Today I’m back in Copenhagen, Denmark, rightfully called the Paris of the North, to renew my 53-year love affair with Denmark and its amazing people.
In 1966-67, I was a Rotary Fellow for International Understanding, and I returned to teach at two Danish universities (1971-72), for two sabbaticals (1979-80; 1986-87), and two shorter visits in 2007 and 2015.
During the past 50 years, center-right and center-left parties, sometimes in shaky coalitions and often as minority governments begging for votes, have traded places.
Center-right governments have left the generous welfare state essentially intact. The exceptions are a reduction in pensions and child-care subsidies, some adult dental care must now be paid, and unemployment benefits were limited to four years.
This June, the Social Democrats returned to power in a broad leftist alliance. They garnered only 26 percent of the vote, but they were able to form a minority government with the promise of enough votes on the left to pass legislation.
The Social Democrats campaigned on promises to increase government spending, increase taxes on the rich, and repeal pension limitations set in place by earlier conservative governments.
The previous center-right minority government fell primarily because the anti-immigrant People’s Party, on which it had relied for support, lost half of its seats. Two new parties on the far right split their base, and one leader gained a lot of negative attention by burning Qur’ans and calling for the deportation of all Muslims.
Environmental issues are now replacing immigration concerns, and young voters are especially keen on reducing Denmark’s carbon footprint, already small because of the great success of wind power. Polls show that 46 percent of Danes place climate change as their top issue, up from 27 percent in 2017.
Lobbying on behalf of the environment has borne fruit, because the new government announced that it would commit itself to reducing Denmark’s carbon dioxide emissions 70 percent by 2030. Leaders of the People’s Party found themselves out of step with the electorate when they said that “climate fools” were fomenting “climate hysteria.”
In 2016 the World Economic Forum ranked Denmark third in the world for ease of doing business, and the U.S. trailed in seventh place with Sweden, Norway and Finland close behind. The same organization placed Denmark 10th for economic competitiveness, putting the lie to the conservative view that high taxes and comprehensive social services undermine economic performance.
All Danish governments have been committed to “taxing and spending,” but wisely and efficiently. Tax breaks for the poor are the Republican solution to helping them, but a study done by the Nation magazine has shown that if these tax breaks are included in the calculation, America’s social programs actually cost more per capita, but are far less effective.
The same result is found for medical care: Denmark and all other industrialized countries spend less (generally half per capita) but obtain much better health results.
My critics will most likely tell me “Love it or Leave it,” but I respond: I want to change the country I love or we will lose it to a corrupt, racist president and a conservative party that cares only for the corporate bottom line.
In a 2013 special report praising the Nordic countries, the free market Economist concludes: “America needs a dose of Nordic pragmatism if it is to have any chance of reining in entitlements and reforming the public sector,” and, I would add, reducing our huge public debt.
Hillary Clinton was wrong to answer “we are not Denmark” in response to Bernie Sanders’ praise for the country in a 2016 primary debate. With sufficient political will we can easily scale up the great success of the “Northern Lights,” as the Economist calls Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read his articles on the Third Way between Communism and Capitalism at webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/ThirdWay.htm. Email him at email@example.com.