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.


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.