True Activist recently posted and circulated a meme that made some pretty bold statements about Denmark and their economy and raised a lot of questions about whether such an economical structure really leaves its citizens satisfied. The meme was set in the format of the Blobla meme that went viral on Facebook, which inserted your name and generated one of its statements to describe you and tell others to be like you. Similarly, the Denmark meme aimed to convince others, namely Americans in a capitalist society, to be more like Denmark in their socialist structure. But is the Danish structure as simple as the meme claims it is, or is there more beneath the surface? More importantly, is there really something we can learn from Denmark’s structure and do we want to be more like them?
Let’s break it down. The first section states that Denmark has free healthcare and free college education. This is true if by “free” you mean you don’t directly pay for your doctor visits or college tuition, but, as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Though you likely won’t pay directly for these services, you will certainly pay for them when you pay any kind of taxes. Perhaps the biggest criticism Denmark faces is their high tax rate; for example, their income taxes range from 41-56%. Sales tax begins at 25% and can often increase based on the items you buy. Compared to taxes in the United States, these figures seem alarmingly high, but that’s because we aren’t factoring in how much we pay out-of-pocket for our health insurance and college tuition. If we were to add up those figures, the amount we are paying is significantly more than the money that Danes are paying in taxes.
As if it weren’t enough to receive a free college education, Denmark also pays its students a stipend of up to $900 per month if they are enrolled in college, beginning at the age of 18. This stipend can extend for up to 6 years and the only major stipulation is that the student not live with their parents. So yes, when you hear that Danish students get paid to go to college, it is actually true. Additionally, when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development studied the happiness of almost 40 democracies, it found that people with only a primary education rated their overall life happiness to be a 5.9 out of 10, versus those with a tertiary education, who rated their happiness to be much higher at a 7. This means that Denmark is directly assisting its citizens in eventually leading a happier life.
What do all these taxes balanced out with free tuition and healthcare mean for the citizens? According to statistics, it means that the citizens are happier and more satisfied overall. Though Danish people themselves gripe about how high the taxes are, and many who happen to achieve wealth leave the country to avoid the income tax, the benefits seem to outweigh the complaints some have. International statistics show that 90% of Danes are completely satisfied with their healthcare, which is a stark contrast to the United States satisfaction rate, where 90% of the population isn’t even insured because they cannot afford it. Additionally, though some high-cost items also have high tax rates, such as cars, whose tax rate is on average 180%, there is a reason for these higher taxes. For cars, Denmark wants to encourage people to buy less cars and instead use public transportation or walk/bike for their daily commute in order to reduce the use of fuel. Studies show that material items such as cars do not make people happier anyways, so maybe Denmark is just saving its citizens some money while keeping them at their same level of happiness.
Now we come to the alleged $25/hour minimum wage and 35 hour work week. The simple truth is that there is no minimum wage; however, the average lowest wage that is paid to workers is actually $18/hour, which is not a far cry from what the meme states. The average work week is also 33 hours, which sweetens the deal even more. Denmark does not stop there for its workers, though. Each worker is guaranteed 5 weeks of vacation every single year, the maternity and paternity leave is longer and can even be intermittently stretched out over the first few years of your child’s life, and the child care costs are subsidized by the government so that it is very affordable for parents to work. On top of all this, it is common for Danes to work very close to where they live (what a concept!), reducing the stress of a long commute everyday and making it possible to travel when you don’t have a car. These all contribute to the way that Denmark keeps the balance between work and family and allows its citizens to stay happy and healthy.
As for saying that Denmark is the happiest country in the world, this may be exaggerating it a bit, but the intentions are good. The OECD found Denmark to be among the happiest of the nearly 40 countries it assessed, which is, of course, not the entire world. But all of these countries were democracies with market economies, so perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the developed world.
The answer to the question this article posed is yes, of course there is more beneath the surface of an economical structure whose policies are almost all compliant with a social structure. It’s difficult to be raised in a capitalist society and pretend to understand right off the bat how an economy like Denmark’s works without diving into the deep end to fish around a bit. Whether or not there is something we can learn from this and possibly take away from it truly depends on who you ask. In a country with presidential candidates whose economic policies are so widely dispersed but who all have significant support, it’s hard to say if we could ever be capable of taking huge strides to get just a little closer to Denmark’s policies, but we are closer now than we have been in decades because of candidates like Bernie Sanders. As for Denmark, it’s clear that the high taxes are certainly worth a laundry list of all-inclusive services that directly benefit its citizens and help them lead a happier, less stressful life. The question is, would you want to be like Denmark?
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