New story: Danes dig globalization

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My September trip to Denmark has finally resulted in actual print-on-paper article that’s in the new issue of Time and online here. It’s a lot shorter than I had banked on. Actually, that’s not quite right: Its two pages are about as much space as I had ever hoped to get in the U.S. edition of Time, but the original plan had been to run a longer version in the European edition. The European advertising stars failed to align to provide enough space in this week’s issue, however, so it’s two pages worldwide. I may post the extended dance version here soon, although it will make for an awfully long blog post. Anyway, the article begins:

Last year Danish toymaker Lego announced plans to outsource most of its manufacturing to Eastern Europe and Mexico. Of 1,200 blue collar jobs at Lego’s headquarters in the town of Billund, only about 300 would remain.

You might think this would make union leaders at Lego hopping mad. You’d be wrong. “We thought it was the best way to keep as many workers’ places in Denmark as possible,” maintenance man and union shop steward Poul Erik Pedersen tells me. “We aren’t against the management. We want to make sure that they make money and we make money.” Then, unprompted, he takes the argument a step further: “There are some good things about outsourcing. Where the jobs go, the standard of living is growing, and then they can afford to buy more Legos or other things from the West.”

In most of the developed world, globalization is a deeply fraught topic. Not in Denmark. There, 76% of respondents in a recent poll said globalization was a good thing. And why shouldn’t they? Living standards in Denmark are among the highest in the world. Per capita income trails that of the U.S. but is distributed far more equally. Unemployment is just 3.1%. The country exports more goods and services than it imports. And while only two Danish corporations (shipper A.P. Moller-Maersk and the Danske Bank) are big enough to make the FORTUNE Global 500 list, Denmark has more than its share of smallish, nimble, outward-looking firms well positioned in growth areas ranging from alternative energy to health care to high-end furniture.

All that adds up, according to the latest rankings from the World Economic Forum (WEF), to the third most competitive economy on the planet. But while economic competitiveness has often been sold as something that requires long hours, low taxes and minimal government–a litany often heard in the U.S.–Denmark doesn’t fit that bill at all. Denmark has the second highest tax burden in the capitalist world (after Sweden, which is just behind it in the competitiveness rankings), a generous welfare state, a heavily unionized workforce and at least five paid weeks off every year. Read more.

That 76% polling number comes from the Eurobarometer 65 survey, conducted in spring 2006. Those surveyed were asked whether the term “globalisation” brought to mind “something very positive, fairly positive, fairly negative or very negative.” Of the Danes, 22% said very positive and 54% fairly positive. By comparison, only 3% of the French were very positive and 26% fairly positive. Now in my article I take the big leap of assuming that positive feelings about globalisation are the same as positive feelings about globalization. This is called “journalistic license.” Or maybe “journalistic licence.”

A couple of articles I should note because they get into more detail about certain aspects of the Danish system and helped inspire me to write this one: “Denmark, the Model,” by Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic in January, and “For the Danish,
a Job Loss Can Be Learning Experience
,” by Marcus Walker in the WSJ last year.

Finally, the new World Economic Forum competitiveness rankings are here. The U.S. tops the list (Switzerland is No. 2). So clearly, the Danish path to competitiveness isn’t the only path. I just wanted to make the point that the Anglo-American path isn’t the only one either.

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