Denmark is rich enough

It is time for political parties and the public to admit that, on average, our country is wealthy enough. Yes, I said it – Denmark is wealthy enough. The problem is that we’ve failed to use that wealth correctly, and it’s being distributed unequally and unfairly.

Last month, when I saw prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announce the government’s 2025 plan, I mostly felt exhausted. I was neither adversely nor positively surprised, because each proposal was so expected. I was just exhausted to the core. The plan was just one long list of how the Liberal Party (Venstre) government wants to move society further to the right.

My exhaustion probably stems from the fact that soon all possible visions and dreams will drown in economic assessments – even though these long-term plans have shown themselves to be hopelessly imprecise and ineffectual.

I had to look long and hard for visions about how Denmark could be, or should be. How Denmark could become more free, more entrepreneurial, more dynamic, more experimental, more healthy and more meaningful. Instead the plans have squeezed out all political vision out of a political

wanted to find visions that might perhaps force a political system that normally limits its thinking to annual budgets, to adopt a more innovative approach.

Instead of discussing visions, I could start an economic discussion, or use this blog to argue against all the ways the government plans to move us to the right. I could argue against cutting back SU (the government student grant system), against raising the pension age, against tax cuts for businesses, against handouts for property owners, etc.

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I am well and truly incensed over all the aforementioned objectives. When it’s my turn to present a 2025 plan, it’ll look completely different.

But I’d much rather try to understand how Lars Løkke Rasmussen came up with a plan that fails to mention the climate crisis once, when it is the biggest threat to peace, harmony and a hope-filled future that the world has ever faced. His plans also take the view that the only thing that motivates people are financial incentives, when we are increasingly realizing how important it is to have a meaningful life and job.

What the 2025 plan has made clear to me is that the government views the economy as a goal in itself. This thought is based on the thesis that economic investments and growth will automatically provide us with a better, healthier, happier and more meaningful lives. This is simply not true – far from it.

Because we get what we strive for. If we focus singularly on wealth – and everything goes well – we will get just that, but in the process miss out on so much else.

Some might protest this statement and point out that a correlation between wealth and wellbeing has historically been proven. That is true, to an extent. But the correlation has sadly shown itself to be limited. In the US, this limit was reached during the 1970s. Since then the country has became significantly richer, but this has not lead to better and more meaningful lives for its citizens. In fact, that trajectory is broken, something partially tied to the extreme increase in inequality that has taken place. And here at home, the evidence keeps piling up that the same happened a long time ago.

The distrust and level of control we face from employers, the state, schools and between each other, is making us depressed and anxious. We live under constant demands to hasten our step in the rat race, and these demands create stress and limit the time we have to spend with each other and our children.

A growth and consumption doctrine dictates Danish politics, despite its impact on the environment and the future. Both we and our children are increasingly exposed to pesticides heavy metals, the risk of MRSA infections, as well as air pollution – an increasing risk now that the the government has chosen fossil fuel cars, over electric ones, and has dropped a string of green investments.

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When our political focus fails to improve our lives, then I fail to understand why we choose to cling to this way of thinking. It doesn’t make any sense. Do our habits dictate our thinking that much?

The 2025 plan is long and thorough, I’ll give it that. But it includes nothing but a list of small tweaks that all stem from the same line of thinking that has brought about the issues we now face. And this is where the problem lies. Reality has caught up and overtaken the political parties that have been content with just making small adjustments.

I see it as our democratic duty to encourage greater expectations and ambitions. Also when it comes to the “administrative” parties. The reality is that we have no time to waste. Denmark and the world are being torn asunder by economic and geographical inequality and climate change. The lack of urgency is totally baffling. Why are we wasting all this time dancing around the growth and consumption totem pole?

It is high time that we all realize that, relatively speaking, Denmark is wealthy enough. Yes, I said it – Denmark is wealthy enough. The problem is that we are using out wealth in a completely wrong way. And that is why we need to move our focus away from growth economics. We must stop focusing on making everyone run faster and longer in service of a system and an ideology that is so clearly flawed. We need to move away from ever escalating consumption, which so obviously is destroying the planet we live on.

It’s high time that we all shift our gaze towards key areas that subsequent governments have failed to prioritise – environment and social policies.

The Alternative and I hope that we’ll distribute our substantial riches more evenly, not less. That we’ll start investing in people, opinions, the environment and a vision for the future.

And that is what our 2025 plan is about. And that is what our completely financed budget proposal – which will be published shorty – will show.

Uffe Elbæk is a member of the Danish Parliament and leader of The Alternative. This op-ed was originally published in Danish in Politiken newspaper.

Translation by Elias Thorsson.


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