denmark’s flexicurity program

“USA Today” has an interesting piece today on Denmark’s economic system, which somehow manages to be both pro-business and pro-welfare at the same time. Apparently, while the government collects an average of 50% in taxes from everyone, the country still somehow manages to have one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. They also have low unemployment, a budget surplus, national healthcare, and a shrinking national debt. And, as if all that weren’t enough, the average worker only puts in 37 hours a week, leaving them plenty of time to pursue things like free education… The entire piece is worth a read, but here’s my favorite quote:

…The Danes have a word for their collectivism. It’s “jantelov,” (pronounced YAN-tee-loav), or Jante Law. It roughly means that nobody is better than anyone else…

I don’t think something like this would ever fly here in the U.S., as we’ve been pumped too full of shit for too many decades, but it’s nice to imagine that maybe, some day in the future, we could come to accept a system that treats us all as though we have value.

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7 Comments

  1. amc
    Posted March 8, 2007 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I had a similar “wow” experience living in Sweden. Although its economy is not doing as well as Denmark’s right now, it is far larger (almost twice as big), with huge (if not well-known) multinationals like ABB and Skanska based there. The success of Nordic economies belies the myth that “there is no alternative.”

    A huge cultural difference that I found was something called allemansratten, which basically says that everyone has the right to travel across private land for recreation and exercise, as long as you don’t commercially exploit, use developed land (houses) or (my favorite) harass livestock. You can even camp for one night, assuming you stay 300 meters from any structure. Compare this with that famous U.S. sign “trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot twice.”

    Allemanratten is common to all the Nordic countries, going back hundreds of years. And while there’s not a lot wilderness areas left in Denmark, I think it’s an important part of the origin of the egalitarian concepts like jantelov.

    The general Scandinavian attitude seems to be something like “don’t bother me, I won’t bother you. You help me, I’ll help you,” whereas the U.S. it’s “get off my lawn, I’ll be damned if my money goes to [anybody else].”

  2. dorothy
    Posted March 8, 2007 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    what i most regret is the fact that i almost married someone from denmark,but backed off because my stupid hormones pushed me in another direction. it was one of those cases where your mind tells you that this is the right way to go and your libido says whee get it on girl. if i had my life to live over, i’d go to some endocronogist and have my hormones supressed—they do nothing but get you into trouble. remind clementine of that in about ten years. hormones trump brains 100% of the time!!!!!!!

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted March 8, 2007 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel (great show, give it a try) when he visited Denmark. A few professional snowboarding Danes struggled to find an English word for jantelov. Along with the equality definitions they added, “it’s enough … good enough.” The word seems to be a combination of equality and contentment.

    I’d suggest contentment and community are two of the primary virtues lacking in the American psyche and both parties’ platforms. We need to begin to look at our lives with gratitude rather than greed and say, “I have enough.” If we can do that, we might find the collective courage to look at the wealthiest one percent with indignation instead of envy and say, “You’ve taken too much.”

  4. mark
    Posted March 8, 2007 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comments.

    I know I’ve said this quite a few times before, but, as long as the world is ending, why not try something truly different and revolutionary? Why not say “free education for everyone who wants it”? Why not end tax loopholes for the rich? Why not ask Americans to stop driving cars and encourage them to start moving back into towns? Why not redefine what it means to be patriotic? Why not reclaim Christianity and every other religion of the world from fanatics? Wouldn’t it be cool if we at least gave it a shot? And, what the fuck, why not dismantle our nukes while we’re at it? If we’re all going to die, why not die having done something that we’re proud of?

  5. Dave
    Posted March 12, 2007 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m trying to post a contrarian comment, but I keep getting the cryptic error message, “Supplied comment is invalid.” And I didn’t even use any bad words, I promise. Weird.

  6. Dave
    Posted March 12, 2007 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    [Ok, after some experimenting, I found out the comment system objects to the (unhyphenated) word “social-ist” — Mark, is this on purpose or a weird bug?]

    Allemanratten is common to all the Nordic countries, going back hundreds of years. And while there’s not a lot wilderness areas left in Denmark, I think it’s an important part of the origin of the egalitarian concepts like jantelov.

    This is an important point, I think, in that to the extent these social-ist schemes appear to “work” they do so in countries with a greatly homogenous culture and long history — two things notably absent in America.

    Now, without having delved into the details of this particular topic, I have seen similar pieces dressing up social-ist ideals as wonderful, and it seems they always miss somewhere, somehow some particular costs to the supposed benefits, or at least they brush aside any trade-offs.

    Of course, my opinion is that we are way overtaxed in this country, so I can’t imagine increasing that to where fully HALF of the money I earn is forcibly extracted by kleptocrats and other blunderers to build their pet castles in the air.

    Maybe compared to the rest of Europe’s confiscatory states, Denmark’s 50% tax rate looks good, I don’t know. But from here, it looks pretty awful. Taxes aren’t the only way to achieve desirable social ends like education. I think they’re a pretty awful way, frankly.

    Anyway, I know I’m the minority opinion on this blog, but I figured somebody might appreciate at least token disagreement.

  7. Dr. Cherry
    Posted March 13, 2007 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    History tells us that people will only tolerate gross inequalities in wealth for a specific period of time before they forcibly affect change.

    The punchline is that it’s usually young, educated, kids from the aristocracy who lead the revolution.

    The way I see it, the rich elite can work to bring the poor up into the middle class, or the poor will eventually crash into their gated communities and burn them to the ground.

    We’re on the road to class war in the US and I don’t know that I mind.

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