Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Cultural Differences

I'm going by what I saw and heard in Denmark, without any fact checking research, so take it with a grain of salt. These are just a handful of quick-hitters.

The Danes have a parliament and a monarchy, and seem to like it that way. Monarchy seems terribly outdated to most Americans, since that's the kind of government we overthrew in 1776. The Royal Family are figureheads, just like the British Royal Family: well-paid, un-taxed, and truly hyper-priveleged. It's a source of national pride to Danes, and they want to keep the system in place. The recent divorce hoopla surrounding the Prince and Princess has done nothing to diminish support for the monarchy.

The average Dane loses 78% of his income to taxes. They are the most highly taxed nation on the planet. They like it that way. American readers are now bewildered. In exchange for this tax rate, there is true cradle-to-grave assistance, in everything from health care to education, including university studies.

For those who would point to the Danish free health care system, you should know this: well-off Danes don't use the free system, just as well-off Americans don't go to Wishard in Indy, unless it's a dire emerency. They go to private doctors for faster, more reputable care. The majority of Ame's Danish relatives are doctors, by the way, and Ame toured a hospital.

For my libertarian friends expecting stories of filthy, tubercular corridors in a callous, soviet-style barracks hospital, forget it. The average medical care is actually quite good, and the hospitals not unlike our own. I frankly expected worse. The questions I kept asking myself were surrounding the motivation. If it's all 'free', why bust your hump? What I observed is that the Danes have an outstanding work ethic and a thirst for learning. I'm know that there are welfare mooches in Denmark, especially in Copenhagen's Christiania, but not nearly to the extent you find in American cities. The sense of entitlement is there, but it is different in that the sense of wanting to contribute to society in order to earn the entitement is very strong.

Gasoline. They call it benzin there, pronounced "benzene". To fill a 12-gallon tank, you will spend $90 US dollars. Next time you want to wail and moan about the high price of gasoline here, remember that. I'll never forget it. I took a picture of the pump when I filled up.

Cars are not manufactured in Denmark, and the government is interested in directing traffic from cars to bicycles. If the price of benzin isn't high enough to pedal, maybe the tax on a new car will. It's 180%. That means a car that would have been $10,000 if tax-free costs $28,000 in Denmark. I marvelled at every Audi and Porsche I saw.

Americans sometimes complain about corporate dominance. Today it's Wal-Mart. Five years ago it was Microsoft. In five years, it will probably be some other entity. For the last 100 years or so, Maersk has been the undisputed top corporation. Maersk is a shipping giant, with a fleet of boats rivaled only by the US Navy. Of course, the Maersk fleet is made for shipping containers, the kind you often see eventually on rail cars and then pulled by trucks to their final destinations. How large is Maersk? The owner self-funded an opera house in Copenhagen as a gift to the nation, with the price tag said to be better than $400 million US dollars. I did not hear a single complaint about Maersk, even though I discussed the company with several people. It seems the Danes understand the value of a giant corporation.

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