Former Minister for the Environment in Denmark (2011-2014) Ida Auken member of The Liberal Party, is Chairman for The Parliament’s Climate and Energy Committee. She is now a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum and author of the book “Dansk” in which she writes about Danish identity and values.
Danes may be the inspiration for many countries. The Danish labor-market model for instance (also called “flexicurity”) offers flexibility and security for workers as well as employees. Contrary to what many Americans tend to believe, Denmark is not a socialist country. Yes, the country has free health care, but at the same time low social mobility.
The labor-market model is a decentralized system where pay and working conditions are established by collective-bargaining agreements between trade unions and employer’s organizations in mutual respect for each other. If labor agreements are not met, workers have the right to go on strike as well as the employers have the right to lock out workers.
You may also like to read: On Copenhagen’s Amager Island
A market economy
In a speech at Harvard University, the Danish prime minister claimed that the Danish model was far from being a socialist economy, but a market economy.
Ida Auken strongly believes that the air in the Danish cities will be cleaner by 2030 because there are fewer cars on the street and the ones still driving there will be electric. Less noise and much more space. And the Danes will be eating more plant-based food, she believes, healthier as well as environmentally friendly.
There are very few working poor in Denmark, not even low-skilled or unskilled workers, who cannot sustain themselves and their families with a full-time job. However, Auken admits that Denmark could do a much better job when it comes to social mobility. “This is something that the new Danish social democratic government is addressing, together with the Social Liberal Party that I belong to. We have agreed to invest in early childhood development in our child-care institutions, especially from ages zero to 6, to try to improve social mobility,” she says.
A vigorous labor market policy
Danes are trying out new types of living arrangements with more shared functions and spaces which means more people can afford to live in cities. Wooden houses are a more common sight, and they are nicer to live in and much better for the climate than concrete buildings.
Related: Danish Happiness Explained
The employment rate in Denmark is very high. Because of the flexicurity model, the Danes will recover more quickly from a crise like the pandemic because companies can easily scale fast up or down. People who were laid off due to restrictions did not need to fear for their future because the high level of social protection and vigorous labor market policy.
The Danish way of thinking is that problems should be solved commonly. When they buy something, it should be something that lasts and because you really need it. “Refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle” is the new way of looking at products.
Danes in general are pleased with the Danish model, according to the Employment Relations Research Center at the University of Copenhagen. The reason is not only that it makes economic sense but also that it creates a sense of common purpose that ensures the dignity of every citizen.
Democrats with a touch of liberalism
“We are social democrats with a touch of liberalism,” says Auken.
In recent years, agriculture has changed dramatically in Denmark. New plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products have made it harder for traditional animal-based products to compete. Much of the land formerly used to produce animal feedstock has become available.
People living in rural areas benefit from tourism, city people starting to value enjoying nature, hiking and angling, traveling in their regions by train while most airlines to a larger extent are switching to electro-fuels, biofuels or electricity.
The working class in Denmark is being lifted into the middle class. The mobility stabilized the society and avoid it being split into gated communities or projects. Danish kids are growing up and get to know children of other economic, educational and social background.
Related: The Danish Art of Happiness
Nothing wrong with being a millionaire
At the same time, Danes in general see nothing wrong with being successful and earning a lot of money. Only a little more than 5 percent of the population is made up of millionaires, and the highest incomes and fortunes are relatively taxed the most. The richest 10 percent pay almost one third of the total tax. Denmark has managed to minimize poverty and reduce huge inequalities.
And it seems like people have stopped buying stuff they don’t need, they have more money to spend on values like gardening, healthy food, cultural events and eating out in the fabulous new restaurants popping up everywhere in Denmark.
By 2030, Auken predicts that Danes will spend more of their money being with family and friends, not buying goods. Perhaps all of us should use some time reflecting on the Danish way of living.
The Danish Way, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Agricultureandfood.dk