You Can’t Have Denmark Without Danes

You Can’t Have Denmark Without Danes, by Megan McArdle.

When I asked people in Copenhagen about the secret of Denmark’s remarkable success, I kept hearing the same thing: “Trust.”

“Trust,” said a photographer, when I asked him the best thing about living in Denmark. “If we agree on something, you would live up to that.” That confidence, he added, “makes everyday life more comfortable.”

“There’s a lot of social trust,” a speechwriter at the culture ministry told me. “Farmers putting out their products by the roadside, and then putting a jar and saying, ‘Put money in this.’ It’s very common here, and it works.”

Las Olsen, chief economist at Danske Bank, said: “We have this high trust, and it is a huge asset. It is very good for productivity that you don’t have to spend a lot of time and money checking everything.” …

Although roughly 10 percent of the population consists of immigrants, in the downtown at least, the crowds look strikingly white and blond. …

High Danish wages translate into sky-high costs, especially for services. At a McDonald’s in downtown Copenhagen, a Big Mac meal set me back more than $10. …

Overall, Danes report high levels of trust in one another and in their government. … If you’re used to reporting on U.S. business and government, it’s eerie to hear people talk like that. The only other time I’ve had a similar experience was when I talked to people in Utah. … In both places, it seems to have its roots in a consensus-based culture founded on trust.

Trust is measured by questions like “If you lost your wallet, would you expect it to be returned,” or, “Will most people do the right thing most of the time?” Or simply, “Can most people be trusted?” Scandinavians routinely get some of the highest scores in the world. …

Denmark’s extremely high levels of trust allow Danes to get away with policies that would cripple another economy. Unlike Greeks, Danes don’t cheat (much) on their high tax rates, nor do they take (many) benefits they’re not entitled to or don’t need. They match their extraordinarily high wages with high productivity because they trust one another. …

Immigration:

Danish social cohesion works great for Danes. It’s not so great, though, at doing another thing modern advanced economies need: Absorbing outsiders. …

Lots of countries with generous welfare systems aren’t particularly trusting, for example, and those systems produce all the dire effects American conservatives warn about. And as Bjornskov suggests, low corruption distinguished Scandanavian societies centuries ago. That’s a trait that may go all the way back to the Vikings. …

Basically all the Danes I spoke to, from far-left Green Party types to market liberals, agreed that Denmark would be hard to replicate without Danes.

So what happens when people from notoriously low trust societies in the Middle East come to Denmark? Low trust trumps high trust. When I grew up in Australia, people didn’t lock the doors of their houses.