Uffe Elbaek's "The Next Denmark" points the way forward for many other societies
How might we tell a new story about freedom and community? This is the challenge that Uffe Elbaek, founder and leader of the Danish party Alternativet (and the inspiration for the Alternative UK platform), has set himself in a new paper, just published in English and available here.
It lays out "38 ideas for a future-proof Denmark" - some of the most original of which we'll highlight below. But Uffe's analysis applies to many other developed societies, grappling with challenges like climate change, automation, under-regulated markets, and the disconnection of citizens from their own democracy.
At the core, Uffe wants us to think differently about "freedom", and tell some new stories about it. As he says about the paper, titled "The Next Denmark":
It is a narrative about freedom which is about consideration of both what is best for the community and what is best for individuals to express their talents at the highest possible meaningful level.
It is thus also a narrative which is based on – and continues to be built on – the classic freedoms which are unfortunately being challenged and undermined to a great extent today, both in Denmark and elsewhere.
It is a narrative which at the same time radically breaks with what the late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman formulated as the dominant freedom narrative of our time: the freedom to consume.
And it is also a narrative which notes the obvious: how difficult it is to defend an understanding of freedom which depends on the absence of external compulsion and limitations--when we live on a planet with limited resources.
So this freedom narrative for The Next Denmark confronts the belief that economic growth sets us free. It points out that freedom is more than the right to own things and generate wealth. Conversely, the narrative is in fact about breaking free from our economic chains.
About freedom also stemming from the right to a good life, the right to closeness and the right to nature.
Finally, the narrative starts out from what I see as key political agendas:
- A revolt against the neoliberal economic system in favor of a democratically grounded ecological economic system, where production respects nature’s natural cycles and takes place within our planet’s capacity.
- A thorough democratization of our economy and society which increases the feeling of meaning and ensures a fair distribution of resources.
- A revolt against our "work and control" culture in favor of a "balance and trust" culture which makes it possible for everyone to live a good life where wealth is not only measured with material goods.
- A diverse and tolerant Denmark which believes in the best in people and recognizes the individual’s universal and inviolable rights and value, sees our differences as strengths, ensures equality before the law and genuine equal opportunities, and takes greater responsibility on a global level.
That's the big picture. But "The Next Denmark" freewheels with concrete ideas - some utopian, some practical, some reforming. It's the kind of high-energy that you'd want to have in your everyday life as a citizen. For example:
1. Give Nature Legal Rights (p.13-14): "In by far the majority of countries, nature is regarded as someone’s property, and that owners have the right to damage eco-systems and nature if they want to. It ought not to be like that in the future. In the same way as citizens have basic freedoms today, nature also ought to have rights, so that we create balance and cohesion" [for example, Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, India, Pittsburgh]
7. Generation houses (p.17-18): "To strengthen bonds across generations and ethnicities, we can integrate future institutions so that care homes, student housing, childcare and kindergartens are all under the same roof, a concept known as generation houses" (see the Aarhus example here)
12. Turnover tax (p.21): "That some of the world’s richest companies weasel their way out of paying tax, and thus undermine the structures of the societies which have contributed to making them successful, is not of course not sustainable....In this regard, a gradual transition of company taxation to a tax on turnover is a possibility. Over the last 18 years, the tax on company profits in Denmark has been reduced by 12 percentage points from 34% to 22% of a company’s taxable profit. By moving tax from profit to turnover, it will be much more similar to the way ordinary people pay tax; as we know, people pay tax on their income and not on what they have left after their bills are paid."
14. No taxes for start-up businesses (p22-23): "[We] should support a development where it becomes just as normal to be someone who takes a job as to be someone who creates a job. Politicians should make it easier to invest in and start a new business, and should consider how we can best support such a development. We should ensure that all startup companies, or at least those which are green or social-economic, do not have to pay tax in their first year of operation, for example. Or until they reach a certain size, so that they have greater potential to challenge and compete with established and large companies in the market."
18. From co-worker to co-creator (p. 25): "It may seem banal, but it is nevertheless important to underline that we need to practice democracy before we can understand it. That also applies to democracy in the workplace and the opportunity for individuals to exercise influence on their work.... Changes to the job market will not only happen through outside forces. Companies must also be reformed and democratized from within.
Employees should have greater influence on their working lives and workplaces, and opportunities for co-ownership and influence at work should be reinforced. It should also be made a legal requirement for employees to be offered the opportunity to get together to buy the business before it is taken over, sold abroad, closed down or goes public on the stock exchange."
19. The introduction of a 30 hour working week (p.27): "The introduction of a 30-hour working week can be justified in many ways, but overall it is an important vision for the future of society because it will generally increase freedom, improve quality of life, reduce stress and reduce the rate of disability in the population. A shorter working week will also be a solidary step for people outside the job market because it will open up opportunities for more people to join it and contribute to the community."
22. Citizen Parliaments (p. 30): "The quality of our democracy is directly dependent upon having the courage to renew and change it for the better – and managing to involve many more people in democratic processes....
"We could choose to expand the representation of the people and supplement Parliament with a citizen parliament. The idea of a citizen parliament comes from the researchers into the elite Mulvad, Ellersgaard and Larsen who in their book ’Tame the Elite” suggest setting up a parliament consisting of ordinary people, which contributes to the development of new policies and is given a mandate to arrange hearings and expert meetings in connection with legislative proposals and manifestos from the government.
"In that way, bridges can be built between people and elected representatives, because it is a requirement that members of the citizen parliament are selected by lottery in order to ensure a broader and more socio-economic representative makeup of the Parliament."
29. Culture as a Lever (p.34): "Many of the social challenges we have today can be solved in committed cultural interest communities. That can be in sports clubs, in communal kitchens, in music, visual arts, literature schools and groups, in community houses, in the local skater park or in a public garden.
"My starting point has always been that culture must be at the center of the development of society. That is because, among other things, of the ability of culture to create and strengthen communities. So in future, we should strengthen the cultural offerings significantly based on the precepts of culture being welfare – and culture can be a social lever which can also promote integration and cohesion. Both in the town and in the country.
"Culture in the broad sense – broader than today – should be cultivated as a political focus area in The Next Denmark. There can be house artist schemes in public, private or community-owned workplaces or institutions, where paid artists move in for a period and act as creative, gifted disruptors."
34. Social media as public service (p. 39): "If social media are to seriously honor their potential and reinforce democracy, it is essential to regulate them here and now, although in the long term it may prove necessary to re-think, and actually de-commercialize them. The task of establishing non-commercial social media could thus be put out to tender, perhaps to public service suppliers. A public service alternative to the commercial social media we know today would be able to ensure more beneficial change for society. Where users’ data is not something to be traded, where fake news can be combatted, where algorithms are publicly known and without any commercial interest, and where the platform is not financed by advertising.
"It is important to ensure that such public service alternative has a critical mass of users, so it could for example be a task for the European public service media to run together. It is also essential that the alternative is independent, so that users’ data does not fall into government hands. But with data not being used commercially, it would also mean less data being collected. At the same time we should cultivate social media alternatives which are decentralized, community-oriented and not commercially-run."
38. Not just the best country IN the world - the best country FOR the world: "Denmark’s role in creating a better, more peaceful world must be assertive and progressive. Whether it is in the European Union, the United Nations or other international organizations, and whether it is about the global climate struggle, the fight against inequality, taking responsibility for the most vulnerable people in the world or grappling with tech giants, Denmark must encourage close collaboration with high ambitions for the community. We must be committed and work intensely in order to ensure a future that is worth living for all citizens of the world and for future generations. We must be the best country in and the best country for the world."
There are many more suggestions - we recommend a comfortable (indeed "hygge"!) sit-down with a coffee and a long read. Thanks to our colleagues in Denmark for early access to this paper.