What makes Denmark the happiest place in the world | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

For the past two decades, the Kingdom of Denmark has set the international standard for citizen development and good governance. The Human Poverty Index ranks Denmark fifth to the last in terms of citizen deprivation, while the Human Development Index ranks it at No. 10.


Perhaps even more impressive is Denmark’s status as Happiest Country in the World, according to the World Happiness Report, a list compiled annually by the United Nations. These accolades, along with a competitive economy, have allowed Denmark to remain secure despite the global financial crisis.


The secret to Danish success can be attributed largely to the policies set forth by its government, in what the international community commonly refers to as the Nordic Model—characterized by high progressive taxation, high levels of public spending and low inequality.


Forbes Magazine also ranks Denmark No. 1 on its list of Best Countries for Business. The history of the model is equally engrossing. Its roots lie in the German Social Democratic Labour Party during the rise of the political Left in the 1890s. As such, in its early history, Danes share a common lineage with the Soviet Communists.


In April 1918, however, the Danish Social Democrats broke ties with the Bolsheviks. In 1924, Thorvald Stauning became Denmark’s first Social Democrat prime minister, and began a series of policies that would lay the foundation for what was to become the modern Danish welfare state.


During his 15 years in office, Stauning stimulated private enterprise to create growth, reduce unemployment and raise wages, forever differentiating Danish Social Democrats from their European contemporaries.


In January, Denmark formally reopened its embassy in the Philippines, which had been closed since 2002. The delegation, led by Ambassador Jan Top Christensen, seeks to establish stronger ties between the two nations, as well as to scout for potential investments.


On Feb. 2, I had the privilege of talking with Christensen on the inner workings of the Nordic Model, its role in Danish society, and the potential it holds for the Philippines and the world.


Public education


It is difficult to argue with the belief that education serves as the bedrock of any society. Philosopher John Dewey put it best when he said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” The Danish government’s understanding of this is reflected in its budgetary allocation for public education, 7.8 percent of its annual GDP (compared to the Philippines’ measly 2.8 percent).


Much like our educational system, 80-90 percent of Danish citizens receive public education. Unlike our system, however, the disparity between public and private educational institutions is almost nonexistent. And if the minor nuances in quality were accounted for, public schools would rank even higher than their private counterparts.


Christensen remarked that private schools in Denmark serve merely as an alternative, rather than a necessity. If a child were to attend private school, it would be for religious or personal reasons rather than for the pursuit of a superior education.


Even then, the government shoulders around 80 percent of private teacher salaries. This, according to Christensen, shows the openness of the state toward private interests.


Human capital aside, investment in a well-funded public education system reaps numerous social benefits. Christensen, a product of Danish public education himself, spoke of his own experiences: “I was in school with people from all walks of life: people from working-class backgrounds, middle-class backgrounds and upper-class backgrounds. We all went to the same school. We got to know each other and respect each other. It creates cohesion.


“If you are in a situation where you’re only with people from the same elite group, then you don’t actually get to know other types of people. So you’ll probably have no respect for them.”


From a very young age, Danish children are taught to live in harmony, regardless of class. The social dialogue between employers and the trade unions, for example, results in Denmark receiving one of the highest minimum wages in the world, despite having no formal minimum wage laws. The government itself does little but mediate the dialogue, and no politician, regardless of ideology, seeks to disrupt or unfairly influence the healthy discourse.


Christensen stressed the importance of balance: “When times are hard economically, the trade unions know not to demand large salary increases because then everybody suffers as a whole. When times are good, the employers in turn increase benefits to thank people for their hard work.”


These ethical business practices are applied not only at home, but anywhere a Danish company intends to set up shop.


Welfare, not charity


It is safe to assume that a good majority of Filipinos have participated in some form of charity. The Philippines, in fact, has an abundance of charities and foundations that seek to actively aid the downtrodden. For Danes, however, in the words of Christensen, “Charity is fine and good as a complement, but it is never a substitute for welfare. Provisions brought about by charity are not rights. The social welfare system makes them the rights and entitlements of every citizen. You shouldn’t have to grovel to receive things that should be yours in the first place.”


The limitations of charitable provision do not end there. Charity creates a social divide between those who give and those who receive. Public welfare and universal entitlement represent a form of solidarity, in which people across social classes find themselves in the same classrooms and the same hospital wards.


Following the long-term goal of creating better living standards for its citizens, Denmark has gained international praise for its success in the field of wind power. In 2012, the Danish government announced the “energy strategy 2050” initiative, with the goal of becoming fully independent of fossil fuel usage by that year.


The initiative has been extraordinarily successful thus far, so much so that by 2020, wind power will provide 50 percent of Denmark’s energy demand.


Perhaps even more impressive is Denmark’s willingness to share its success with the rest of the world. Corporations like Vestas have began the construction of wind turbines in Singapore, China and the Philippines. The Bangui Wind Farm in Ilocos Norte, completed in 2008 utilizing technology from Vestas, provides a sneak preview of what the future holds for Danish-Filipino collaboration.


When asked which aspect of the Nordic Model contributes most significantly to Denmark’s success, Christensen said: “It is very difficult to mention only one. There is no doubt that it all begins with investing in the youth. Education. Education. Education.


“But there is another key factor behind our success, and that is trust. Trust between citizens and government. If you have corruption in the government, you cannot have trust. We all remember that it is the job of a politician to serve the people, and not the other way around.”


With such a mind-set, it is not surprising that the Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Denmark as “Least Corrupt Country in the World.”


It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer level of success Danes have achieved in governing their country. In the words of Jack Carroll, “Perhaps the greatest utopia would be if we could all realize that no utopia is possible; no place to run, no place to hide, just take care of business here and now.”


The Danish people have done just that. They have taken care of “business here and now,” and, in the process, have forged something magnificent nonetheless.


The Nordic Model is not the key to attaining utopia, and it is by no means a cookie-cutter recipe for success. But if Filipinos ever wish to truly rise as a nation and create something of our own, we must be willing to go the distance. The road will be paved with hardship, but all good things must be earned.


With the reopening of the Danish embassy in the Philippines, one can only hope that, through bilateral discourse, both nations may grow stronger together.



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