Denmark as Non-Inquisitive Fugleman

fugleman – noun, plural -men. 1. (formerly) a soldier placed in front of a military company as a good model during training drills. 2. a person who heads a group.

dansk_supermodel1So I’m taking my usual stroll through my RSS reader . . . and what do I come across? Something from the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende, entitled The Danish supermodel! Hey, click on that sucker . . . !

To my disappointment, it turns out to have nothing to do at all with anything like the efforts of some lithe, shapely (and probably under-fed) young Miss from, say, the Jutland hinterlands to displace Claudia Schiffer or Gisele Bundchen (she wears the pants!) from the catwalk. But you realize that the parlous times we’re currently in don’t really allow for such idle distractions, right? (Not that EuroSavant has followed, or even is able to follow, this line consistently . . .)

You’ll be glad to know that the “Supermodel” that this article discusses is indeed of an economic nature, namely the Danes’ way of putting together and running their economy, which seems to work extremely well in a time when we are all looking for extremely good solutions. For we have Business Week not long ago plaintively blazing the headline “What is capitalism’s future?” And as this Berlingske article proclaims, “The USA has disappointed the world. The American model, with its irrepressible belief in free-market forces where everyone forges his own success, has loudly broken own.” What could replace it? Why, possibly that Danish “supermodel”!

But you don’t have to take that from me, or even from the (uncredited) Berlingske reporter. No no, the evidence of Denmark as #1 overflows at you here. For starters, Denmark was literally named by Forbes magazine as #1 country for business last summer, and just before that The Copenhagen Consensus was lauded by an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, no less, by Robert Kuttner, notable author and think-tank denizen.

(If you’re not quite sure what that Danish “supermodel” is in the first place, then Kuttner’s article – although you only get the first part of it unless you are a Foreign Affairs subscriber – and the Forbes piece together should brief you pretty well. It basically couples, as Kuttner puts it, “the best of the free market with the best of the welfare state,” so high taxes, but also high personal freedom and entrepreneurial spirit, and a State that otherwise doesn’t much get in business’ way.)

But that’s not all:

  • The Global Competitiveness Report 2008 (produced by those same World Economic Forum who brought you the just-concluded get-together of the great and the rich at Davos) puts Denmark as the world #3, behind the US and Switzerland.
  • Deutsche Bank lists Denmark as #1 in the world when it comes to attracting employment-generating private investment.
  • The Economist also names Denmark as the #1 place in the world for doing business.
  • That magazine’s sister research unit, the Eonomist Intelligence Unit, joins IBM in ranking Denmark as #1 in the world for e-business.
  • The OECD and the IMF both declare Denmark’s labor market to be the world’s best, and the EU has officially adopted it as the standard that other EU lands should follow.
  • The European Labour Network for Economic Policy calls Danish jobs the best in the world to have – presumably because of the combination of pay, security, and work-conditions that they offer.

And surely you heard something a while ago about that survey (from the University of Leicester in the UK, as it turns out) that named the Danes as the world’s happiest people?

There you have it, then: it seems a pretty successful economic model, and therefore one to which there is all-the-more reason to look, like for tips and solutions to get out of the mess in which much of the world currently finds itself. The thing to keep in mind, though, as usual, is that this is an article in Danish, and therefore by Danes and for Danes. So you can rest assured that the point of it all is not triumphalist chest-thumping towards the rest of the world – that’s really not Denmark’s style, anyway, and besides, who knows how to read Danish other than the Danes? No, the point is something else entirely, something really sort of crazy, namely to remind Danes that they are indeed held in this high regard by the rest of the world and then, more importantly, to try to get them more curious about why that is – lest they fritter their advantages away over time through sheer inattention! As the article puts it, “Do we ourselves understand the Danish success-model? Or do we really have to have the Americans explain it to us?”

For indeed, the article claims that there is far more curiosity in the outside world over what that Danish model is and what makes it a success than there seems to be in Denmark itself. One of those mega-curious outsiders is Professor Lawrence Harrison, leader of the Cultural Change Institute at Tufts University, who has researched Denmark thoroughly and who attributes Danish success, yes, mainly to elements within Danish culture – their norms, beliefs, prejudices. Unfortunately, these are precisely the sort of phenomena that are hard to pin down and steadily pay close attention to, yet it is necessary to do that if those characteristics that have taken the Danes so far, in Professor Harrison’s words, are not to “die out due to negligence and neglect.” That’s the only way, as the article puts it, to ensure that the Danes remain at something at least similar to this top economic position twenty years down the line as well.

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