Tag Archives: Denmark

The Dreaded ‘Socialism’ Of Denmark

One of the aspects of our (debased) public discourse that absolutely drives me nuts is the misuse of language–words used not to convey meaning, not to communicate, but to demean and dismiss.

For quite a while, “liberal” was the epithet of choice, mostly courtesy of Rush Limbaugh and his clones. These days, mostly thanks to Bernie Sanders, it’s “socialist.” It would be annoying enough if the people who use the term as a sneer actually knew what it meant, but it is abundantly clear that they don’t.

Allow me.

In virtually every modern, democratic country, economies are mixed, meaning that markets supply many, if not most, of the goods and services needed/wanted by the people who live there, while many others are socialized–that is, provided communally through government. Experience has demonstrated that it makes sense to socialize the provision of services like police and fire protection, streets and highways, education and garbage collection, and to meet social needs through programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Some countries socialize larger elements of their economies than we do, but that doesn’t make them communist hellholes. Unless, of course, you are a Fox News”reporter.” 

As Paul Krugman responded,

Last weekend, Trish Regan, a Fox Business host, created a bit of an international incident by describing Denmark as an example of the horrors of socialism, right along with Venezuela. Denmark’s finance minister suggested that she visit his country and learn some facts.

Indeed, Regan couldn’t have picked a worse example — or, from the point of view of U.S. progressives, a better one.

Denmark has undeniably made different decisions than we have about the size of government and the proper economic “mix.”

American politics has been dominated by a crusade against big government; Denmark has embraced an expansive government role, with public spending more than half of G.D.P. American politicians fear talk about redistribution of income from the rich to the less well-off; Denmark engages in such redistribution on a scale unimaginable here. American policy has been increasingly hostile to organized labor, and unions have virtually disappeared from the private sector; two-thirds of Danish workers are unionized.

So–how are these soul-less denizens of an all-powerful state surviving?

Danes are more likely to have jobs than Americans, and in many cases they earn substantially more. Overall G.D.P. per capita in Denmark is a bit lower than in America, but that’s basically because the Danes take more vacations. Income inequality is much lower, and life expectancy is higher.

The simple fact is that life is better for most Danes than it is for their U.S. counterparts. There’s a reason Denmark consistently ranks well ahead of America in measures of happiness and life satisfaction.

Denmark’s economy is best described as social-democratic. It’s basically a market economy, but one in which–as Krugman puts it– “the downsides of capitalism are mitigated by government action, including a very strong social safety net.”

Americans, as we know, don’t do nuance. (In the age of Trump, we don’t do much civility, either.) We prefer flinging insults to having discussions, and either/or formulations and bumper-sticker put-downs to thoughtful consideration of calibrated solutions to our problems.

Our choice isn’t between capitalism (which, in the U.S. has devolved into corporatism) and an all-encompassing socialism (as if that were even possible.) In a country populated by rational people, we would examine aspects of our current economy  and consider whether they are working properly, or whether it might be cost-effective to “socialize” them. (That is what the debate about single-payer health insurance is all about.)

Before we can make sound policy decisions, however, we need to employ the English language for its intended purpose: to describe reality and thus serve as the basis for actual communication.

How We Should Respond

News outlets are reporting that the incoming Trump Administration is seriously considering establishment of a “registry” for Muslims. Politico recently quoted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who says the effort is being modeled after the highly controversial National Security Entry-Exit Registration System implemented after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

When challenged about the constitutionality of such a measure, Trump supporters point to the “precedent” of World War II Japanese internment camps. Although that precedent has never been formally overruled, it is widely considered to have been a shameful departure from American principles, attributable to the stress of war.

Ordinarily, I would dismiss such stories, assuming that more responsible people would recognize the unAmerican nature and probable unconstitutionality of such a proposal; given the abysmal bona fides of those Trump has around him, however, I cannot simply assume that this effort will be still-born.

So here is what I propose:

If a Trump Administration attempts to require registration of Muslims, I intend to register, and I will encourage all of my friends and family to register as well.

One of the few positive stories that emerged during the Holocaust was the reported reaction of the Danes when, under Nazi occupation, Danish Jews were ordered to wear armbands with the infamous yellow Star of David. As the story goes, the Danish King and his subjects also donned the armbands, in a demonstration of the equality and solidarity of all Danish citizens.

Snopes tells us that the story is apocryphal, although the Danes did engage in heroic measures to save Danish Jews.

Although this legend may not be true in its specifics, it was certainly true enough in spirit. The rescue of several thousand Danish Jews was accomplished through the efforts of “thousands of policemen, government officials, physicians, and persons of all walks of life.” The efforts to save Danish Jews may not have had the flair of the “yellow star” legend, and they may not have required quite so many citizens to visibly oppose an occupying army, but those who were rescued undoubtedly preferred substance to style.

Sometimes, a morality tale can be more powerful than accurate history.

An actual effort to make Muslims register would be challenged immediately, and I have to believe it would be quickly enjoined, but the mere fact of the attempt would have a chilling effect on everyone’s religious liberties.

As a practical matter, if thousands of non-Muslim Americans publicize our intention to add our names to any registry–and if we announce that intention immediately in response to any trial balloon or actual proposal to create such a registry– we may be able to abort this insulting and demeaning and thoroughly unAmerican effort.

I hope these reports are wrong, but given the rhetoric of the campaign, Trump’s embrace of the “alt-right” (aka Nazis, White Supremacists and the KKK), and the nature of his inner circle, prudence suggests  that we prepare for the worst.

 

Just Think How Happy They’d Be if the Weather Were Better….

Or maybe not. I had a Canadian colleague who insisted that cold weather encourages development of social cooperation and interdependence, and that’s why places like Canada develop better social safety nets.

Recently, Denmark–a cold country with high taxes and one of those “socialist, nanny-state” governments– was ranked the happiest nation on earth.

Of course, being prosperous (not to mention healthy and virtuous) didn’t hurt.

The six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government- and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

There’s a fair amount of evidence that strong social safety nets correlate with socially healthier societies–less gun violence, lower divorce rates, less discord, etc. (In all fairness, there’s also evidence suggesting that feelings of mutual obligation/collective responsibility also correlate with high levels of homogeneity. It’s easier to care about the elderly when they all look like grandma…)

The report notes that Danes have “a sense of stewardship” and are massively engaged in political and civil life. During the last election, in 2011,  87.7 voted. Over 40% volunteer in NGOs, social and political organizations, etc.

Denmark may not be everyone’s idea of the ideal society, but life there sure beats the “vision” espoused by Paul Ryan and the Tea Party–a dog eat dog society in which the privileged deny any obligation to the less fortunate, where basic health care is a consumer good available to those who can afford it, and social security is “charity.”

And if we’re talking about happiness, folks in states like Mississippi and Texas–where Tea Party principles are the order of the day and efforts to create a “culture of generosity” would bring catcalls and derision– don’t look all that happy to me.