Notes from a Small Country

Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial

Imagine living in a place where everyone is cared for. A place where kids as young as 6 or 7 are safe to walk to school without supervision. A place where kindergarteners are outside most of the time climbing trees or baking bread over an open fire.

How about everyone being educated for free (including university education, where students are also paid a subsidy to study). On top of that, there’s free healthcare for all, no matter what a person’s income

I should also mention a drive of fewer than 20 minutes from the capital city takes you to an abundance of lakes and woodland as well as beaches. Places resembling Hundred Acre Wood from the Winnie the Pooh stories, where you can live and then walk your dog each day in beautiful scenic countryside, with no noise pollution from traffic or motorways.

Let’s throw in a living wage for all and public transport so connected, people have buses and trains every 10 minutes to almost anywhere within 20 miles of the city centre.

Sound too good to be true? It does exist as it’s where I’m living right now. What I’ve just described is the greater Copenhagen area in Denmark.

When something looks too good to be true, it usually is

Let me describe it again.

Imagine living in a place with some of the highest direct and indirect taxes in the world, where the average person pays over 40% income tax, goods have 25% value-added tax, car registration tax is up to 150% and there’s a media tax if you want to use the internet, own a smartphone or watch any kind of television

This is a place where entrepreneurship exists, yet the risk-averse culture holds back investment for many.

A place where everyone over the age of 15 is required to have a government digital postbox to receive post from public authorities. The login for this is also needed for online banking & paying of bills.

It’s a part of the world where people can often be seen drinking cans of beer in public places and 16-year-olds can legally buy beer and wine for consumption, of which 32% of them are reportedly drunk at least once in a 30 day period (the European average is 13%).

Still sound too good to be true?

In life, there is always balance

I’m neither a Socialist or Capitalist, a Labour or Conservative, a Republican or Democrat.

Life just isn’t that binary and issues are not as simple as black or white or yes or no.

Yet many of us live that way (think Brexit with leave or remain).

Democratic socialists in the USA have been describing Denmark as some kind of utopian society, one that Americans can look to for the ideal future. But is it really that great?

Funnily enough, the answer is not black or white.

Is it ’Nothing in life is free’ or ’The best things in life are free’?

The utopia of Denmark comes at a price. One I’ve personally struggled to come to terms with (I come from the UK where trust in government and the idea that high taxes yield any kind of benefit is extremely low).

The terrific kindergarten experiences, the open space and woodland, the clean beaches, free education and healthcare, it can only exist due to high tax and high trust.

I’m not sure the Danish system could ever work in countries like the UK or USA. The first requirement is trust in government. This is where it breaks down in countries like the UK, where government officials have slowly eroded trust over many decades.

Trust in government is the glue that helps citizens pay the high taxes needed.

“Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.” – Henry Clay

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else

Denmark as a nation understands the rules of life. It’s not perfect (32% of 16-year-olds getting drunk each month is a problem it’s trying to tackle), yet as a society, the Danes appear to understand life isn’t binary, rather it’s a rollercoaster of decisions and sacrifice.

Decisions and sacrifice that result in happiness (Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world).

If we all embraced the detail, the idea that yes or no isn’t the only answer and those that challenge our way of thinking might just be worth listening too, I wonder what that would mean?

I’m betting it would result in more happiness.

And happiness is the ultimate currency.


I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

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See you next time for Episode 12.

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Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters