An Internet friend recently posted a meme that posited the question Why is Denmark the Happiest Place in the World? and offered up “$20 Minimum Wage,” “33 Hour Work Week” and free school, child care and health care as the reasons. This bit of silliness has been rebutted all over the place, and not just in conservative circles (NPR and The Atlantic have recent pieces on this topic). The idea that the Scandinavian nations and their socialist-democracy societies are wonderful places to live and that they should serve as a model for how the USA should function has been around a long time, and has been quite resistant to challenge, at least in statist circles.

This socialist-democracy model is based on massive taxation and redistribution of wealth, government control and funding of health care, education through university level, other social services, and strong government control of business. While these are all dreams of America’s Left, they go along with something our Left doesn’t want to contemplate: massive taxation of the lower and middle classes. Another ignored fact – Sweden and Denmark have robust school choice, with funding even flowing through to private schools. But, lets set these aside for a moment and contemplate another matter that’s intricately tied (or perhaps even at the root of) the socialist-democracy model of those countries: a societal bias against individualism and individual success.

Back in the 1930s, an author named Aksel Sandemose wrote a book in which he presented something he called The Law of Jante (Jante is a fictional small town). This Law consists of ten rules:

  • You’re not to think you are anything special.
  • You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  • You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  • You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  • You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  • You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  • You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  • You’re not to laugh at us.
  • You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  • You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

This is a rather ugly indictment of a culture, and while there exist many sources that claim it’s exaggerated and outdated, there seems to be a sufficient consensus that the Law is an accurate reflection of the Scandinavian mindset.

Wikipedia offers some suggested reading under the Law of Jante entry. One of these is the entry for the Swedish world “Lagom.” Lagom is presented as a concept of moderation, meaning just the right amount. Another is Crab mentality, which refers to the notion that if I can’t have it, neither can you. The third of interest is the tall poppy syndrome, wherein those who excel are cut down out of resentment.

All this speaks to a mindset that’s antithetical to individualism and pursuit of individual happiness. Success should elicit guilt and prompt penance. Ambition should be moderated down to a societal average. Others’ success should be looked upon negatively when that success exceeds a certain level. Some sources suggest that this is a good thing in that it engenders realistic expectations, that it promotes a sense of community over self, and that it actually instills a work ethic. But, ask yourself, does the tamping down and dampening of individual ambition sound like a good and healthy thing? Does it fit in even remotely with the concept of the American Dream? Can we point at examples where holding back an ambitious and visionary entrepreneur benefited society? On the flip side, does anyone think that the welfare-entitled would happily roll this principle up into a renewed sense of obligation to the community, into a work ethic, into a belief that they need to be productive to a certain level because they’re not special?

Emulating a model that one deems successful by cherry-picking one or two features of that model (e.g. socialized medicine, free college) that one likes and ignoring the rest of the model not only doesn’t work, it will typically produce negative results. How does one provide “free” healthcare without massively expanding tax revenues? Soaking America’s rich won’t provide that money – it’ll require taxing EVERYONE more, as the Europeans do. America’s taxation system is FAR more progressive than most of those in old Europe (i.e. in America, the lower income classes are subject to much lower taxation than the wealthy), and that’s not something that those who desire European-style governance here are willing to admit or remedy. But, even if America were to adopt a Scandinavian government model, the American mindset is so radically different from the Law of Jante mentality that it’s hard to contemplate anything but disaster from such an attempt.

The Law of Jante, on the other hand, does read quite well as an indoctrination intended to keep the working classes subjugated to a ruling elite. Perhaps THAT is what appeals most to our modern liberals.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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