Scandinavia Best Model for Happiness

The recent youth-led uprisings’ horizontal organizing was effective in ousting old dictators, but not in establish democratic governments to replace them. The young activists agree that socialist countries like China don’t provide a model to emulate and focus on local DIY self-help. But Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway provide models of how to create equality and break the power of the oligarchic 1%, while also encouraging private enterprise with mixed economies. They don’t permit poverty to exist, aim for full employment and gender equality, and education and health care is free. The Social Progress Index ranks countries, not by GDP, but quality of life factors such as health, access to education, religious freedom and personal safety.[i] In 2013 the top countries were New Zealand, Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands. The Scandinavians were in the top ten while various African countries were in the bottom. In Denmark, Carl (15) reports that university students get paid to get an education, about the equivalent of $1,500 USD a month. However, he thinks the payment should be reduced and more spent on social welfare and defense.

Sweden was called the “rock star of the recovery” after the Great Recession, until the Riksbank raised interest rates, creating deflation and stagnation.[ii] Swedish professors acknowledge that because of neoliberal policies, “even the Swedish welfare state “shed its skin” in an “epoch shift.”[iii] Without adequate social support, unemployed immigrant youth have rioted in Sweden, as well as progressive Denmark, Holland, Germany, and France igniting opposition from right-wing nationalist political parties with increasing numbers of supporters. Although university is free in Sweden, graduates still accumulate debt to pay for living costs as most don’t live with their parents, and youth unemployment is higher than the UK’s. Aging populations present economic challenges along with increasing inequality.

A British critic married to a Dane, Michael Booth says of the homogeneous Nordic countries, “These societies function well for those who conform to the collective median, but they aren’t much fun for tall poppies. Schools rein in higher achievers for the sake of the less gifted; ‘elite’ is a dirty word; displays of success, ambition or wealth are frowned upon.”[iv] He ironically named his book The Almost Perfect People: Behind the Myth of Scandinavian Utopia (2014). Despite their imperfections he concludes they provide the best model of governments that lead happy citizens, “enviably rich, peaceful, harmonious, and progressive.”[v] One of the key contributions to happiness is a feeling of autonomy and ability to rise up the economic ladder. He explained the historical background that led to this egalitarianism, mutual trust, social cohesion, economic and gender equality, rationalism, and modesty. As agrarian populations, they learned to work together and essential to social mobility is excellent free education and social welfare programs.

In the 1930s, labor movements organized general strikes and boycotts and Social Democrats were elected to lead parliament for three decades before Conservatives returned to the ruling coalition in Sweden and Norway.[vi] Many European youth would like to experience the Scandinavian model—despite high youth unemployment in countries like Sweden (23% in 2013). However, the recession doesn’t allow replication of the nanny state of cradle to grave security, as the Scandinavian model is “based notably on high employment rates and huge state-financed aid for students.”[vii]


[ii] Paul Krugman, “Sweden Turns Japanese,” New York Times, April 20, 2014.

[iii] Philip Lalander and Ove Sernhede, “Social Mobilization or Street Crimes,” Educare, 2011.;jsessionid=68FA047C639675D4F8D8622D0AFA23D4?sequence=2

[iv] Michael Booth, “Dark Lands: The Grim Truth Behind the ‘Scandinavian Miracle,’” The Guardian, January 27, 2014.

[v] Michael Booth. The Almost Perfect People. Picador, 2014, pp. 367-369.

[vi] George Lakey, “How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 percent,’” Waging Nonviolence, January 25, 2012. r

[vii] Matias Garrido, “Young Europeans would Like to be Scandinavian,”, January 28, 2009.

Lorenza Antonucci, “Is Sweden Perfection?” Inequalities, March 2, 2011.

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