Consider adapting Danish policy choices for U.S.? Centrists and conservatives say 'yes'
Worker training and the welfare state
Remapping Debate has previously reported on the ways in which the Danish welfare state offers benefits to businesses as well as individual citizens. Helle Dale, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that Danish businesses have profited in particular from an extensive system of worker training programs.
“Danish industry certainly benefits from having a workforce that is highly trained,” she said. Dale emphasized that a large investment in vocational training in Denmark has created skilled-work opportunities for many Danes, and that American policy makers may want to consider providing greater support for community colleges and vocational schools.
Kierkegaard agreed that Denmark’s heavy investment in education and training merits examination.
“I certainly think, not least in the situation that we’re in right now, when long-term unemployment risks becoming a structural feature of our economy, Denmark has a story to tell,” he said.
Dale cautioned, however, that the Danish vocational system would only be possible to replicate on a local or state level in the United States, “because it takes a very high level of social cohesion and sense of community.”
Danish businesses have also benefited from a labor pool that includes more women, Dale said, “which is only possible because of affordable state-run day care [and] kindergartens.”
Again, Kierkegaard agreed. “If you’re a business and you think a larger and larger share of your skilled workforce is going to be women, then you bloody well need to have affordable child care facilities available,” he said. “If I were a business, I wouldn’t want to pay for that individually. I’d want that to come out of a general fund.”
Molly Brogan, the vice president of public affairs at the National Small Business Association, a non-partisan advocacy group that represents over 150,000 businesses in the United States, said that while the Association does not have formal views on childcare or eldercare policies, they do believe that the United States government could reduce the burden of providing health care from businesses.
“Our members generally believe that having a system where health care is affordable and accessible to everyone would be a benefit for businesses because it creates a healthier workforce,” she said.
Kierkegaard said that, if such programs were to be adopted in the United States, they would have to be adapted. “The U.S. is a much bigger, much more diverse country than Denmark,” he said, making the administration of large-scale social welfare programs difficult. Nevertheless, he added, it is not as if the United States does not have any experience implementing massive programs both through the federal government, like Medicare and Social Security, and through the states, such as Medicaid.
Remapping Debate has previously reported how the interaction between many Danish institutions — such as the welfare state, the educational system, and the government — serves to reinforce a sense of trust and civic-mindedness among citizens. Though they were divided as to how desirable this public-spiritedness is in a society, every expert interviewed for this article acknowledged that the government has the power to facilitate trust and collectivity.
“Overall, it is true that the institutions of public education, the welfare state, child care and the health care system help to foster a sense of national cohesion,” Dale said. “Its foundation is a social contract that is generally accepted. If you look at surveys, the Danes are the happiest people in the world, and this is one of the reasons.”
Scott Sumner, a conservative economist at Bentley University and a prominent blogger, said that one of the major things that a government can do to facilitate trust and social cohesion is to take steps toward becoming as transparent and accountable as possible, something he says the United States has failed to do.
“Our tax system is littered with these loopholes that serve special interests and business groups,” he said. “That does not encourage most people to trust the government.”
Kierkegaard emphasized the importance of the universal nature of Denmark’s welfare programs in facilitating collectiveness. “Because everybody is interacting with the state often and from a young age, and because the benefits from most Danish welfare programs are the same for everybody, the Danes see the state more as a reflection of the public than as an exterior institution,” he said.
He suggested that the fragmented nature of the provision of social benefits in the United States has contributed to a more individualistic and competitive culture. One way that this could be remedied, he suggested, is by taking steps to quell the trend of privatization, especially of schools.
Daniel Mitchell of the Cato Institute agreed that the Danes had managed to foster a more collectivist, public-spirited citizenry, and said that much of that can be attributed to the egalitarian nature of Danish society. He added, however, he believed that Denmark had accepted a tradeoff between collective spirit and a focus on individual achievement.