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Income Inequality and Happy People

by George on February 23, 2011

Do you know who the happiest people on this planet are?

Instinct told me that it would have to be some place pretty warm that had low taxes, robust consumers, and a dearth of herring sandwiches.

Denmark fans cheering

This will be your only hint ...

My instincts turned out to be horribly, horribly wrong.

According to a Jan. 8, 2007 episode of ABC’s “20/20”, the happiest people in the world live in Denmark.

Denmark? Really?

Yes, really.

Denmark is a relatively small country almost completely surrounded by water. Unfortunately, since the bodies of water are the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, this is not the place you would go to enjoy a tropical vacation. Its climate is not overbearing though, in both summer and winter it is actually quite mild.

Ok, so if it doesn’t have long stretches of warm weather, than it must have low taxes, right?

Nope. The tax rates in Denmark are quite high, ranging between 50 and 70% but the government pays for your health care, and spends more on children and the elderly per capita than any other country in the world.

Ok, so if the weather is, at best, mild and unremarkable, and the taxes are high, please tell me about their robust consumerism?

Nope. There really isn’t a robust consumerism. Danes have nice things, but this isn’t a society that thrives on the notion that “he who dies with the most toys wins” – far from it. In Denmark, the fuel of society is human interaction, not the vapid accumulation of wealth.

Ok, what about herring? They must be short of herring, right?

Nope. Since Denmark sits between two quite larges seas, it has enough herring for everyone.

So, what makes Denmark so special?

Denmark is a little unique. It’s more homogeneous than most countries, having a population that is 97% Danish, which certainly reduces the ‘friction’ found in more heterogeneous countries like the United States. Since Danes have, essentially, the same ethnic and religious backgrounds, there tends to be more trust in public policy.

Danes also have great dogs ... you know, Great Danes?

Danes also have great dogs ... you know, Great Danes?

The people of Denmark are happy because they have a low-level of income inequality, make great investments in education, and spend a lot of time with each other.

If you contrast this with U.S. policies that are producing an accelerating rate of income inequality, declining achievements in education, and growing distrust and acrimony between the people and their politicians, it’s pretty easy to see why Americans are so miserable.

Our vast and accelerating income inequality is merely a symptom of a larger problem.

Unfortunately, we have reached a point where I think our elected brethren would evaluate the vitality of Danish society – and decide that Americans should be eating more herring.

© 2011 by George Jones

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin Brookshear April 25, 2011 at 11:13 am

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it


aaron April 1, 2011 at 9:08 am

Nicely put, specifically your observation at the end. Humorous but likely true. Also as I understand they are invest immensely in renewable energy sources, specifically but not limited to, wind. My only question is, what do they do with all their pent up hatred? If they don’t direct it inward towards people on the other side of the isle, it must be outward… who is it? Who is the Danes sworn enemy?


admin April 2, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Yeah, I’m not sure they have one, but didn’t they upset Muslims by publishing a caricature (instead of his official driver’s license photo) of Mohammed?


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