In Shakespeare's Hamlet, a guard who sees the ghost of Hamlet's father proclaims, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Something is definitely NOT rotten in the state of Denmark: That diminutive Scandinavian country puts America to shame in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a recent Opinion piece for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof does an admirable job of proving the point. Kristof wrote:
"Denmark lowered new infections so successfully that last month it reopened elementary schools and day care centers as well as barber shops and physical therapy centers. ... Moreover, Danes kept their jobs. ... America's unemployment rate last month was 14.7 percent, but Denmark's is hovering in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent."
How did Denmark accomplish what America could not? Detractors say it's because Denmark practices something evil known as "democratic socialism." But in Denmark's case, democratic socialism seems to create a government that is a lot more empathetic toward the population than the American government. For example:
- Instead of allowing companies to lay off workers and throw everyone onto unemployment, as we did in the U.S., Denmark paid its employers to keep their workers on the payroll. The country reimbursed up to 90 percent of workers' wages to keep them employed.
- Instead of instituting a terribly managed and inequitable business loan and grant system, as we did in the U.S., Denmark simply helped companies pay fixed costs such as their rent, as long as the companies agreed to suspend dividends, not buy back stock, and not use foreign tax havens to evade taxes.
- Instead of low-wage workers suffering the catastrophic loss of wages and health insurance by being laid off in the U.S., Denmark, because of its democratic socialism, protected its workers: McDonald's workers in Denmark, for example, earn around $22 per hour, which includes pay supplements -- AND they get universal medical insurance, paid sick leave, six weeks of paid vacation annually, one year of paid maternity leave, life insurance and a pension plan.
Danes are generally regarded as some of the happiest people in the world. They should be, if even a McDonald's worker is treated so well. In fact, everyone in Danish society is treated well. About 80 percent of Danes ages 16 to 64 work (a higher percentage than in the U.S.) and they work an average of 22 percent fewer hours than Americans. More than 80 percent of Danish workers are under collective bargaining contracts because Danish unions are strong. This is the kind of system that can sustain itself during something as devastating as a pandemic.
Danish Labor Minister Peter Hummelgaard told Kristof, "Danes love America, but there's no admiration for the level of inequality in America, for the lack of job security, for the lack of health security, for all those things that normally can create a good society."
Well, well. Maybe this pandemic should give us pause to seriously consider why a great country like ours cannot come close to the social safety net provided by a country like Denmark. It certainly doesn't seem "rotten" to me.
HappilyRewired.com is a Top 75 Baby Boomer Blog.
Reader Comment: Without getting political, I've written a few blogs on how Scandinavian countries - despite frigid arctic temperatures and months of darkness, have the happiest people on the planet. This fact has always fascinated me. After all, we all do well to learn from other cultures. They do have a better handle on the coronavirus and are well-known for providing basic necessities including free university education, social security, universal health care, efficient infrastructure, paid family leave, and at least a month of vacation a year. But I also think we can learn a few lessons from the Norwegians and the way they live. They practice "hygge" which requires being present in a moment – whether the moment is simple, soothing, or special – that brings comfort, contentment, or pleasure. Norwegians have proven to be less materialistic than other cultures, appreciating low-cost activities and simple things in life. Working overtime or on weekends? Unheard of! These countries have harsh weather, but these people are a hearty bunch who show their appreciation for nature and the great outdoors year round. In winter, most Norwegians aren’t sitting in their houses all depressed. They can be found skiing, dog-sledding, snowboarding, snow-shoeing, and enjoying the spectacular northern lights. During summer months, they take advantage of the warmer weather to hike, swim, cycle, and sail. I think these happiness reports confirm that happiness has less to do with money and success and more to do with spirituality, our relationship with others, gratitude, a giving attitude, and being present and mindful. And maybe adding a little more hygge to our lives.
- Julie Gorges, https://babyboomerbliss.net/
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