Thursday, November 27, 2008

Guilty as charged...

A recent e-mail regarding my apparently incendiary suggestion that US farmers might benefit from professional accreditation brought this response (one of the more polite ones, I might add):
I appreciate your articles very much, and generally enjoy them for your perspectives and insights, but you are far too enamoured of the Danish experience in constructing a society, and in dealing with life.  I was once too. My grandfather & uncles were all Danish farmers, and I have maintained active ties with all my cousins, who visit Maryland annually at Thanksgiving to go deer hunting.  My son spends several weeks each year in Denmark, in association with his professional demands.  I can speak Danish, which also gives me an advantage.  Long ago, my romance with Denmark began in graduate school, when I wrote my Master’s Thesis for an Economics MA on “A History of The Labor Movement in Denmark.” I have many relatives in business and farming in Denmark, with whom I communicate more or less regularly.  I say these things to establish my credibility in what I’m going to say next.  Denmark is a land of minimal opportunity, in terms of upward mobility, financial success, and creation of personal wealth.  The taxation structure is designed to produce an egalitarian society, in which most of the population lives a reasonably affluent life, but there is little opportunity for individuals to accumulate capital, or provide for inheritances.  It provides very adequately for the disabled and sick in society, and could teach us a lot there.  It is highly bureaucratic-for example getting a hunting license is a really formidable task, as is acquiring Danish citizenship. It furthermore can do many of the things it accomplishes because it has a homogeneous population-or did until very recently when Islamic & Turkish workers were imported.  Garrison Keillor fell in love with Denmark once-but it didn’t last long.

I have pondered long and deep ponderings after this thoughtful reply.  The author could be right.  But after studying the Viking Age and visiting both Denmark and England, I fear I may be predisposed (perhaps genetically) to the Danish lifestyle.

It is true, DK is a tiny nation of similar people, and they are just now beginning to cope with diversity. But take a look at this:


Is it any wonder a geezer like me thinks DK could teach the US a few things?


xyetay said...

As you ponder Denmark, also ponder Tanzania or almost any other African country. Many African countries are also socialist and homogeneous. What makes Denmark successful and so many African countries less so?

Some comparisons

Life expectancy -
Denmark 78
Minnesota 79
The links on life expectancy are interesting as to which groups don't live as long.

Economy 2006
Denmark 201 billion
Minnesota 254 billion

Denmark 5.4 million
Minnesota 5.2 million

Denmark about 10% non-Dane
Minnesota about 10% non-white

Other comparisons

Is the grass really greener on the other side of the Atlantic?

John Phipps said...


I have noticed these discussions usually get framed in absolutes, as if I was proposing the US should duplicate DK. I was suggesting that professional accreditation could be a step we take in the future, and almost no replies address those issues (such as countering environmental regulation with farmer certification) - they just focus on the idea of emulating another culture.

Meanwhile, is DK socialist as you suggest? Not by most standards, such as ownership of the means of production. But they are more socialist than the US. I consider all countries to be arranged on a scale from anarchy to fascism and from socialism to capitalism. The differences are a matter of degree. The US is certainly not a purely capitalistic (SS, Medicare, farm program, progressive taxes, etc.) and DK is not purely socialist (private ownership, corporate structures, etc.) DK is much closer to the US than the African countries you list, and even in attitude than many EU nations. Note that DK and GB are the primary forces behind CAP reform, for example.

Complimenting some aspect of life in DK is not a betrayal of my home country. They are not the enemy or even opponent here. We've been offered that sort of absolutist false choices for too long, IMHO. I steal good ideas from my neighbors - why not Danish farmers?

Is the grass greener across the pond? In some fields, I believe so. And as you have pointed out there are some verdant places in MN as well.

Thank you for reading and your thoughtful remarks.