‘Ambition is not celebrated’ in Denmark, where a garbage man earns as much as a teacher

‘Ambition is not celebrated’ in Denmark, where a garbage man earns as much as a teacher
NBC's "Today" profiled the nation of Denmark on Monday to figure out why — in correspondent Cynthia McFadden's words — it's been called the "happiest place on earth" for the last 40 years. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

NBC’s “Today” profiled the nation of Denmark on Monday to figure out why — in correspondent Cynthia McFadden’s words — it’s been called one of the “happiest places on earth” for the last 40 years.

What do Danes’ wages and work weeks look like?

  • “In Denmark, ambition is not celebrated as it would be, for example, in Los Angeles,” National Geographic author and explorer Dan Buettner told McFadden. “No matter what you’re doing, you’re no better than anybody else. This is a place where people can pursue things they enjoy about without letting the rat race suck them in.”
  • While Americans routinely work 50 hours per week or more, citizens of Denmark work an average of 37 hours per work.
  • Alan Christensen is a garbage man in Copenhagen who works five hours per day but earns the same as a school teacher, “Today” said.
  • “I feel happy,” Christensen told the show. “I have a nice life.” He ranked his level of happiness an 8 on a scale of 1-10.
  • “They’re free to pursue a job that meets their passions and their interests,” Buettner added to the program.
Image source: YouTube screenshot
Image source: YouTube screenshot

What else do Danes get?

  • New mothers get a year off with pay.
  • Free health care.
  • Free education through college.
  • A “comfortable retirement,” Buettner added to “Today.”

How do Danes feel about their government?

  • “Today” noted that in Denmark, there is a “strong trust in the government.”

Is it all a matter of trust?

  • The segment featured other “trust” snippets: a woman who said she never locks her door during the day as well as McFadden and Buettner noticing an occupied baby carriage completely unattended on a sidewalk.
Image source: YouTube screenshot
Image source: YouTube screenshot
  • “Trust is even more important than wealth when it comes to happiness,” Buettner added to the program. “And there’s a feeling here in Denmark that nothing too bad will ever happen to you.”
  • He also said there’s also a “lower baseline of stress” in the country.

Any downsides?

  • McFadden noted the country’s “enormously high taxes,” but she didn’t mention any numbers.
  • Well, Denmark boasts the world’s highest tax burden relative to gross domestic product — about 47 percent in 2015, Bloomberg reported.
  • Officials there announced two months ago that lower taxes would be phased in over the next several years, bringing the rate down to about 44 percent, Bloomberg added.
  • In general, everything in Denmark is more expensive than it is in the United States, the New York Times reported.

This writer’s perspective

For the unambitious (i.e. unmotivated), such a societal setup does seem ideal. But how long can Denmark keep it going?

According to the Huffington Post, many believe the jig will soon be up. Denmark actually qualifies as a market economy rather than a purely socialist one — despite its high taxes and broad welfare programs — the outlet said. Also, “successive governments have had to repeatedly reform the system, scaling back its benefits,” the Post added.

In addition, the Post said, the quality of the nation’s free education and health care leaves much to be desired, as its educational rankings are merely average and Danes have the lowest life expectancy in the European Union besides former communist countries. In the end, the outlet added, many believe such safety nets are “unsustainable.”

Of course, if more highly skilled workers elect to stay in Denmark and bolster the economy, that would seem to bode well for the rest of the citizenry. But what could possibly keep them there, if they can easily earn more elsewhere?

Perhaps the overall high trust in government — and Danish citizens’ mutual reliance — noted in the “Today” report, particularly if such attitudes have been conditioned over the last four decades.

But it will be interesting to see how much trust Danes place in their government if the lavish benefits they’ve also been conditioned to expect cease to exist somewhere down the road.

(H/T: Truth Revolt)

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