Happy New Year Borgen – Literally

150131 HAPPY NEW YEARThe Season To Be Jolly over, say hello to The Season To Be Happy. “Happy New Year!!!” We squeal dementedly at anyone, every day, all month. But, be honest, thinking back over the years, how often did it really turn out that way?

To Borgen, where it does turn out exactly that way. Every year. Or at least for as long as anyone’s been counting that sort of stuff. Linguistic quirk: The Danes don’t actually say ‘Happy New Year’, they say Godt Nytår – Good New-year, so a slightly less Jazz Hands augmented outpouring.

So what’s their secret? The magic ingredient? The weather is cold and wet, it’s dark for much of the year, there’s no great imperial past, little pomp – even less circumstance. Could it be the Lego?  Or a daily Danish ?(which they, by the way, call Vienna Bread)?

Just for a laugh, let’s spell our way through some likely determinants of Borgen’s happiness phenomenon:

150131 Health is as important in Borgen Land, as it is in the UK. And like the Brits, the Danes are having to cut their cloth as more of them live longer and smart drugs help them to an even greater age, by the minute. But that’s really where the similarity ends. Health care in Denmark is largely financed through local taxation with integrated funding and regional provision of health care. Result? Happy patients all over the place. And, as we know, Danes are intensely relaxed about high taxes.

Provided they see sufficient bang for their buck.

150131 Accommodation is key, not just for Danes, but for all Scandis. Spending half the year practically in the dark, a hyggelig home is pretty essential. 65% of Danes are home owners, while 1 in 3 choose to rent. Permanent renters are looked after by a strongly pro-tenant system that boasts no less than five different forms of rent control. The system is based on the premise that landlords must not be allowed to profit from renters. The idea being that the increase in the value of a property, year on year, is sufficient yield on the landlord’s investment. Big landlords are insurance companies, banks, co-ops or housing associations. Insurance companies collect rent and, in turn, use this income stream to pay their pension policy holders. Recycled finance. Genius. Buy-to-leave landlords don’t exist as housing law requires property to be occupied by someone – the owner or a tenant. The reduced income, caused by rent controls, is ameliorated by a variety of tax breaks for property owners. So the Danes foot some of the bill through their taxes and make sure they have a country full of happy renters. Or house owners.

150131 Property – other than of the bricks and mortar kind, is less of an issue in Denmark than in GB. Prompted by the Apple store in Copenhagen, other Danish stores last year tried out the Black Friday discount experiment that resulted in a glut of A&E admissions in Blighty. In Denmark the results were decidedly damp. Danes do buy stuff, they’re just not ridiculous about it.

150131 P-2rosperity is pretty healthy in Denmark. The average Dane has £28K of disposable income each year, while the equivalent Brit has to make do with £23K. The British Bulldog is then faced with dizzying transport fares, crippling childcare costs and laughable housing prices, while the Great Dane has already paid for most of that. Through some of the highest taxes in the world.

150131 Innovation is bursting out all over in Denmark. The country is the sixth most innovative country on the planet, with Britain languishing ten places further down the scale at number 16. Is it that they have an awful lot of silicon roundabouts in Denmark? It’s too flat to have any silicon valleys. No, the answer is more likely to be found in the generous tax incentives offered to innovators. There’s that damn TAX word again. Does it really all have to do with tax?! Well, yes actually. Get over it.

150131 Neighbours are a funny bunch in Denmark. There’s no real appetite for ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, while Danes do pop next door from time to time, they are always mindful of ikke sidde lårene af hinanden – of not wearing out each other’s thighs (laps). And it’s not a good idea to rock up at someone’s front door unannounced. Paradoxically, Danes do entertain in their hyggelige homes much more than the Brits, who tend to go out. For incapacitated neighbours, Meals on Wheels are delivered by a Postman with a Postvan, who these days has less post to deliver so, rather than redundancy, someone applied some creative thinking.

150131 Education is not a right in Denmark, it is a duty. It is the duty of the state to provide the very best education throughout life to its citizens. It is the duty of its citizens to educate themselves to the very best of their ability. Danes shake their heads incredulously at the very mention of £9K tuition fees – or any tuition fees. Education in Denmark is free. It is a public good. Like air. This leads to a highly educated population, who understands the need to engage in society and in the democratic process. 88% of them turn up to vote, and they have intelligent conversations about the wisdom of paying enormous sums in tax. About 82% of young people take further education and educational achievement is among the highest in the world, tying for first place with Australia, Finland and New Zealand. No opportunity for maximising the usefulness of Borgen’s burghers is missed. Refugees are classified according to skills and education on entry to the country and pressed into action accordingly.

150131 Science is possibly not first on the list when we think Danish. Blondes and bikes, beer and bacon are more likely to trip off the tongue. But actually, when thinking science, you can’t move for institutions mad about the stuff: Scientific Research Councils, Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation, The Danish Council for Strategic Research
The Danish National Center for Social Research – if you’re a proper nerd, do go check them out for yourself. All funded by – yep, you guessed it – a healthy dollop of tax kroner. Granted, a long standing international reputation for excellence does attract significant grant funding too. Show me the money that doesn’t want to be associated with success?

150131 S-2ociety is what knits it all together. All Scandis have an overwhelming sense of Society. The WE trumps the ME every time. Janteloven, the Law of Jante, is tatooed on the brain of every Dane. Fashioned back in 1933 by a Danish/Norwegian author, the Law of Jante basically holds that no one is any better than anyone else, so don’t get ideas above your station. There are hints, here and there, that the Law of Jante is feeling the chill of imported US/UK culture but, so far, it is holding out. And, as it produces the happiest people on the planet, who’d want to see it go?

So, neither Lego nor the Wiener Brød seem to have any discernible impact on Borgen’s happiness index. And, in fairness, not every single Dane erups in paroxisms of joy 365 days of the year. However, the ‘dreaded’ – at least ‘dreaded’ to the average Brit – “Big State”, does appear to shoulder a very large chunk of the responsibility for the contentment of its citizens.

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Next year, let’s change our January greetings to Good New-year and see what happens.



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