Are equality and fairness feasible? A view from Denmark

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The Eu...

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The European Union (EU). (Grey) Europe. (Light-grey) The surrounding region. See also: Category:SVG locator maps of countries of Europe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lisbeth Lyngs

Lane Kenworthy poses the question “Is equality feasible?” in his text on income equality, and then continues to answer this himself in the first sentence: yes. A high rate of income equality is feasible, as he mentions is the case in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The Scandinavian model, where the people get many societal benefits in return for paying high taxes is, according to Kenworthy, indirectly connected to the countries’ low income inequality and “fairness” of the system. As a Dane myself I find this view interesting, and I would like to give my input on the Danish welfare model’s good and bad points and further discuss the “fairness” of this system.

Every child, regardless of where they live or what their parents’ occupation and income is, starts off on equal social ground. Free daycare institutions, public schools and education allow them equal possibility to utilize their abilities—not to worry about getting sick either, since universal health care is also free. Parents get payed child benefits from the state until the child is 18 years old, whereafter every Dane over the age of 18 is entitled to a public support for his or her further education—and should they suddenly be without work, they will receive social security benefits regardless of their position.

All this is only made possible by our taxing fee, which is one of the world’s highest. It is nearly 40% for the average wage receiver, and over 50% for the high wage receiver. In other words, the richer you are, the more you also pay in taxes.

Now, I do not think many Danes would argue that this is not “fair”—they give as much as they take from society. Still, problems arise, e.g. when immigrants gets incorporated in this system. Denmark has a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Eastern Europeans tend to cross the border to find temporary work, while the majority of people from the Middle East come to Denmark in the hopes of finding better life conditions for themselves and stay. And as with the Danes, these people are entitled to receive the social benefits too, after having either worked or lived in Denmark for a certain amount of time.

It is then, that the “fairness” of this system suddenly gets put into question because admittedly, a lot of Danes do not like immigrants “leaching” off of their money in this particular manner. The Polish worker, who has a wife and two kids back in Poland, comes to Denmark to work and thus entitles himself to receive child benefits—which he sends straight home to his family, meaning his Danish colleagues are suddenly paying for people outside their country and society. Meanwhile the Middle Eastern families may experience tough times without work, receive money from the state, and thus further revoke the Danes’ question as to what is a fair handling of their money.

This has been an issue in Danish politics for as long as I can remember. More so since the economic crisis broke out, and Denmark’s economy dropped low and the unemployment rate went up, putting even more pressure on the welfare system’s dependency on people receiving wages and paying tax. The system may be good in creating equality and high social security for its people, but I would argue that just as it has its strength in the people, it also has its weakness. It promises to secure the people in its society, but if too many lose their jobs due to e.g. labor cuts, or their will to pay tax becomes poisoned by the “unfairness”, then where does that lead us?

Lane Kenworthy says equality is feasible, and if the Scandinavian model is proof of this, then yes. But even so, this equal society faces its hardships, relying heavily on the people to support it. Immigrants and a higher rate of unemployed people may put pressure on this system by raising questions of what is “fair” and “just”. An equal society may be feasible, but even then its questionable whether it is “just” and what then makes a society “fair”.


Kenworthy, Lane. 2007. “Is Equality Feasible?” Contexts 6(3):28-32.

Privatization and jiko sekinin

by Sayaka Maeda

Anne Allison analyzed the movement toward “individual responsibility” (jiko sekinin) in her book Precarious Japan. She said that the Koizumi administration went ahead with the policy: aligning with big business, privatizing more and more of government services under the banner of jko sekinin, and investing too little in social programs, including welfare, and it lead to falling worker’s wages, and increase of homelessness. She argued that Japan is already exposed to poverty.

I agree jiko sekinin has brought those negative points. Privatization causes cost cuts, and the reduced costs are labor costs. Therefore, the number of the unemployed and non-regular employment increases, or the workers may be fired, and some people lose their home, and become homeless and net café refugees. In addition, compared with state-owned companies, private companies need to seek profit. Therefore, I think there are national companies which should not privatize.

However, privatization has merits. First, it increases efficiency and productivity. In addition, the competition among companies occurs, and service and technology improve. Government’s income also increases.

Although privatization causes a lot of problems, and even if a privatized company benefits, the victims (by personnel cuts) should not exist. I think it is important to have limited government where jiko sekinin is needed, but social welfare should be assured for the right that people can live with security.

Now many of state-run companies were privatized, for example, the post office, JR (the former national railway), and some airports. Allison also talked about the Gold plan, which is the policy in which the government has shifted more responsibility to individuals and introduced measures to restructure care away from doctors and hospitals to more home-based care. These days, it is discussed whether a public nursery school should be privatized or not. By the privatization, they can increase the number of nursery schools, and receive more children, however, it becomes difficult to employ nursery school teachers for a long time.

On April 2014, the government increased the consumption tax from 5 % to 8 % to improve social welfare, for example, medical care and pensions, to address the aging population and declining birthrate. I think we have to watch whether the government properly uses our tax. In precarious Japan, I think the government should take measures as soon as possible.

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From precarious Japan to secure Denmark?

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

After reading some parts of Allison’s book, my view about Japan changed. I was thinking of getting a job in Japan after graduating from my university, without a doubt.

Actually, perhaps I can get a good job to some extent because Japan is gakureki shakai (if you graduate from famous university, you are guaranteed to get a good job, to some extent) and my university is famous in Japan. Japanese companies, however, have some disadvantageous aspects such as overwork, less holidays, lack of labor unions, and so on. Also, according to Allison, Japanese society is precarious. For example, relationless, and high rate of suicide. Sometimes I also feel these problems Allison mentioned, so these precarious affect my life plan.

Just then, I learned that Nordic societies are very different from Japan. There are high tax rates, high welfare, and everyone is guaranteed to have life that people should have. Denmark especially is famous for being the happiest country in the world ( People in Denmark do not need to pay money from elementary school to university, and for medical costs. And after retirement, they are guaranteed to have enough pension to live a life. This society is very opposite to Japanese precarious society.

The sense of well being is also different from Japanese to Danish. According to Aya Omoto, Danish put their happy on everyday life. They feel happy for the things we tend to be matter of course, such as talking with friends, having food, being healthy. To the contrary, it might be said that we Japanese tend to feel happy for being superior to other people, having much amount of money, and working hard to get fame. For this reason I strongly come to be interested in Danish society because I like a sense of well-being. Danish have.

Living and working abroad became one of the way to live a happy life for me, however, there is a saying : The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. If I were born in a Nordic country, I might think that I wanted to be born in Japan, and vice versa. It can be said that there are no perfect countries in the world, and there are absolutely some bad points. For these reasons, I might get a job in Japan and want to work in many countries through a Japanese company, and in this mean my ibasho can be said to be the earth itself, and I want to make relationship in the world.

Family, work, and security

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

by Natsuki Ota

I hope that I will spend my life with enough money in the city, and I can have a family and a particular job with secure. Although Japan is in a precarious condition now, I would like to live with getting along with people around me. I show my future expectation from three points. First, I talk about having a family. Second, I will get a general enterprise and take a stable salary. Third, I expect relationships with people for my bright life. I desire that I get a regular job and have a connection with people including family.

To begin with, I will marry a man who can earn a stable salary in my late-twenties to thirty because I would like to work in the society, not depend on the income of my husband, and support each other in the family. And I will have up to two children because bringing up a child costs a plenty of money. It is difficult to earn enough money to take care of many children in such a bad economic condition, for example rising taxes, declining salaries. Moreover, I may have no time to take care of my children due to working, because Japan does not have sufficient circumstance that women can manage both of working and childcare. My plan almost refers to Anne Allison’s vision. “The overall social trends are away from marriage and family,” (Anne Allison, 2013, p.33) Therefore, I hope that Japan can become a society in which it is easier for women to do that in the future. If the condition is improved, the overall social trends will change for the better.

Second of all, I desire that I get an enterprise as regular worker which secures my welfare. According to Anne Allison, the wage disparity between regular and irregular employment exists in Japan. Although being hired as a regular worker is good, removing the disparity is the best. My finding a job may be difficult, as Anne Allison wrote, it is harder for youth to get a job because companies tend to hire senior workers. This is a big influence on me because I heard about my acquaintance’s hard job-hunting.

Finally, I make connections with people such as family and neighbors in order to prevent solitary death, and have my family look after me when I age. My ibasho arises in such relationship. In my opinion, ibasho is the space and place which needs me, so workplace and family is my ibasho.

In conclusion, the current Japanese unstable situation has a big impact on our future. In particular, the bad economy leads to various problems such as rising taxes, reducing wages and even family style. So I will work hard to support ny family and I hope that Japan become the place which women can more easily do both job and childcare.


Anne Allison (2013). Precarious Japan. Duke University Press. (pp. 1-42)