Voted in the Danish national elections this week – and watched as millions of Danes celebrated the marginal victory of the Social Democratic party – putting Denmark’s first woman Prime Minister into power. While I’m proud for Denmark in that regard, I also worry for Denmark.
Like most other western countries, Canada included – this election was no different in the sense that a shift in party power had as much to do with a basic desire for change as it did with sensible campaign platforms – or lack thereof (I base this on the fact that 1 million out of 4.07 million eligable voters where still undecided the day before the election). The last 10 years have been under right wing government – so naturally we’ll have some years ahead of us now under left wing. Standard democratic cycle stuff. If this were an American shift to left wing government, I’d be hurrahing. I’m referencing America here rather than Canada (which is slightly more socialist) simply because the worst case American user-pay scernio is repeated again and again by Danish leftists as arguement for why right wing should pack it’s bags. Thing is, in Scandinavia, even the most right wing goverment is light years more left wing than American left – so the point is somewhat moot.
Fact: Denmark has an amazing social safety net. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would argue with that or feel anything but admiration. Fact: Danes pay for this safety net with one of the world’s highest tax rates. These are facts irregardless of left or right wing government – because this sense of fairness, of responsibility towards each other, is such an integral part of Danish culture. I love and admire this about the Danish system.
Where my question comes in then – is where that sense of fairness finds it’s balance. Is it fair to take more from those who already pay the most? Won’t increasing income tax rates (as proposed) further sink motivation levels among a growing middle class when what the economy needs is everyone to pitch in a little more? Is it fair to allow the unemployed to sit 4 years with unemployment income when studies have shown that after 1.5 years you’re actually doing people a disservice by allowing enough time for demotivaton to set in? Couldn’t the money saved by the 2 year cut-back plan be better spent on self-selected education (allowing people to gain a skill set more relevant to them/ more conducive to re-entering the work force?) – or on education in general? Or lower student to teacher ratios in classrooms and daycares? I’ve heard the 2 year cut-back described as scandalous – mind you by acquaintances holding out for their dream jobs (sorry, but is the middle of a global financial crisis really the best time for that?) and by countless people in the grocery store queu and in cafés – laughing and boasting about not having to lift a finger – why should they? Their words, not mine – and it doesn’t sound very fair for taxpayers if you ask me.
I am all for paying my taxes and doing my part in a system that supports those who need it most (regardless of which country I live in). I’ve been blessed with ample opportunity – some have come from the system (in my case Canadian) some have come from crazy long hours and a lot of hard work. But what strikes me is that a system is not much unlike an employer, a parent or a coach. When individual choice, responsibility, and regular old elbow grease are swapped out for “the system (the bigger power) will take care of it” – don’t we lower the bar? Expect less of people and you will get less. Let people be helpless and more people will feel helpless. Is that the best way to give people a boost? I’m not always sure that it is.
In the same vein – wouldn’t it be fair to reward those who support the system with hard work and long hours by allowing them to keep a little more of their hard-earned income? There is a growing shortage of taxpayers in Denmark (for every 5 that retire from the market, there are only 4 to replace them). How about shifting the top-tax bracket to a level where it is actually worth swapping the free-time for extra input? I’m not talking bank CEO’s here (which seems to be the convenient mental picture held by many leftist when they think of people earning within top tax bracket). No, I’m talking about people with regular-jobs: nurses, teachers, etc. When their salaries enter the top tax bracket – isn’t it time to reconsider adjusting that bracket? Wouldn’t easing the tax burden also attract needed foreign workers to help fill the input gap? Increasing the tax burden keeps workers and multinationals (employers) away – it’s a given that seems incredibly overlooked by the extreme left.
For all the debates and showdowns this election season – I’ve only heard the right communicate any kind of consideration for all Danes: that fair involves two sides – meaning both fair for the person SUPPORTED by the system and fair for the person SUPPORTING the system. We will each pay into and draw from the system at various points in our lives and I’d like to think that during that time – the system raised the bar and allowed all of us to take more responsibility for our economic situations as individuals (rewarding rather than penalizing sound financial choices like growing a savings account or investing in one’s pension) – but also that it made sure that the sense of fairness so well embraced by the Danes goes both ways – regardless of where we are within it at any given time.
My hope (like many others) is that the new government coalition – with all it’s differences – will find that balance. Elections are over and in agreement with the victor or not, we can only be open, give it a little time, and hope that they figure out how to direct enough to those who need it – without making it unfair for those who support it, or worse – economically unfeasable for outside investment looking in – because that can’t help Denmark much at all: least of all those who need the boost.