The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side
Guest post by Jan Gindrup
Jan Gindrup spent 21 years serving as a police officer in Denmark. After retiring from the police force, Jan served as a security consultant to a large Danish energy company. He is currently in construction and real estate.
While a small country overloaded with government, Danes pride themselves as being “the envy of the world.” Just like New Zealand. Yet most ofthe world barely knows where they are. Just like New Zealand.
It is a place in which it’s wrong to stand out from the crowd. Just like in New Zealand.
And Danes truly believe that no harm can ever come to or change Denmark. And just like in New Zealand, it’s not true.
As you read Jan’s piece, you will think he is talking about us—another small, insular place cut off in many ways from the rest of the world, a place in which rigid conformity and ever-growing government is both all powerful and yet barely noticed. There is much to learn from his story, including his account of the disastrous "land tax" which Danes now endure--the same sort of "land tax" morons from Bernard Hickey to Davids Farrar and Parker promote--the sort of tax that amounts to paying rent to the state for living in your own home.
Have you ever thought of life being better somewhere else?
It is often said that the grass is greener on the other side. Could it be that sometimes one's own grass just has grown so high that one can't judge the conditions over there?
…Most people, especially Americans, know that Denmark is home to the happiest people in the world and that it is a wonderful fairy-tale country with peace and the best social welfare system ever. The movie Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye probably reinforced that impression. Never mind that no one knows where Denmark is.
Well, here's a chance to hear from the happiest people on earth and their wonderful little country.
First, let's look at parts of Danish history that we Danes gladly share with pride:
Denmark used to be a warrior nation. During the Viking Age (approx. 800-1200 AD), we beat the living daylights out of everybody and ruled from Moscow to America and from the North Pole to Constantinople. In the 16th century, after fighting mostly each other for a while, we built larger ships, acquired cannons and beat
We fought the Swedes, the Brits and the Germans. We colonized parts of India and Africa, and owned Iceland, Greenland and the Virgin Islands. We had plantations, freed the slaves, and made and sold a lot of rum.
Now some parts of Danish history that we are less proud of:
We caught and transported many slaves – slaves that served as the backbone of the plantations in the Caribbean. In 1801 and 1807, the British attacked Copenhagen, sank and stole our navy, and burned down
most of the city.
In 1864 we fought the Germans, were beaten yet again, lost a part of our territory, and since then we have been very tame and have developed a habit of being very faithful to authority and compliant to bullies. This was sadly the case with the German invasion during World War II, where the Danish government tacitly cooperated with the Nazis and condemned partisan freedom fighters, who were labeled "terrorists."
In 1917, we sold the Virgin Islands to the United States for $25 million; in the '70s, our government gave the oil-drilling rights to Maersk Shipping, a trade that made the firm and family very wealthy. Many left-wing politicians cooperated with the Warsaw Pact without consequence, and in 1972 the politicians got us into the European Union, which has bureaucratically evolved into the United States of Europe.
Back in the '50s and '60s, Denmark was still a sleepy little farm country. Mothers were housewives, and everybody was slim and fit. Frogs, lizards, storks and grasshoppers were abundant, and generally life was pastoral and idyllic. The king would wave from his balcony, everybody knew everybody, and the policeman even stopped the traffic for passing ducks.
The sun was always shining and all was good… or at least, that is what we remember.
As Danes, we have always believed in our hearts that we are better than the rest of the world. We know that there is no other country like Denmark. A funny Danish song says, "In all other countries, they live in caves and fight all day. Darn, we have never been like that!" We trust our politicians, believing that they are honest and represent the people. We have a democracy and a Constitution. We have many political parties; heck, even the communists are Danes.
We are all friends.
Danes truly believe that no harm can ever come to or change Denmark. We know that everybody in the whole wide world loves us and that that, among other things, is due to us helping the Jews escape from Denmark during WW II.
Many Danes don't want to go on vacation – even to Poland, a southern neighbour, or many other countries – because they know that the people there are of a lower social standing and will steal their money and cars.
Until the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union was "the beast in the East," and we were scared to death of the threat of a nuclear war. Later, during travels to the Baltic countries, I learned that they had exactly the same fear of us coming to "take them."
Before my travels to Eastern Europe, many Danes told me that I would face former communist mafia everywhere and that I would be kidnapped and robbed. Stunningly, I managed to visit the Baltics without incident. I have never felt so safe as I did in the Baltic states. As an interesting aside, I also later learned that they have a far superior fleet of cars.
The United States is, in the mind of many Danes, also a dangerous place to go. America's ills range from rampant daily shootings in the streets to a superficial, consumer-driven culture devoid of any redeeming traits.
Danes skiing in Austria or France have chosen to fly home with injuries, operating under the belief that "down there," they don't have the knowledge or education to provide proper medical treatment. This is despite the fact that they are used to dealing with plenty of snow, big mountains and therefore thousands of ski injuries. Denmark, on the other hand, has neither mountains nor significant snowfall. Though it can get quite cold in the winter, we rarely see snow for long, and when we do, it is mostly brown, sloppy mush.
Many Danes wouldn't dream of emigrating, because they know that no country has an educational system like Denmark, and we don't want our kids growing up ignorant and brainwashed, like they do in other places. A professor at the Danish Polytechnic University was quoted as saying, "Well, maybe they educate one million engineers in India, but they are nowhere near our level!"
Whenever we hear of a successful endeavour from abroad, we are always ready to look knowingly at each other and say, "Yes, but it's not like the Danish (fill in the blank)!"
And that's the image we like to portray.
How Do You Keep People Happy?
How do you keep a population happy? You do it the same way that you keep a dog happy. You provide basic necessities, education, a justice system and entertainment to keep people from spending too much time thinking, in order to keep them from looking outside the fence for new masters. In time, people will start telling each other that they are happy. The North Koreans are probably told the same story.
I guess it all comes down to how you define happiness; if happiness means not starving and not wanting to worry about anything besides the weather, then Danes can be considered happy. But so could many cultures – at much lower costs, I suspect.
What we can readily do without shame is happily brag about being the most taxed and perhaps also most regulated country in the world.
It has jokingly been said that North Korea and Cuba envy Denmark for being the only place where socialism has been successfully implanted without anybody noticing. Let me correct that to mean implementing a form of "fascist, socialistic, bureaucratic capitalism," defined as a society controlled by technocrats where almost all wealth is collected and distributed by the state from the regulated "free" market. In all fairness, this is accomplished without the boots and guns. After all, you don't need guns when you have groomed a compliant population and implemented rules, laws and punishments for everything that is a conceivable part of daily life – all implemented "for your own good."
Compared to the Third World, Denmark seems rich, but no more than any other Western country. In my childhood in the '60s and '70s, it was a luxury for people to own a TV or a car – and by car I mean a small one, like a Ford Cortina or a VW Beetle. We got dishwashers in the '70s, and electric car windows were not common before the late '90s. Today it is still only luxury cars and cabs that have automatic transmission. In other words, not much progress there. Today I know that the USA was far ahead of Europe in all these matters, as some of these items were already on the market in the '40s.
Danes my age were taught, growing up, that they are the freest people on earth. Our school, health care, political, tax and social systems were second to none. All envied us, and therefore we viewed other nations as third-world countries, a prevailing belief to this very day. Some of these beliefs might have been fairly accurate in the past when our parents – the "grasshopper generation," so called because they took everything and left nothing – enjoyed full employment and ample tax deductions, making it a great time to expand consumption and lifestyle. Furthermore, the double-digit inflation made it an ideal time to buy houses as one's debt burden in real terms was shrinking every year.
We became accustomed to a plethora of state benefits ranging from Medicare to art. Social welfare has been a boon for a large segment of the population. In fact, a few years ago it was normal that after ten years on welfare, people were automatically transferred to a permanent disabled pension at a young age. We have experienced massive immigration by people from the Middle East during the last thirty years, something that has dramatically changed the fabric of our society.
Then there is the "Jante Law," the perfect tool to keep people in line. In Denmark we have been raised with a perverse Danish mentality, brilliantly captured by the writer Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. In the book, the lead character is mistreated by the citizens of Jante, a fictional yet representative town in Denmark.
From this book came the 10 commandments, known as the Jante Law, which was meant to serve as a sarcastic constitution emblematic of the Danish culture:
The Jante Law says:
1. Don't think you are anything special.
2. Don't think you are as good as us.
3. Don't think you are smarter than us.
4. Don't convince yourself that you are better than us.
5. Don't think you know more than us.
6. Don't think you are more important than us.
7. Don't think you are good at anything.
8. Don't laugh at us.
9. Don't think anyone cares about you.
10. Don't think you can teach us anything.
The last law:
11. Don't think that there aren't a few things we know about you.
Hans Christian Andersen captured the same sentiment in his novel The Water Drop, in which small amoebas would tear the arms off anyone being different from the rest (a reflection of the Danish society).
The message is basically, "Don't stand out!"
A very famous and popular Danish song says, "Don't fly higher than your wings can carry, it serves you better to stay on the ground." So much for supporting and developing the individual spirit.
Sad to say, despite the sarcasm, it holds some truth. In Denmark, you get along easiest if you avoid making waves. Don't try to be smaller, bigger, smarter, prettier, richer, poorer, have a bigger car or house, discuss anything controversial, etc. If you do, you need to have very special social skills, meaning that you'd better be quiet and humble about it. Americans are not; and that's why we view them with scepticism and call them superficial.
Aksel Sandemose, the author of the Jante Laws, later "fled" to Norway, where he joined the Norwegian resistance.
By the way, I have no idea how researchers reached the conclusion that Danes are the "happiest people in the world" – neither I nor anyone I know was asked. But since it is published in a major scientific survey carried out by Leicester University in England, it must be true.
There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
Yes, it true: all Danes enjoy six weeks of paid vacation and, for the time being, paid retirement pension. But these benefits are slowly vanishing.
Today we are paying the price, but like the frog in the boiling water, we haven't noticed, and we love to tell everybody else that it's just a nice warm bath.
I spoke with a young Danish welfare recipient who was very angry at the government because it hadn't given him a job. I felt a bit offended and went into a diatribe about personal responsibility, taking self-ownership, etc.
He listened and then stated, "The system we have in Denmark is a totally socialistic system. The state takes everything we earn and decides everything. So, as I see it, the state has also taken over the responsibility to find me a job!" Perversely, it was hard to disagree with his argument.
The Danish system is very expensive. It has turned into a juggernaut and taken on a life of its own. It has grown like a cancer. Every little office, school, education and sport facility, every public department, military, police department or agency fights to get its piece of the cake and to make its budget grow bigger every year.
To finance this overwhelming and still growing public sector, the Danish government keeps inventing new taxes with more and more creative names, like "amenity value tax." The creative Danish tax system – or "how to tax the same service more than once without people noticing" – is big business. It all started with Medicare.
While taxes have been raised time and again, wages have not changed much, except for management salaries. Politicians are very eager to work in Brussels (in the EU), partly because they know the member states are dying and the real power is in the EU, and partly because the salary is tax-free. Our schools and hospitals are old and worn down, our senior care is terrible and money is draining out of every hole in the state.
We have roughly 5.5 million inhabitants, including citizens and noncitizen residents. The Danish workforce consists of 3 million people, of which 1 million are public employees. That means that 2 million people in the private sector support 3.5 million other people with their taxes, plus their own use of the public sector.
We have been hammered with the "fact" that the only way forward is education, education, education; the higher, the better. It is a brilliant plan, keeping people in school where they can be told "the truth." Later, most of the graduates of higher education go to work in the public sector. Even a job as a police officer requires a bachelor's degree. It's not normal thinking to become an entrepreneur and start up your own business. If you do, a lot of the time is spent trying to find loopholes in the tax laws or fighting your way through both Danish and EU regulations. In typical Danish manner, the state is now fighting this by creating a full university degree in entrepreneurship! What a great way to start tunnel vision.
Around 1900, we had 200,000 small farms (76 % of Denmark's area), so everybody could, if they so wished, buy fresh eggs and potatoes from the farmers. Now we have around 10,000 left due to the EU, because the biggest farms get the most subsidies, which in turn buy out the smaller ones.
(I would encourage interested readers to follow Nigel Farage, a Euro-skeptic from the United Kingdom. His brave work in exposing the failures of the European Union, both monetary and otherwise, has made him the lone light in a very dark place.)
One example of how the state gets money is by raising taxes on real estate lots. I own an empty half-acre lot in the middle of nowhere, for which I used to pay $180 a year in "dirt tax" (tax for owning the land). I then had the lot subdivided into three lots, each about one-sixth of an acre – still empty land, no rights, utilities nor other improvements. For this, I am now paying $1,250 per lot, or $3,750 per year. This amounts to a tax hike of approximately 2,100 %! When I complained, I received a letter informing me that I could expect an answer in eighteen months. I am still waiting.
The state decides every year what your house and lot is worth. It's usually not far from the market value. First we pay "lot-due tax." In our case, it runs around $7,000 a year. On top of that, we pay something called "rental-value tax of your own property." The state thinks that as a homeowner, you are better off than a person who rents his home. Therefore, it decided that homeowners should pay rent to the state for living in their own home. This also goes if you own a home outside of Denmark. As the name was too obvious, it was changed to "real-estate value tax." It is 1% of the assessed value of the house below $542,850, plus 3% of what's above. Based on home prices in Denmark, this adds up to a significant sum in short order. Every year we get a valuation on our house, which the government uses to tax the owner.
Almost every rule implemented, almost all due to climate, safety or similar odds and ends, costs extra in some form.
Contrary to common belief worldwide, our hospitals are not impressive… In "the best country in the world," 5,000 people die and 100,000 are injured from medical malpractice every year. One out of four hospitalized in Denmark picks up a new disease during hospitalization.
We are the world's top user of "happy pills" and alcohol. Our youth are among the heaviest drinkers. We have 500,000 (10 % of the population) alcoholics, and we are seeing more kids developing ADHD and eating disorders.
Couples in old-age homes risk separation to different retirement homes after 50 years of marriage. It is considered normal to offer old people a bath every seven to ten days, and it is right now being discussed to take away their daily lemonade from them.
We hardly ever see a police car in the streets anymore, except for the many speed traps that bring more money to the state. This is hardly efficient use of our workforce, considering it takes four years of education to become a police officer. Police officers have become a de facto collection muscle for the IRS. I just received a $270 fine for talking on a cellphone while driving.
While we have virtually no corruption in the police force – something that we should be grateful for and proud of – we also have a force blindly loyal to any orders from the system.
We have both public and private parking attendants everywhere, writing tickets for US$125, which is a lot of money, considering that you pay 50% tax first. The town hall of Copenhagen alone writes $18 million worth of parking tickets every year.
We never see our paycheck, as it goes through a public account called "Easy-ID." This means that anything you owe the public is automatically withheld from your account before you get it.
If you pull out more than $1,780 from your own bank account, the teller may ask you why, and if not satisfied, the bank clerk will report you to the Danish IRS; the same goes for any "suspicious" activities in your account. Should you get the stupid notion of opening a bank account outside Denmark, don't use a credit card. If a person residing in Denmark takes out money from a foreign account, it is reported to the IRS.
In one way or another, more than 90% of our wages goes back to the state in some form, but it is never enough. As our politicians are keen to say, "Either lose your standard of living or pay more tax." As elsewhere, never is a word uttered on saving. Predictably, there seems to be no end to public extravagance. The latest news is that local municipalities over the last five years have built 54 cultural centers. Not one cost below $8.9 million, and one of them ended up running $125 million. These boondoggles end up running in the billions of dollars. These "prestige" projects invariably experience significant cost overruns and end up costing a fortune to maintain.
For over two hundred years a "cooperative association," similar to a credit union or a mutual insurance firm, issued loans to homeowners so that everybody could afford a home. About ten years ago, the association's board turned the association into a company and sold it to the largest bank in Denmark without asking the "shareholders," which are also the mortgage holders. The proceeds, which should have been issued as dividends to the owners, were placed in a trust, which is now run by "friends of friends in high places," distributing money to various cultural events and programs. It's called the biggest fraud in Denmark. Nobody knows or cares.
So while we may not have obvious corruption in the traditional sense in Denmark, job perks and benefits from "good old boy" network access are the standard.
Steaks cost up to US$70 per kilo, a bottle of liquor runs over $26, plus there's a 25% VAT on everything. There is a 180% tax on cars, which of course also is reflected in equally expensive insurance rates. We have a graduated registration tax scheme on cars. Normal vehicles have white plates and are subject to a 180% sales tax; yellow plates are two-seated, company-cargo cars, where the backseats are permanently removed and which are in turn subject to less tax; and yellow/white for cargo cars with VAT paid and thus allowed to be used privately. If you drive a white-plated company car, you are heavily taxed if using it privately. This does not apply for cars driven by chauffeurs, as they are tax-free. All ministers have chauffeurs.
Almost all transactions in Denmark have numerous hidden taxes. To give an example, let me try to analyze an electricity bill for you. We pay around $0.35 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which is about $1,400 a year for a normal home. The basic price is roughly $0.078 per kWh, but after adding energy tax, appendix tax, distribution tax, energy saving (CO2) tax, public duties, transport of electricity, actual consumption and subscription, and 25% VAT, we end up with $0.35!
Gasoline is now at US$9.60 per gallon and still rising. By far the largest part of that price is tax.
And it's like that with almost everything in Denmark.
A Toyota Hilux pickup, which is similar to a Tacoma but has only four cylinders, is a two-seated car on yellow plates. You have the option not to pay VAT, but then you can't drive it privately. If you do and get caught, you have to pay full (white-plate) registration and a fine of the same amount. This Hilux, incidentally, costs $1,600 a year in road taxes.
A guy just got caught in a Ferrari on temporary plates. He was charged for private driving and got a combined ticket and registration tax for $1,070,000 PLUS six months in jail. It's considered tax evasion, and tax evasion is punished more severely here than violence. In normal law, the police have to prove you guilty. With the IRS, you have to prove your innocence. The IRS can conduct a search on your private property without a warrant.
A recent legislative proposal is that the buyer of a service from a craftsman can be held responsible if the craftsman fails to pay tax. That means that the buyer has to make sure that the service provider pays the tax!
For the sake of illustration, the latest survey of estimated prices for craftsmen in Denmark shows that companies charge the following hourly rates:
Carpenters and bricklayers
To compare, a policeman or nurse makes roughly $33 an hour – before taxes.
It will be illegal to pay a craftsman in cash on transactions exceeding US$1,780. Transactions exceeding that have to be done through bank transfer, so the Revenue Ministry can track in detail what you do with your money.
You are not allowed to carry more than $13,600 on you (included valuables) anywhere in Europe, unless you have declared them to the authorities.
By now you get the picture of what it takes to run a "paradise."
This paradise I have described isn't that peaceful, by the way. The Danish Hells Angels is the most violent chapter, punished for the most serious crimes. We have stabbings, robberies and shootings in the streets like all other cities. But like you, we don't notice it.
Danish people think they are free capitalists, but the truth is that we are a heavily regulated, bureaucratic, technocratic, fascist, socialist society. Sadly, the United States is rapidly joining us in the global group of nanny states.
But don't worry if you feel like your country is heading the same way, your personal freedom slipping away, your rights disappearing and your money being taken. You hardly notice it, and slowly, day by day, you will become accustomed to it.
Perhaps I am wrong, but since we never protest, we must like being kept.
Did I forget to mention laws regarding weapons in Denmark? You are not allowed to buy guns unless you are a registered hunter or member of a shooting club. No mace, spray, Tasers, etc. Only folding knives are permitted, and the blade can be no longer than three inches.
You want to defend yourself? Fill in a form and get in line at the nearest police station!
Jan Gindrup received his bachelor's degree in trade and shipping. He spent the next 21 years serving as a police officer in Denmark. After retiring from the police force, Jan served as a security consultant to a large Danish energy company. He is currently in construction and real estate.
This post first appeared at the Casey Daily Dispatch, and is reposted here by permission.