How the Danes successfully fought to get 6 weeks of yearly vacation.....
and why they are glad to pay twice as much in taxes as Americans knowing
that it gives them much more money for their frequent round-the-world
vacations - while average Americans are so busy paying off (medical and
education) bills that they can rarely afford to go abroad during the few
days they get off work!
May 6, 1998
(written as an email to friends in the
Dear American friends
Last week my sons 16 year old girlfriend, Anna,
- who is sometimes working in New York as a photo model -
came back to her high school class in Denmark several
days late. The reason: there were no airplanes bound for
However, when she told Americans the reason why she
couldnt go home, none of them/you seemed to have
the slightest comprehension of what she was talking
about. And, indeed, the same lack of understanding seems
to affect the American news coverage of our present
national self-made "chaos" here in Denmark -
not least on CNN - if you have even heard of our efforts
at creating "organized chaos" at all!
What is happening in Denmark right now is truly a
ground breaking grass roots revolution, but on the
surface I will certainly admit that it looks more like
For what else would you call a country to which you
cant fly in to, - in which you cant drive
because there is no gas, - in which you cant buy
hardly any food in the stores any more because nobody
delivers food and many factories are closed, - in which
mail is not picked up for lack of gas, - in which
thousands of chicken are dying for lack of food, - in
which pigs are eating each other in the farms - either
for lack of food or space - since nobody drives them to
the slaughterhouses, - in which pharmacies are running
out of medicine even for life threatened patients, - in
which vegetables and flowers worth millions of dollars
are rotting in the greenhouses for lack of gas and
If this brings up associations a la the worst scenario
Communist countries in the past I cant blame you.
Certainly it wouldnt occur to you that we are
actually talking about Europes healthiest
capitalist economy right now - or indeed - alongside the
American and the Norwegian - probably the strongest in
the world - since we all know that the Asians are not
doing well at present.
One measure of the strength is the fact that Denmark
is the biggest foreign aid provider in the world: each
Dane now gives 15 times as much as each American in aid
to the poorest countries and to rain forest protection.
How can the population support all this foreign aid
when they can hardly buy anything in their own stores at
home, I know Americans will ask? Since I am one of the
few who have the privilege to live on both sides of the
Atlantic and therefore am forced to think about our
mutual differences I will try to explain what I see
happening over here right now:
The huge amount of foreign aid abroad and the
"chaos" here at home is very much part of the
same thing: namely that we are once again trying to
expand the limits of what can be accomplished in the
social welfare state - while keeping it healthy and
I have for many years now been teaching in America
about the European concept of the welfare state and the
generally ill-informed American students (at least when
it comes to conditions outside their own country) usually
find it all a great idea when having it described. But
when the question comes to "How do you go about
making a welfare state?" they always express a
tremendous sense of powerlessness when I tell them
"You fight for it, you strike for it, you vote for
it, of course!" - since this seems obvious to me and
I always come away with a feeling of how different we
really are: the Americans with their tremendous feeling
of power in terms of what the individual can accomplish
on a selfish scale - and the Europeans with their similar
sense of power as to what can be accomplished in unison
for the benefit of all.
The immense fortunes of Bill Gates are very much an
indicator of the "American way of living",
while the fact that the Danes have the highest per capita
ownership of computers in the world shows the
"European way of living." (Note: not that the
Danes are richer than Americans, just that the poor over
here can also afford computers because they are not kept
The present chaos in our country really shows to what
degree people over here are willing to fight for the
expansion of the welfare state.
This time our nationwide general shutdown of society
is about getting a 6 weeks paid vacation plan.
The employers will only give 5 weeks vacation with
full pay (as we and most Europeans have it now), but are
willing to give one extra week unpaid. But the Danish
employees won't settle.
They don't think 5 weeks is enough for their
round-the-world vacations (since one week is usually used
for their Christmas vacation and another week for their
So now they want 4 weeks for their summer vacation
alone (since - as they rightly claim - it takes at least
one week to get off the jet lag when going around the
world to Thailand/Vietnam, Australia or Latin America -
so that "lost week" doesn't count as real
And if they don't get a full salary during their 6th
week, how can they survive out in these bloody expensive
Third World countries?
The employees all over Denmark unexpectedly voted no
to the proposed agreement which their National Labor
Union had negotiated for months with the Danish Employers
Association and therefore the strike to every ones
surprise went into effect over night.
So nobody had stocked up any foods and there was a mad
rush on all the stores. It looked completely like the
famous pictures from the depression in China.
My son Daniel had forgotten to call me in Norway to
tell me about the strike. Otherwise I could have filled
up my car with foods in Norway.
My wife Vibeke meanwhile got stuck in Senegal and
couldnt get home..... but at least in Africa she
could find most essential things in the stores!
Had my sons girlfriend waited a few days longer
she couldnt even have flown home from New York via
Sweden since Swedish airline workers struck SAS in
support of the Danish workers.
When I got back to Denmark the shelves were already
empty: ecological milk and yeast disappeared first, then
ordinary foods and finally utensils, toilet paper and the
As a result I had to drive to one store to find two
onions left, 4 oranges in another store, 4 pounds of
potatoes in a third store - but of course no dairy
products. It felt like shopping in the former Communist
The first days many people were not very solidary and
started hoarding. There were even cases of theft from
other peoples shopping carts and gas tanks. But
gradually people are realizing: we are in this struggle together, so lets show solidarity and sacrifice
Stores are still open since their employees are not
part of the National Labor Union, but belong to a
different union. But what does that help when all
transportation workers are striking so that no food is
produced or transported, vegetables are rotting in the
(Only hospitals are exempted by the workers - I guess
because they themselves get sick).
My daughter Lalou was worried that we were all going
to starve, but I told her that all we had to do was to go
on our bicycles to the countryside to buy milk directly
from the farmers who otherwise will have to throw it out.
For the gas stations have already long been empty for gas
after the first mad days with up to 5 mile long lines -
resembling the gas crises in 1973.
Kindergartens have long ago closed "for sanitary
reasons" since there is nobody to clean them.
Parents take turns to care for each others children
or bring them to work.
One thing American workers could learn from all this
is: if they really united like the Danish (or most other European)
workers, they could in the same fashion obtain
a full blown cradle-to-grave welfare state with 5 weeks
paid vacations and all medical care and education, child
care etc. for free. All it takes is a full blown
nationwide strike every fifteen years to get the
employers to give in.
Once people have lived in and enjoyed the fruits and
the security of the welfare state, they will never give
it up (just as Americans today will never give up the
little welfare state they have: social security and
unemployment compensation - although the latter is very
short term by European standards).
Over here you get 70-90 % of your ordinary salary for
years if you have no job or have just finished education
and not yet found a job in your field, not to mention 3
years of pregnancy leaves for either parent with full pay (with the other spouse getting 2 weeks
off) and one year
long sabbaticals at 80% of regular salary.
The one year sabbaticals became law on a temporary
basis in the 1980s when unemployment was very high
in order through job rotation to bring more people into
the labor market.
People loved it and took off for year long round the
world trips financed by their 80% regular salary. And now
when we have almost full employment again people are not
about to give up their new rights, so no government now
dares to roll back the law about paid one year sabbaticals.
I am myself constantly discovering new aspects of the
welfare state - such as a couple of months ago when my
son turned 18 and automatically started receiving a
monthly check from the government of 230$. Why? Because
he is in his second year of high school and anybody going
to any form of school is being paid a salary.
To stay competitive a healthy capitalist economy must
constantly educate and re-train its workers, so young and
old are being encouraged to go to school by being paid a salary. My son asked us if he shouldnt move away
from home since he would then get more than twice that
amount of money for going to high school - or the same as
His present 230$, by the way, replaces a similar
amount which all parents automatically receive in child
benefits for each child under 18 living at home. The idea
is, of course, to encourage people to have more children
since the biggest threat to the welfare state is a slow
population growth with a shrinking tax base and too many
old people to care for.
The term "børnefamilierne" (families with children) has the same sacred sound to it in Danish
politics as, say, holy cows in India - or the army in America. Everything is done to support such families -
not least single parents - through e.g. rent subsidies of
up to 100% (according to income) in order to avoid
"ghettoization" or the "feminization of
poverty" - as you know it all too well in America.
This is one reason Washington Post could publicize a
choking report concluding that while 23% of American
children grow up in poverty, the similar figure in
Europes welfare states is only 5%.
Children are deeply handicapped by poverty and end up
with tremendous rates of learning disabilities and crime
rates. So a country which chooses to loose one fourth of
its children on the floor will later have to invest
enormous sums in policing and incarcerating their anger -
money the people in the welfare states instead can go on
However, if anything can make people support the
welfare state it is to see what is being done for the old. Trained home care people come around to every old
persons home up to several times a day to help them
in and out of bed, to clean, shop, bank and cook for them (or to bring them hot
The idea is to help them stay in their own homes as
long as they can. Only when they are too feeble do they
go to nursing homes.
Traveling in America for so many years has really
opened my eyes to how Americans spend the latter part of
their lives worrying about old age and illness. Even the
thought of spending money on traveling makes them feel
guilty about stealing into funds which should be saved
for old age.
And if you have seen the neglect old people suffer in
American nursing homes (a neglect which they even have to
pay for and are often robbed of their entire savings to
pay for) you would turn into an advocate of the welfare
state over night seeing the quality care they get in
Danish nursing homes. Just like people in prison they can
here furnish their apartments or rooms entirely as their
former homes with all their own belongings.
Speaking of prisoners: Americans so hung up on
punishing their wrong doers (and public executions a la
the middle ages in Europe or todays China) would
probably open their eyes wide when learning how some
welfare states such as Sweden are making experiments
sending young criminals on long vacations to the
Caribbean in an effort to rehabilitate them.
Emphasis on rehabilitation is essential in the welfare
state penal policies. My black American friend, Harb, was
sentenced to life in Danish prison for murder
("life" is over here defined as 16 years -
usually with release after 8 years).
But already after 4 years Harb was given a four room
modern apartment outside prison to live in with his
girlfriend - fully furnished with brand new furniture, TV
etc. picked by himself in the local IKEA.
Having grown up in the worst slums of Washington DC
this deserter from the US army in Germany - turned
gangster, heroin smuggler and the most cold-blooded
gangland killer - had never in his life lived in such
affluent surroundings before (comparable to the urban
American middle class) with everything paid for by the
Danish tax-payers. While he still had to telephone the
prison daily, he started studying cultural sociology at
the University of Copenhagen.
Upon his release - after which he had to leave Denmark
- I joked to him that he would never achieve such a high
standard of living again. That proved true, for although
he became manager of a McDonalds in DC, he ended up
living in the local ghetto. But via the break through in
self-confidence he had experienced in a welfare state, he
never again turned to crime. Yet he missed the security
of the welfare state and was therefore after a few years
allowed to transfer to McDonalds in France.
His successful rehabilitation proves to me the
intelligence of the welfare state - just how much money
is actually saved by investing in human beings. For we
all know how John - had he lived in America - would most
likely have spent the rest of his life in and out of
prison - at a tremendous cost for the tax payers.
One dollar spent as early investment in human beings
equals 5-6 dollars saved years later.
"Prevention is cheaper than cure" is the
logic of the welfare state and supported by countless cost/benefit analyses - and certainly supported by the
Danish tax payers .......who can then take the saved
money to go on vacation for. (For of course they are just
as selfish as American tax payers are......just perhaps a
bit less wasteful - or a bit more penny-wise!!!)
And that brings us back to where we started: our
present fighting/striking/voting for longer vacations.
Polls right now show that 78% of the Danes want longer vacations, only 13% want more in
If a similar poll was taken in America I wouldnt
be surprised if the figures would be just the other way around. For when people in a society do not have basic
human rights taken care of - such as equal access to free
health care, education, nursing, child care, unemployment
security etc. - they will forever feel they need more
money to pay for all the bills they run up for similar
services. (Just as they waste precious time and mental
energy constantly shopping around to get cheaper deals.)
Especially since these bills will usually be much
higher than those the Europeans pay via their taxes. Cure
generally is more costly than prevention - not to speak
of all the unnecessary bureaucrats (such as health
insurance agents) you employ in America just to sit
around and make decisions on your health - decisions
which in every other country in the world would be called
"undemocratic". For no Free Universal Health
Care system would ever be so cruel as to decide that you
cant get all the health care you need because you
are too fat, have smoked too much, have AIDS, is a
bartender - and many similar reasons given in America
today to deny people access to health care.
American media often counter that this will lead to
waiting lists - amazing when you consider the American
waiting lists of 35% Americans who go completely without
health insurance. We certainly also do have a lot of
internal criticism of what it really is - namely not enough
welfare state!!! - and all the parties in the last
election promised to end them. Unlike the American
health care mess caused by profit oriented private
ownership and control over this basic human right, our
shortages are at least under democratic control. It is
all a matter of the popular will to pay more taxes -
which means less or cheaper vacations - or taking the
money from some other departments. In other words:
something we can vote on.
Yes, Europeans pay twice as much in taxes as Americans, but they dont pay twice as much for the
same services provided!!!! This is why they have so much
money to spend on their long vacations around the globe.
In most of the popular, exotic countries such as Nepal,
India, Vietnam, Africa etc. I today meet far more Danes
than Americans - even though there are 50 times more
Americans on the planet.
What is far worse, I feel, is that the Americans who
do travel are mostly the better-off and better-educated.
The Europeans who go far away tend very much to be from
the working classes. The better-off Europeans can better
afford the high cost of traveling in Europe and are often
more interested in its cultural and historic values,
museums etc. while the working class tend to prefer the beaches, mountain trekking, sex, or cheapness of
Thailand, Nepal, Bolivia or Africa. One of my friends,
who is unemployed, go to Thailand 3-4 times a year.
The saddest development I have seen in America during
recent years is that as fewer and fewer Americans can
afford to take long vacations abroad, they loose more and
more interest in the world around them.
I see it especially in the students - while on the
other hand the student years for Europeans, Israelis,
Japanese and Australians are associated with a lot of
Twenty years ago I saw mostly US travelers in Latin America. Now the region is almost entirely run over by
Some wealthy Americans do go on cruise ships, but my wife, who worked on
one, saw how the majority of them
would never even venture ashore in Africa - while she
herself would hitchhike or take taxies into the interior
on every occasion she had.
There is no doubt in my mind that the reason Danish
taxpayers constantly have voted for an increase in our
aid to developing countries - so that we are now giving
more than any other country in the world - is a direct
result of the fact that we are among the most traveling
people in the world to Third World countries. Traveling
stimulates interest in and solidarity feelings towards
foreign people. And the more you have had a taste for the
good life, the more you want of it.
The opposite argument - how utterly arrogant and
distasteful it is to insist on your right to waste the
world's energy recourses in order to fly all over the
globe to trample down sensitive native populations and
rain forests - I will not deal with here, but in my
articles on racism. The selfishness in it was shown when
the German Green party proposed a 12-doubling of taxes on
airline fuel in order to allow Germans only one
round-the-world vacation every 5 years - and almost were
eradicated by the suddenly not-so-green voters.
So that is all why the Danes right now are bringing
their own country to its knees for a little while in
order to fight for 6 weeks of paid vacation. Are we a
special case? Certainly not. Five other countries in
Europe have better vacation plans than ours and 9 others
have actually more days off when you include national and
religious holidays with a yearly total averaging 40 days.
In other words: twice as many days off as Americans get
(21 days = vacation + Labor Day, Thanksgiving etc.).
It is worthwhile also to bear in mind here that many
Americans go out and find other work during their one or
two-week vacation - simply to make ends meet. This is
something you are not allowed over here - at least you
will not get paid your vacation salary if you hold
I guess the idea here is - although it sounds
old-fashioned Marxist - that you have earned your
vacation in order to become a more productive worker. And
only a fully recuperated and re-charged worker is working
100% effective and is thus fully productive for society.
Although this is the implicit philosophy of the
welfare state, it is certainly not the thinking of the
employers every 15 years when they have to negotiate the
new expanded demands of the workers. So far the
philosophy has proven right which is shown by the fact
that we are just as productive in the welfare states as
our competitors in countries where they have less than
half our vacation time - such as in America and Asia. But
where is the breaking point where too much vacation will
result in a decrease in competitiveness? Certainly we
cant all have sabbaticals every year.
The Danish employers claim that 6 weeks of paid
vacation is the last straw that breaks the capitalist's
back, while their employees rightly remember that those
were the reasons they gave for their opposition every
time we expanded the concept of the welfare state.
And yet the country grew richer and richer and ended
up with a higher economic growth during this entire
century than the USA - a country in which the people
"work like slaves," as Danes workers usually
The Danish employees are right now fighting extra hard
- disappointed by the results of the last nationwide
struggle in 1985, which - due to the recession in the
80s - only resulted in a shortening of the 5 day
work week to 37 hours. But the 3 hours, they thus won,
only lead to 7 hours more of TV-watching, polls show. Was
that really all they fought for? No, so now they want
"quality time" off - more time for traveling.
The concept of "quality time" is very much
the result of the increasing strength of the women in the
labor force. For "quality time" means more time
spend with the children - and especially vacation is good
for that purpose. While the mostly male bosses of the
National Labor Union had finally accepted an agreement
with the Employers Ass. last week, it was actually the
women and the young people 18-30 years of age who voted
it down all over the country - and thus ordered the
present nationwide shutdown and chaos. To the surprise of
their fat, bald, cigar smoking bosses. This is true
It is not hard to understand why. Women and young
workers have no doubt gained most from the welfare state.
Thus polls show that if only women could vote, we would
always have leftist governments (just as you would always
have Democratic governments in America).
Also the growing number of women in parliament ensures
more progressive legislation - often supported also by
the women in the far right and racist parties.
In the last election a month ago we increased the
percentage of women in parliament to 39 % - pretty
similar to the other Scandinavian countries with Sweden
topping at 41%. (The disgraceful American figure is 8%
women in Congress!)
I have all my life made a personal commitment of !!!never!!! voting for a man - until we get complete
equality of the sexes in parliament as well as in
government (where 40 % of the ministers are women). But
more important: with the absence of such a conscious
commitment from other Danish men the high female
representation indicates a historically low level of
unconscious sexism in our politics.
Men might be more conservative, but they vote the same
amount of women into parliament in the right-wing parties
as in the leftist parties - with two of our racist
parties being headed by extremely popular women. These
two women unfortunately dont show much compassion
for their Muslim immigrant sisters. Their racist
arguments for wanting to throw them out: "they only
come here to take advantage of our great welfare state."
This is not completely untrue. Tens of thousands of Somalians, Turks,
Palestinians, Pakistanis etc. come
directly from some of the poorest villages on Earth and
are immediately given the same welfare benefits as the Danes. So much money do they make
here, that they -
mostly unemployed - go on frequent long vacations to
their homelands - and out of their Danish welfare
benefits feed whole villages in the Third World.
This of course invites some racism and jealousy from
Danish workers (8-10% vote for the racist anti-immigrant
parties), but luckily the majority see it as a great form
of development assistance to poor countries (with the
implicit racist logic that without such assistance we
would probably get even more of such refugees and
All these generous benefits - not least to that group
which Americans with contempt call "welfare
mothers" and give only one fourth of what single
mothers get in Denmark - are of course the reason why
especially Danish women are now on the barricades.
Thousands are participating all over the country in
demonstrations and blockades preventing ferry boats from sailing, busses and trucks from
from flying - all of course to the irritation of every
individual who is being hurt - and yet with the support
of the great majority of the population.
For - as my American students never could believe -
you fight/strike/vote and even die (at least if you are
chicken and pigs as I mentioned) for the welfare state -
just as Americans used to do it in the 1930s but
since mostly forgot to do - with the sad result that the
gap between rich and poor has since grown to the biggest
in the entire American history - and is still widening
And as especially the young Danes - who have joined
the labor force since our last nationwide shut down in
1985 - daily testify on TV, "fighting for your
rights is really great fun!"
So - although society in one respect have resembled
the shortages in the worst Communist countries for a
couple of weeks - in other respects the country looked
like one giant beer drinking party - not least because it
all coincided with May 1. - the international labor day.
When people in Norway wanted to show support for our
struggle the other day, they sent a whole airplane
(landing on water since the airports and ferries to
Norway are closed) - loaded with thousands of free
packages of yeast to "our Danish brothers and
sisters to thank you for all the beer you have supplied
Norway with over the years" - to a huge receiving
crowd of cheering and partying Danes on the beach. For
yeast has turned into the most sought for black market
item as you cant find bread in the stores any
Yes, American friends, can you actually imagine how
much fun it is to shut down a whole society - to
literally bring a country to its knees? And not only our
own, for in Sweden and Germany the Volvo, Saab, Mercedes
and BMW factories had to close down one by one for lack
of parts from Danish subcontractors.
In America we couldnt even close down Washington
and Pentagon for even one day on April 25th 1971 when we
attempted to stop the senseless killing of 3 million
Vietnamese - a matter of life and death, not just a few
days of extra vacation - but I do remember how much fun
(and tear gas) we had! (My first entry into George
Washington University was not as a guest speaker, but
being carried in on a stretcher to be treated for severe
tear gas wounds).
I started out writing this email as a substitute for
reading my newspaper. I usually spend an hour each
morning reading the paper, but in a country without
newspapers, nothing to buy and nowhere to go (except on
bicycle) I decided instead to write my own little
newspaper to you in the spare time I now had at hand.
However, my little substitute newspaper here got
longer and longer, and I can today on Wednesday the 6th
actually bring you the results of our great nationwide
shutdown of Denmark.
The government had insisted that it would not
interfere in the conflict, but last night the
negotiations totally collapsed: the employers insisted
that they couldnt give an inch more without hurting
Danish competitiveness abroad or stockholders interests.
The National Labor Union was ready to settle for what
they could get, but dared not - knowing that the rank and
file all over the country would vote it down.
So to prevent continuing chaos for months (which costs
the country millions each day in lost exports) the
government at noon today declared that it would interfere
by making into law a compromise actually more advanced
than the one first voted down (in order to live up to a
pledge to the women made during the last elections for
The new law: we wont get a full 6 weeks of paid
vacation this time around, but for the children - who
were meant to really benefit from such "quality
time" - the goal has been accomplished.
Every Dane is from now on assured 5 weeks plus 2 extra
days of paid vacation - 3 days short of the 6 week goal.
But most important - "børnefamilierne" -
parents with children under 14 years of age - will get an
additional 3 days of paid vacation - in other words 6
The center-left government could not go any further
since it wanted the full support of all the right-wing
parties. Here you can clearly see how important it is to
have many women in parliament. For without all the women
in the right-wing parties, these would never have
supported what could easily have been attacked as a
"leftist" law, but what is now seen as a
"pro-family" law. And nobody dares to argue
against anything "pro-family". (Especially our
small Christian right-wing party is a staunch champion of
the welfare state). So only parents without children were
the losers of this nationwide shutdown - although it
would be more correct to describe them as two thirds
It is an absurdity in America that the right has for
years monopolized the "pro-family" slogan when
it so obviously is welfare state policy and reality!
To demonstrate this even further I could mention one
of our most extravagant laws also accomplished through
struggling/striking/voting: the parental leave act. It
makes any parent entitled to half a years leave
from work in order to have more "quality time"
with their children. In the beginning it was at full pay,
but during the recession in the 1980s it was
reduced to 60 % or 80% of normal earnings, as far as I
Only condition: you cant get free day care at
the same time. So - since many children miss the social
activities in the day care centers - the music and
singing with highly educated "pædagoger" -
parents often go traveling with their children.
For the 80% of normal salary, which both parents get,
is enough to make you live "like a king" in
Clara, my daughter, Lalous, friend in
kindergarten, thus recently returned home from such a
half year trekking trip in Vietnam with her sister and
parents, Peter and Susan. Peter is an engineer and Susan
a school teacher, but both felt a need to spend more
"quality time" with their children and took
"parental leave" - 6 months in the winter - in
addition to their ordinary 5 weeks in summer. Trekking in
Vietnamese villages for half a year naturally teaches
children more important human values than they could ever
learn in school.
With all the hatred and abuse "welfare
mothers" in America are subject to, I would like to
mention one additional "pro-family" welfare
state law here. I dont know about Denmark, but at
least in Norway any single mother is entitled to a
government paid baby-sitter one or two nights a week.
Usually they use one of their friends or a student who
want to earn extra money. The idea is of course that a
"welfare mother" should have a chance to live a
life like everyone else, to go out and party and that way
perhaps have a chance to find a spouse if they look for
This obviously will make a better mother than one who
feels "trapped" and "ostracized" such
as I see it in the constant irritated slappings of their
children by many single mothers in America. And what
could be more "pro-family" than helping a
single mother find a new husband or boyfriend?
But of course, the whole idea of "government
sponsored sex for welfare mothers" would probably
alienate the American right who would rather do anything
in their power to further punish and ostracize single
With such old-fashioned attitudes in so many ways
pre-dominant - even in the more mainstream American
thinking (where I constantly hear the naive "What
will make people work in a welfare state?") - we
from over here see Americans further trapping themselves.
They work longer and longer (without a corresponding
relative increase in productivity to show for it) and
have less and less freedom to do those things most
important for people (such as spending quality time with
their families, traveling and exploring together etc.).
Well, those were some of the thoughts I couldnt
help entertain when I saw how great sacrifices the Danes
were willing to make to expand and further improve their
welfare state (just as the Germans recently did it and
just as the Swedes, Norwegians, Dutch, French etc. once
in while do).
With such an optimistic sense of what can be
accomplished together in the welfare interest of the
whole as well as of the individual, we of course feel
offended when our proud accomplishments again and again
in the American media is dismissed with "too high
taxes" or "socialism" (when e.g. Denmark
is more capitalistic in terms of private ownership than
Canada). All we can say is "Poor Americans who
cant even afford to double their taxes - and as a
result work like slaves year round to pay their
But feeling half American myself I cant help
here also to display my personal disappointment: at a
time when Americans had a better chance than ever before
to make needed changes - with the economy rolling and the
presidential ratings high - they blow this unique
historic chance literally with "blow jobs."
After the first election of Clinton - when the country
was crying out for health care reform - I saw a great
chance again to continue the expansion of the limited
welfare state attempts Roosevelt had started in the
30s during New Deal and which Johnson expanded in
the 60s with Medicaid and Medicare.
Either in the European form by quite simply expanding
Medicare to cover EVERY American, not just the elderly -
or in the more limited Canadian model which also saves
money: 9% of GNP vs. the American 15-16 % of GNP. (The
Danish model takes 6% of GNP which people now agree is
too little. Spending 1% more could end waiting lists!).
Either way would have given you a taste of the welfare
state and freed up tons of money for traveling, education
etc. For the 6% difference between the Canadian and the
American model is equivalent to all the money you spend
on the military!!!
As you can see in Denmark right now - and as you saw
it in America in the 30s and 60s (when AMA
resisted tooth and nail - until they realized that
doctors could make even more money from Medicaid and
Medicare) - all such progress is at first met with fierce
However, instead of taking to the streets and
fighting/striking/voting for your rights, you let the
biggest media conspiracy the world has seen since the
fall of Communism totally take over and absorb your minds
- virtually from the day Clinton was elected.
Nowhere in the world is the media so much in the hands
of the "ruling class" as in America and never
before have I seen such an orchestrated and long-range
media campaign to successfully divert a whole
nations attention away from essential political
issues - to get you to literally for months look into
your presidents pants - rather than into your own
pockets and long-range self-interests. It really hurt me
to see America for months being the laughing stock of the
entire world - as you yourself saw it during
Clintons Africa visit.
Next year the American economy is again supposed to
run out of steam and Clinton is pretty much paralyzed
(high in ratings, but low in struggling/striking/voting
popular support to make any real change), so it now looks
like you really blew this historic chance.....
So - my sons girlfriend was in New York and
couldnt get home because her country had "shut
down" - and none of you seemed to understand what
she was talking about.
Well, I hope my little email newsletter here has
helped make a few of my American friends understand it
Yes, "there is something rotten in the state of
Denmark," but our prime minister has just this
minute announced on TV that in four days we will again be
able to get newspapers, - the planes, trucks, ferries,
cars will run again, kindergartens re-open, pigs and
chicken be slaughtered - and food will be in the stores
again from on Monday. So was it worth it?
Although some workers are angry and want to continue,
most of us believe it was a victory which will result in
similar demands in other European countries - for two to
five more days of vacation every year is a clear step
"Dare to struggle, dare to win" as we
shouted in the streets in America in the 70s. But
we all knew that we cant win it all at once. The
social welfare state grows out of popular demand in small
steps at a time.
So here I will finish with my question from the
beginning of this email. Even though most of you - my
American friends - are fairly open-minded, didnt
this email bring up at least some conservative and
defensive feelings in you? You basically know my ideas
from "American Pictures", but when I make so
direct comparisons between countries as in this email
there is always the risk of sounding nationalistic.
I am not trying to romanticize one continent over
another. This email is entirely an offshoot of my
teaching in America about its ongoing social ills. To get
any credibility there I am forced to present some
realistic solutions - not some fantasies from an unknown
planet such as Marxism - but some down to earth realistic
approaches to the inherent problems in our common
economic system - capitalism - approaches which I can
demonstrate have been tested in real life situations -
such as they have under widely different nationalities in
Europe. (Some with traditionally high suicide rates such
as Denmark, Germany, some with low suicide rates such as
Norway and Holland, some with lots of smoking and
drinking such as Denmark, others ..... etc. etc. - just
to counter some of the more naive American un-reflected
responses to the idea of the social welfare state, -
responses which nevertheless do carry an element of
truth; that more social justice and affluence in no way
is a guarantee for more happiness!).
Yet - after years of traveling in American poverty and
pain - I certainly cant hide that I am amazed about
how much the welfare state can afford and achieve, but
that doesnt mean that I would rather live in, say,
Germany than America! (But, please, dont tell my
German friends that.)
With all my love
Ps. A final note to the animal lovers among you! I
should perhaps here mention that soon after the first
pictures of the cruelty - which this national labor
struggle unfortunately inflicted on the animals -
appeared in our media, the government stepped in and
ordered the strikes broken for those truck drivers and
slaughterhouses concerned. This was probably a
strategically wise move since animal welfare is now
becoming such an important ingredient of the welfare
state - as I mentioned in my long email letter on ecology
- that these blood-dripping pictures could have broken
the spirit of the strikers. The consumers are pressing
for meat from "liberated" or "free
range" animals so fast that farmers cant
switch fast enough. Well, the animals are dying anyhow,
but that is another issue....(which
you can read about in this story on Danish ecology)
American responses to this
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