September 13, 2011

Denmark on the Brink: The 2011 Election

After the American Century

I do not have a vote in the Danish election, coming up in 36 hours, and as it happens I will not even be in the country when the result is clear late Thursday night. Danes who read this column will already know a great deal about the election, and Americans and other non-Danes will know very little, if anything. So what follows is written to the non-Danes.

Imagine a country which is self-sufficient when it comes to energy, with its own oil fields, and a world leader in wind power as well. So energy is not a drain on the economy, but a profit center. Imagine a country that has a small military whose budget is an extremely small part of the total budget. So this is not a drain on the economy either. Imagine further that the country seldom suffers any massive disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, or tidal waves, so it does not have to spend large sums on rebuilding after natural disasters. Imagine, too, that this country is a net food exporter. It gets even better. Imagine that this country, Denmark, has a positive balance of trade, year after year.

Denmark has all this going for it, yet it still has the world's highest taxes to pay for one of the most extensive and comprehensive welfare states. In many ways. it is a model for the world to emulate. But the bureaucracy just keeps growing and the top down control becomes more and more pronounced. 

All the parties seem to go in for some kind of tight controls. Some want to control the borders and keep the bloody foreigners out. Others want to control the work force and make everyone work longer or retire later. Other parties want to force anyone who is not working to go to university, which is tuition free. There are politicians calling for high taxes on foods that have sugar and or fat, to force people to eat healthier foods. Whatever the problem, at least one party has a compulsory solution. 

The focus of the election is the economy. Even though it is one of the wealthiest per capita countries in the world, with a diversified economy and its own energy supplies, the Danes are telling each other that they are on the brink of disaster. The politicians are warning them that they could soon be like Greece, a miserable bankrupt land, unless certain reforms are immediately adopted. Some parties are saying the taxes must go up, others that they must come down. All say at one time or another that education is a good idea, as we all live in a knowledge economy now. But in fact the schools and universities have been cut back for the most part. 

Does any of this make sense? If you live here and get closer to the debates, it seems to. But the problems here are strictly from Lilliput compared to what Spain or Italy is facing. Likewise, the United States should be so lucky as to have the problems the Danes have.  There are no crazies running around Denmark denying the reality of global warming or Bible thumping idiots who seem to swarm through the Republican Party these days. Abortion is not a campaign issue. No one demands that "creationism" be taught in the schools.

I am caught up in the elections here and have begun to feel my fate hangs in the balance. I am convinced that unless the present government is voted out of office, Denmark's very existence as a functioning economy may be threatened. Let me go further: keep the present government much longer and this place will become a theme park, with locals playing parts for tourists, while all the real jobs are off-shore. 

I exaggerate. But the election does matter. If the current government stays in power, it will continue the reverse Robin Hood policies that take money from unemployed and poor people and give it to the wealthiest third of society. If they stay in power, the country will become more xenophobic, which means guys like me won't want to come any more. If the present government stays in power, there will be no new ideas. They have been in power for ten years now, and haven't had a new thought since about 2005.

The polls say that Denmark is on the brink of change. So I hope.
UPDATE for non-Danish readers. The parties on the left did win, and will need more than a week to work out how to share power among the four party coalition that together has a small majority.