How do you get to Denmark?
October 21, 2015 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Where do ‘good’ or pro-social institutions come from ? Why does the capacity for collective action and cooperative behaviour vary so much across the world today ? How do some populations transcend tribalism to form a civil society ? How do you “get to Denmark”?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory (31 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Delighted to see that the Coase Theorem plays such a prominent role. The Problem with Social Cost seriously revolutionized the way I approached my political science classes in college. Probably to the angst of my professors.

I'm anxious (but believe) the link that successful policy should have reliable punishment. Reliable punishment is something America does very poorly. We use gun control laws to strong arm defendants into plea deals and underprosecute rape/domestic violence. While the wrongs are obvious, I worry the policy required is too nuanced to get through the American political machine.
posted by politikitty at 2:34 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Denmark has a very odd system, actually, because it is very conservative across the larger country outside of Copenhagen. For example, they initially did not want any Syrian refugees. They're not Norway or Sweden but their conservatism has given rise to a large number of progressive policies that originally emanated from Copenhagen.
The major question in social institutions is whether it is better for a society to have laws dictating behavior accepted or have institutions developing behavior accepted. Denmark has mostly taken the first route. The second route is what has typically been the pathway of economic Conservatives who cannot see the forest for the trees on family policy. In ages where power was more corrupt, such as England prior to 1947 it was the second route which had spent over 2 centuries trying to get national health service, water quality and pollution policies. The first route requires progressive negotiation and really a lot of handholding of people you may not completely trust to help you bring change. Still, moral conservatives typically have a stronger sense of social value than economic conservatives who want to deregulate and keep wages down.
posted by parmanparman at 2:36 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Comparisons to Scandinavian countries are bound to be meaningless. Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people who are overwhelmingly (90%) ethnically and culturally homogenous.

I mean Carlsberg might get away with calling itself "probably the best beer in the world" because every single Dane drinks that bland swill, but it's not like you can successfully export it everywhere else.
posted by three blind mice at 2:37 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Comparisons to Scandinavian countries are bound to be meaningless. Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people who are overwhelmingly (90%) ethnically and culturally homogenous.

As Ken Robinson pointed out in one of his TED talks -- sure, you can't compare the entire USA to (in his example) Finland (also ~5.5 million pop). But you can certainly compare individual states, like Minnesota, Colorado, or Wisconsin.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:00 PM on October 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

(Denmark may export a lot of generic lager, but they're also one of the major players on the craft beer scene right now (Mikkeller, Evil Twin, To Øl, etc)).
posted by effbot at 3:06 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Personally, I get to Denmark mostly by flying through Heathrow.
I don't really recommend that path.

I do think the Scandinavian model could be interesting applied to states in the US, but how much centralized control is there at the federal level actively preventing this? There certainly have been movements to prevent e.g. California from having stronger emission standards than the rest of the country.

There is also a definite difference linguistically-- Denmark is a nation of c 5 million that does not speak the same language as its neighbors. (Yes, most Danes are fluent in English, and yes, the various Scandinavian languages are closely related, but the barrier is still present). Mobility within Europe cannot be as high as within the US for language reasons alone. And conversely it is simpler for an individual country to build support services with less worry that those from neighboring regions who haven't paid into the system will show up wanting to use the services.

Swedes do come here to get beer, though, so interstate commerce and taxation/regulation is an issue for the Eurozone too..
posted by nat at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

In my discussions with Americans who are philosophically and politically opposed to anything resembling a Scandinavian system in the US, I usually come out agreeing with them on one crucial point: It's likely impossible (politically, culturally, practically) to get anything even near a Scandinavian system in the US in the short to medium term. In the long term, 50+ years? Maybe, but planning for or predicting that far out is meaningless.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:56 PM on October 21, 2015

Maybe people don't vote not because of any role as free rider, but because they feel helpless that the system is set up in a way to make their vote pointless. Is there a theorem for that in the article?
posted by polymodus at 4:14 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Free rider actually encompasses the feeling your describing. The point is that the system functions with or without you. The fact that a single person can't change or break the system is what allows people to ride free.

The value judgment that you're getting something for free without doing the work is superfluous to the economic concept.
posted by politikitty at 4:49 PM on October 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't read anything in this domain before, so please someone jump in with some input. Did he just say something like "The way to be like Denmark is to be Smart and Patient (for some definitions of Smart and Patient)?"

If he did, is there some corollary like "If you're not like Denmark then maybe you're not Smart and maybe you're not Patient?"

He did editorialize about Patience in saying that he can't really blame the Russians for being Impatient (something about eating his shorts), but what can/does he say about Smarts?

The way I read it, he excused people in Eastern Europe for being impatient b/c of external cultural/economic forces, but what's left on the 'Fluid Intelligence' side? Can't this be easily turned around into "You can learn Patience if the social/cultural forces are eased, but good luck being Smart!", and isn't that a bit fatalistic?

Again, please give me some insight, it just seems like this could be read in a really condescending/fatalistic way...
posted by jpziller at 6:27 PM on October 21, 2015

The "Denmark is a small, homogeneous country" thing doesn't make any sense to me as an argument that you can't compare their social policies with larger, more diverse nations. The reality is if your per capita GDP is comparable, your nation should be able to pay for universal healthcare, and more generous social benefits generally - Denmark proves this, and is therefore comparable. It's not an argument that we CAN'T do it, more that we likely WON'T do it, because we're a big, racist nation. It's not a point that I find particularly germane to a discussion on public policy, and I do find it spectacularly sad that many of us feel we need to craft policy that is palatable to stupid racists in order to succeed politically.
posted by Colby_Longhorn at 7:42 PM on October 21, 2015 [17 favorites]

"Homgoenous," i.e. it's majority white, so white nationalists don't get angry at all those evil brown people stealing all the public benefits.
posted by wuwei at 8:40 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Again, please give me some insight, it just seems like this could be read in a really condescending/fatalistic way...

It's not more fatalistic than, say, sociobiology, where E.O. Wilson argued that groups are also naturally selected and therefore we also evolve to serve the group. Eusocial termites, for example, throw themselves at attackers as sacrifices, saving the group, but not their own genes. Sticking with civilization, there's nothing preventing a nation from following the Danes or some other mix of socialism, regardless of their natural ability to develop such a path. Conditions favoring Denmark's socialism was their democratic response to the looming threat of communism during the cold war (pacifying internal communists) and the fact that European political structures are multi-party and share power in direct relation to votes (not winner takes all). The plantation-inspired political structure in the US is modular by design, unified only in its insularity, favoring corporations, cults, and ethnic enclaves. In addition to communism, Scandinavians survived a cold climate, which required routine cooperative events, such as food storage and defense of those stores. It's worth noting that the primal defensive structure in human evolution was any peninsula, to concentrate a defense, of which Denmark is a nation example.
posted by Brian B. at 9:32 PM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not just racism. There's all hosts of Othering that leads to distrust that these benefits will not be abused. Diversity makes public choice hard by definition, because diversity necessarily introduces diverse values and less common ground to agree on public goods. Take away the Republican Party, and you still have a hot mess of competing factions.
posted by politikitty at 9:35 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Carlsberg I can kinda see, but Heineken? What slaughterhouse did they rinse with that swill?
posted by telstar at 10:44 PM on October 21, 2015

Important note from the article:
Edit 21 Oct 2015: ‘Denmark’ is a metaphor taken from Fukuyama. This post has absolutely nothing what ever to do with Denmark.
Another note, from me: Scandinavia and Finland aren't as ethnically homogeneous as we think they are (though Denmark is). Norway, Sweden and Finland all have large Sami minorities that haven't always been treated well by the ethnic majorities of these countries. The ethnic divisions date back to the settlement of farmers in Northern Europe 4000 years ago and are still very much present.
posted by nangar at 11:40 PM on October 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

In this experiment, subjects were first administered Raven’s Progressive Matrices, a test which measures fluid intelligence (i.e., not based on knowledge). They were also tested for risk attitudes and the Big Five personality traits. In the end, 130 participants were allocated to two groups — “high Raven” and “low Raven”

How do you end up calling it "high Raven" when "That's So Raven" was right there for the taking
posted by Greg Nog at 11:49 PM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

And low Raven could be: "Dude, do you even Raven???"
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:54 PM on October 21, 2015

"Homgoenous," i.e. it's majority white, so white nationalists don't get angry at all those evil brown people stealing all the public benefits.

Clearly you have never been to Denmark. I know the author of the original piece meant "imaginary, idealised Denmark as an example" but actual Denmark is painfully xenophobic and angry. Second largest party is the xenophobic, anti-immigration, anti-brown-people Danish People's Party which is rooted in a particular flavour of anti-Enlightenment Christianity.
posted by kariebookish at 12:07 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Huginn is always high raven.
posted by clavdivs at 12:16 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Diversity makes public choice hard by definition, because diversity necessarily introduces diverse values and less common ground to agree on public goods."

"Diversity" - ethnic, cultural, racial - makes consensus difficult and consensus is the key to political cooperation in a democracy. All of the Nordic countries value consensus and indeed a lack of diversity - whether you call it Jantelagen or "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down" or just the social pressure to conform (so your neighbors don't leave nasty notes for you) - is the cultural norm. It's like the Borg: resistance is futile. There most successful immigrants are often more Swedish than the Swedes and pretty soon you learn what is expected from you and what to expect from others. This isn't integration, it's normalization. You don't get to keep your "culture" of showing up late for appointments and no one is more tolerant of you because you're a foreigner.

It is not so much xenophobia as a huge organic culture of conformance which is as influential on native born Scandinavians as it is on foreigners, because you know not everything in the world has to do with race. The Japanese suffer the same sort of society.

But this is not all bad. Conformity benefits consensus and with consensus you can enjoy a lot of the benefits of pooling resources together to provide healthcare, defense, education, welfare, etc. A single payer health care system is extremely efficient in a country where everyone is the same and it's easy to agree on it when everyone is the same and plays by the same rules and holds the same values.

Where there is no consensus and people do not share each other's values and ideals, stupid and impatient people turn to force and this where socialists become Marxists (i.e., "successful policy should have reliable punishment.") Reliable punishment in the form of gulags and secret police is how it has played out everywhere it's been tried, but that doesn't seem to stop Marxists from thinking "this time it'll be different."
posted by three blind mice at 12:24 AM on October 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Denmark can be homogenous and racist. The Nordic countries all have very strict immigration laws so that their generous government isn't abused by outsiders (or even the indigenous inside their borders).
posted by politikitty at 12:24 AM on October 22, 2015

Although 'homogeneity' in this case is often understood as a synechdoche for racial homogeneity, the homogeneity that makes 'Denmark' possible also includes an extremely high expectation of cultural conformity. There is a lot less observed (and it seems, tolerated) variance in many aspects of the society, from mealtimes to home furnishings. This removes a lot of ambiguity navigating social relations - it is as if everyone has the same understanding of "We'll meet at $half one", for all cases resembling 'half one'. But this value is difficult to reconcile with Americans' stated preference for diversity and plurality.
posted by Svejk at 1:14 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Comparisons to Scandinavian countries are bound to be meaningless. Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people who are overwhelmingly (90%) ethnically and culturally homogenous.

What Makes Scandinavia Different?
What accounts for the Nordic countries’ strong welfare states? Hint: it’s not white homogeneity.

posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:58 AM on October 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Another note, from me: Scandinavia and Finland aren't as ethnically homogeneous as we think they are (though Denmark is). Norway, Sweden and Finland all have large Sami minorities that haven't always been treated well by the ethnic majorities of these countries.

This is partially true, but the Sami minorities are not large ethnic groups in any of these countries, and Denmark is not really an exception. Sweden has 15.9% immigrant population, Norway 13.8%. Denmark (9.9%) is more diverse than Finland (5.4%). Sami people are under 1.5% of the population in all three countries. Sweden has the longest history with immigration, with almost 20% of the population having a foreign background.
posted by ikalliom at 4:31 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the stats, ikalliom.
posted by nangar at 6:09 AM on October 22, 2015

Wait, in Denmark they somehow force everyone to conform to a social norm that makes them arrive on time?

I have someone I need to send to Denmark...
posted by elizilla at 6:19 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

There is a lot less observed (and it seems, tolerated) variance in many aspects of the society, from mealtimes to home furnishings.

This is... an oversimplification. Less observed variance, perhaps, depending on where and how hard you look. Less tolerated variance? I don't know that that's the case. I find that there is often an expectation of a lower degree of tolerance than is the case in reality, particularly in rural areas. I.e. people assume that everyone but them will have an issue with [x] and in actual fact it turns out that's what most people are thinking.

The lesser variance in certain forms of cultural expression (furnishing, meal times, etc) has always struck me as at least partly a consequence of the lack of a system of class identities. Much of the variance in those markers here in the UK for example derive from class identity, something for which Denmark doesn't really have an equivalent.

And everyone complaining about Carlsberg - check where your Carlsberg is brewed. The swill here is even worse than most other places, and it's brewed under license in Northampton. It's not the only beer in Denmark - far from it. There's a robust network of independent and regional breweries alongside the industrial giants.
posted by Dysk at 7:57 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Good link, Noisy Pink Bubbles!
In his book on the rise of Progress Party, Norwegian author and researcher Magnus Marsdal describes how traditionally social-democratic working-class voters are unable to identify with a social-democratic party that seems absorbed by academic technocracy and completely detached from the worries of ordinary blue-collar voters. With the dominant parties advocating the same sort of economic policy, these voters instead turn to the issue of immigration when deciding their political allegiance.

The historical peculiarity of the xenophobic, right-wing populism now sweeping the Nordic countries and the rest of Northern Europe is its co-articulation with the defense of the crumbling welfare state. As social protection decreases, some people come to misconstrue two effects of globalization and capital restructuring — mass immigration and deteriorating welfare services — as being causally related.

It is precisely because the Nordic welfare states are universal, and not ethnically exclusionary, that two analytically distinct problems have become juxtaposed in contemporary Nordic politics: on the one hand, maintaining a welfare state under the pressure of neoliberal globalization; on the other, managing the transformation from mono-ethnic to multiethnic society.

The intermarriage between two forms of security-inducing nostalgia — ethno-cultural and material — is welfare chauvinism in a nutshell. But this welfare chauvinism is not a logical continuation of the Nordic welfare state. Rather, it is a sadly infectious deviation from it, produced by popular despair after more than three decades of neoliberal reforms.
It is important to note that Scandinavian exceptionalism is not based on a given set of institutions and policies ready to be implemented by enlightened technocrats. The Nordic countries’ institutional blueprints were produced by a strong labor movement in alliance with other popular forces. When this basis started to erode, as happened in Scandinavia from the 1980s onwards, so did the welfare institutions.

The only way to get “Scandinavian levels” of redistribution and social protection is to start building powerful popular movements capable of advancing this agenda.

A successful US movement for a comprehensive welfare state in a multiethnic country would provide not only an excellent response to explicit or implicit cultural determinism, but could also be an important source of inspiration for European progressives in search of effective tools to combat welfare chauvinism.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:27 AM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

The conclusion of the article:

So to answer the question at the head of this post, “where do pro-social institutions come from?” — if ‘bad’ institutions represent coordination failures, then intelligence and patience must be a big part of the answer. This need not have the same relevance for social evolution from 100,000 BCE to 1500 CE. But for the emergence of ‘modern’, advanced societies, intelligence and patience matter.
posted by storybored at 10:50 AM on October 22, 2015

The article is about "getting to Denmark" in Fukuyamas sense, and thus has very little to do with the current (dire) state of Denmark.

Denmark is very different from the other Scandinavian countries, even though they look the same from the outside.

As I understand it, an important aspect of "Danishness" is the lack of corruption. There is corruption in Denmark, but it is limited, and specially, it was very limited before the 00's. This is not due to "socialism", but to extremely consistent law-enforcement during the absolute monarchy of the enlightenment, which spilled over into democracy. This means that Danes can (could) trust government.

An other important factor is that from 1933 til 2001, there was a very strong tradition for political agreements across the aisle, a tradition which was established long before 1933 in local politics and NGO-activities, and which was underpinned by cultural institutions and trade (union) agreements.

The other Nordic nations are far more socialist than Denmark - even though the Social Democrats are a large party, and have been large since emancipation, they have never had the support their brethren in Sweden and Norway had. On the other hand, one reason for that is that even the far right in Denmark supports the welfare system.

So: other important aspects of "Danishness" are collaboration and consensus. (But these might well have to do with the base factor of low levels of corruption).

The current state of Denmark is tragic, and this is a short version:
up till 1864, The Kingdom of Denmark was much like the UK, a gathering of nations with different languages and cultures, including large Jewish communities in two of the German states in the Kingdom ( Schleswig and Holstein), colonies populated by former slaves, strange Norse people in Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, and an Inuit population in Greenland. Before the Napoleonic wars, Norway was part of the "union". In this kingdom, minorities were protected by the crown, and btw, Denmark hosted political refugees from all over Europe. During the Prussian/Danish wars 1848 and 1864, a nationalistic rhetoric was built up, focusing on the central Danish regions and culture.
In spite of that, Denmark remained a cosmopolitan nation in practice, attracting immigrants from the whole region. Since sea-trade is a major source of income to the nation, there have always been huge financial interests in keeping the country open.

Then, in 1995, Dansk Folkeparti (Danish Peoples Party) was founded on the ruins of the Fremskridtsparti - a libertarian party. From the outset, Dansk Folkeparti cynically went for the ignorant and the scared voters who were confused about the huge societal changes we all know, and they completely discarded their original Libertarianism. They are a Danish Tea Party, who are an actual party with 27 % of the vote (remember the crazification factor?) . In 1996, the biggest Danish tabloid, Extrabladet, chose to feed the beast by launching a campaign about immigrants who broke the law or exploited the welfare system. Today, they regret this. But it is quite a bit too late. Today there is a totally absurd and ignorant understanding of immigration even among many liberals.

It is very obvious in Denmark that the immigrants and refugees are being scapegoated in order to cover over the rabid dismantling of not only the welfare system, but the entire Danish culture. (And my personal impression is that this crazy destruction plan often has a very personal motivation - some conservative politicians have mismanaged and bankrupted municipalities or hospital services and now they need to cover up their failures. But that's just me)

In 2000/2001, the conservative "Venstre" party realized that they could break the almost 70-year long tradition for coalitions and broad political agreements by bribing Dansk Folkeparti with racist policies and token gifts to DF core voters (the elderly and the uneducated). They also realized they could get away with corruption and other criminal acts as long as they kept DF at peace. And thus, one could say, "Denmark" went to "America".

BTW, the head of Venstre who broke "Denmark" in Denmark was Anders Fogh Rasmussen, avid Bush supporter and former NATO general secretary.
posted by mumimor at 3:12 PM on October 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

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