D. Williamson in the National Review,[64] John Larabell in the John Birch Society's The New American,[65] Alice B. Lloyd in The Weekly Standard.[66] Gene Epstein gave the book a positive review in Barrons.[67] American economist Tyler Cowen wrote a column about the book, both praising and criticizing it for overstating its case, which appeared in numerous outlets including Bloomberg,[68] Las Vegas Review-Journal[69] and Chicago Tribune.[69] Financial Times quoted the figures by Tyler Cowen, mistakingly linking them to him rather than Sanandaji.[70] Debunking Utopia has mainly spread through various market-oriented think tanks and opinion pages in various Central- and South American,[71] European[72][73] and Asian media outlets.[74][75][76] This includes North Korea Times, which translated Tyler Cowens review of Debunking Utopia from the syndicated copy published in The Japan Times.[77]

Debunking Utopia has overall mostly been cited by those agreeing with the views of the book. However, the leading Norwegian daily paper Dagbladet invited both Sanandaji and his critics to give their perspective. Einar Lier, professor of economic history; and Thori Lind, a researcher in social economics, criticized the book by writing that most researchers already know that Nordic prosperity preceded the welfare state. The two authors also criticize the comparison that Sanandaji does, showing that the lifespan difference between Norway and the United States was larger in 1960 before the shift towards a large welfare state in Norway than after this transformation had occurred. According to Lier and Lind, this comparison is not relevant since the rising life expectancy in the United States is explained by a catching-up of African Americans.[78]

In Denmark, the TV-channel DR2, part of Denmark's public service broadcasting company, organized a debate about Debunking Utopia. Sigge Winther Nielsen, the host of the debate show Deadline, encouraged Ole Birk Olesen, member of liberal/libertarian party Liberal Alliance and previously minister for finance, taxes and municipal affairs in Denmark, to debate the book with Kasper Fogh, chief of political affairs and communication at left-of-center think tank CEVEA. Sigge Winther Nielsen argued that the perspectives of Debunking Utopia were relevant for Denmark, which should use this insight to encourage individual responsibility and shift away from a generous welfare state; while Kasper Fogh argued that Denmark's prosperity was linked to a large welfare state. The debate is available on Youtube. In Sweden, Per Gudmundson, center-right editorial writer at the daily paper Svenska Dagbladet, similarly to Kasper Foght argued in favor of Debunking Utopia. One of the two editorials written by Gudmundson about the book was entitled "It was a long time since I was so refreshed!".[79][80]

By December 2017, Debunking Utopia had received over 400 press clips from around the world and even a paper in North Korea had cited the book.[81]


Sanandaji has received criticism by the left-wing online Jacobin magazine for his claim that Scandinavian culture and high trust accounts for Nordic prosperity rather than welfare spending and high taxes, which Sanandaji substantiates by comparing the GDP per capita of Nordic citizens with American citizens of Nordic heritage. The Jacobin magazine argued in an article in 2016 that Sanandaji did not adequately explain why using race and ethnicity is a more accurate measure to compare relative social mobility than social class.[82]

Ingvild Reymert, a politician in the Norwegian Socialist Left Party, has also criticized Sanandaji's book Debunking Utopia. Contrary to Sanandaji's argument, Reymert argues that Nordic tax and income redistribution policies were the main explanation for the high level of income equality in these countries.[83]



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External links[edit]