Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Virtues of Socialism

Aha! you say. Pretty Lady is coming out of the closet; she is a Vile Socialist! She is Irrational and Totalitarian! Stone her!

Ha! says Pretty Lady. Hold your stones! She has Scientific Evidence on her side.

...if you mine all the databases of universities and research centers, you'll find that the happiest place on earth is ? Denmark. Cold, dreary, unspectacular Denmark.

...Danes do have one potential complaint: high taxes. The happiest people in the world pay some of the highest taxes in the world -- between 50 percent and 70 percent of their incomes. In exchange, the government covers all health care and education, and spends more on children and the elderly than any country in the world per capita. With just 5.5 million people, the system is efficient, and people feel "tryghed" -- the Danish word for "tucked in" -- like a snug child.

Those high taxes have another effect. Since a banker can end up taking home as much money as an artist, people don't chose careers based on income or status. "They have this thing called 'Jante-lov,' which essentially says, 'You're no better then anybody else,'" said Buettner. "A garbage man can live in a middle-class neighborhood and hold his head high."
Now, Pretty Lady realizes that it fills her red-blooded American friends with deep horror, this notion of living next door to garbage men, and treating them as equals. Even more does it cross the grain of all that is decent, to think that this garbage man has healthcare just as good as anyone else's.

But consider; Danish people are not happy because of their jobs; they are not happy because of their health insurance; they are simply happy because they spend a great deal of time with their friends and families--nattering, concocting splendid meals, and not worrying overmuch about either status or survival.

Meanwhile the freedom-loving U.S. of A has the worst ranking on preventable deaths in the developed world, which can be directly traced to 47 million uninsured individuals, Pretty Lady among them. She has been researching health plans today, in fact, and is in a bit of a testy mood therefrom. 'Bankruptcy without accountability' appears to be the principle upon which these plans are structured.

As a dear friend of Pretty Lady's puts it:
It's true that people can become fabulously wealthy and influential in the U.S. in a way that they can't in Denmark, but the thing is, fabulous wealth and influence doesn't make a person happy or good. In the U.S., many of our smartest people with the most to offer become miserable stockbrokers and suicidal lawyers, because that's what our culture tells us is the highest calling. When maybe those people would be excellent teachers, or artists, journalists. But most people don't go into teaching, or art, or journalism, unless they're absolutely driven to do it, because to do so is to sacrifice so much financial security and social status compared to working at a high-paying prestige job. And then, unsuitable people wind up in those jobs rather than, say, going into law because they love working with law, or stockbroking, or whatever.
And lest you say that Pretty Lady's friend is a deluded Pollyanna sort, let it be known that this friend has actually lived in Denmark for an extended period of time, and is still very fond of it.


Anonymous said...

PL - Thank you for looking up the Lot's Wife story in the Reader's Digest archives.

When you said that you read it in Reader's Digest, the memory surfaced like submerged wreckage and indeed that is where I read that story. I will continue to search for it, and thanks to you I now can narrow my search to this publication and the appropriate time frame.

Hope all is well with you. =)


Anonymous said...


PL you are a Lady and a Scholar - I found it. It's called "She Fell Among Thieves," and it's a short story by Robert Edmond Alter.

This was a short story about a pair of grave robbers. They would go around to Middle Eastern archealogical sites and steal treasures to sell. One day they come across this statue of a beautiful nude woman, standing with her hands on her hips, looking over her shoulder. Her hairstyle identifies her as being from ancient times. They load her on their truck and proceed to drive through a heavy rainstorm. When they check the contents of the truck, no statue is there, only rainwater.

It is then that they realize that the statue was actually Lot's wife, turned into a "pillar" of salt.

It appeared in Reader's Digest, and can also be found in It can be found in the book Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Master's Choice, Edited by Alfred Hitchcock, Random House, 1979.

Again, many thanks.


Pretty Lady said...

Well, that's splendid!

My preteen self was quite the fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Reader's Digest was my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am quite well, thank you! Glad to hear from you!

fisher6000 said...


But what next? Register with Bellevue to get low-cost or free health care? Sign up with Fractured Atlas?

I'm not holding my breath for universal coverage, no matter how good an idea it is! I can't! I don't have any health insurance, so I have to be careful!

Pretty Lady said...

Actually, I was just on the phone with Fractured Atlas about 10 minutes ago. They're very nice. Much nicer than Freelancer's Union, who never picked up the phone or answered my email at all.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of everyone earning he same for their work I do wonder about the practicality of it and how Denmark deals with this.

A person who likes physics becomes a physicist, and one who doesn't particularly like the idea of working intellectually all day becomes a garbage man or taxi driver.

Then people decide that they want to be artists or musicians.
Maybe they have talent and maybe not. Maybe they produce work and maybe they don't. Do they all collect a salary? Even if they are just scamming the system.

How does society deal with this?


Pretty Lady said...

Socialist systems admittedly work best in Scandinavian countries with strong cultural work ethics. P.J. O'Rourke admits that Sweden somehow fails to go bankrupt solely because Swedes are Swedes.

However, 'collecting a salary for whatever you choose to do' is not at issue, here; you still don't get a salary if you don't earn one.

You do, however, get basic healthcare, education, infrastructure, child care and elder care. This takes some of the pressure off; usually people are able to earn enough money to feed and clothe themselves, even if they earn less than $10K a year from their art.

BoysMom said...

How is Denmark doing on the ratio of elderly to children? I know that's a big problem in many parts of Europe, just as it's getting to be in the US with programs like Social Security becoming unsustainable.
My Cousins-In-Germany get weird looks and lots of comments because they have three children.

MacLaren said...

Mmm. I think our problem is we're WAY too big for any kind of socialism to work.

Besides, socialism is just institutionalized theft. We have enough of that here. We've got the bureaucracy of a socialist nation without the benefits.

If we could just go back to the original system of Federalism, where each state is self-determining, we'd all be better off. Some states could be totally socialist, others could be libertarian. And we could take our pick.

Though I'm laissez-faire all the way... so I'll be in Galt's gulch.

Anonymous said...

Somehow I'm not terribly surprised that you'd love the idea of artists, and even "others", not having to suffer for their career choices. I would like to point out that being a little socialistic is like being a little pregnant. And in this brave hew world you'll have your art bought by court order (which will take away more of your worries and make you even more equal to those who don't need coercion to live). Which may not be terrible (for you), but makes you more equal then you deserve.

Other than human rights commissions I'm not quite sure what Sweden produces of value and it seems that they've found their nitch in drafting on the Germans... which goes terribly ary at least once every century.

Sweden and Denmark both have ever growing Muslim populations... and the inevitable shrinking native populations who depend on cheap Muslim labor to stay afloat. Most Swedes seem to think the native Swedish population should die out and although they won't be missed, it's certainly not helpful to replace them with Muslims... who couldn't have enough human rights organizations to correct their beliefs.

However, all that aside, universal health care is coming. No one really seems to mind if they get bad health care, as long as it's equal to what someone who's made wise decisions is also getting. Enjoy the whirlwind.

Pretty Lady said...

universal health care is coming.

GOOD. It's about frickin' time. Some healthcare is better than no healthcare, which is what Pretty Lady currently has, despite doing meaningful, difficult work in three arenas which gives more genuine help, healing and pleasure to more people than most who made a 'safe' career choice probably ever will.

SO THERE. If you don't like it, stuff it.

Bob said...

You say we have 47 million uninsured here. That's eight and a half times as many as there are Denmark denizens.

Denmark is a country that does not defend itself. It has no huge defense industry and military sucking up a large chunk of their available finances. It has hovered under the safety net provided by NATO and the western powers for decades. They don't provide a fraction of what we do(percentage wise) of their national resources to help other nations or peoples.

They don't have hundreds of thousands of miles of intrastructure to operate and maintain as we so. They are a tiny little place - smaller than many of our States - that doesn't have hundreds of miles of superhighway stretching between major cites... Or gas lines, or water lines, or sewers, or power lines, etc.

Just Those three items represent a tremendous savings to them, helping them to indulge themselves in social programs that would otherwise be impossibe.

Their sweet little social programs will exist only so long as they can depend on others for their very exixtance as a nation.

It's a good racket they got going, but if they had to support just our 47 million uninsured, they would rapidly collapse.

I wonder how much longer they will be able to keep it up.