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OPINION

ECONOMY

Material wealth makes Americans more idealistic than Danes

In America things are not only bigger, but better. So says Henrik Fogh Rasmussen, the son of the former Danish prime minister, after 14 years of living in the United States.

Material wealth makes Americans more idealistic than Danes
"Material wealth is often a necessary condition for more idealistic pursuits," the author says. Photo: Colourbox
Ronald Reagan once said that if he could only get in a helicopter with Mikhail Gorbachev and fly over the United States, he would be able to turn the Soviet leader away from communism: “He would see how Americans live in clean and lovely homes, with a second car or a boat in the driveway.”
 
Reagan may have been naïve in his belief that he could change the mind of the Communist leader, but he was right to focus on the huge difference in living standards between the United States and the Soviet Union. Material living standards are not simply an indicator of wealth; they are also a great measure of the level of idealism and goodness in a society. 
 
Since moving to the United States 14 years ago, I have often been struck by the endless examples of much higher living standards in the United States than in Denmark: Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger grocery stores. And not just bigger – better, too, with a greater variety of goods for consumers to choose from. For instance, fresh and organic foods are much easier to come by at a decent price in the United States than in Denmark.
 
Earlier this spring, the World Bank quantified this difference in wealth. Drawing on data from 2011, the Bank estimates that so-called actual individual consumption (AIC) in the United States is $37,390 compared to $26,288 in Denmark. This is a difference of 42 percent.
 
AIC measures the value at purchasing power parity of goods and services consumed by each citizen in a given year. Importantly, the number takes into account the value of government-provided services. The large welfare state benefits in Denmark are thus included. AIC is widely accepted as one of the best measures of actual living standards. So, according to the World Bank, living standards in the United States are 42 percent higher than in Denmark.
 
One might object that life is not all about material wealth. As Robert Kennedy once put it, “the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
 
Fair enough. But does anyone really believe that lower material living standards improve your odds of pursuing the things that really matter in life? Material wealth is often a necessary condition for more idealistic pursuits. To take an obvious example: Think of all the free time that modern amenities such as washing machines and dish washers have created. While some people choose to waste this time, others invest the extra time available to them in playing with their children, volunteering, or putting extra hours into worthy professional pursuits.
 
Being an idealist is a lot easier in a society with a high standard of living. Perhaps this is why Americans tend to be more idealistic than Danes in my experience.
 

Henrik Fogh Rasmussen

Henrik Fogh Rasmussen is an Illinois-based communications consultant and the son of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister and current secretary general of Nato. This opinion article was previously published in the Danish-American newspaper Bien.

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SAS

‘We agree to disagree’: Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

By lunchtime on Friday, talks between the Scandinavian airline SAS and unions representing striking pilots were still stuck on "difficult issues".

'We agree to disagree': Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

“We agree that we disagree,” Roger Klokset, from the Norwegian pilots’ union, said at lunchtime outside the headquarters of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise in Stockholm, where talks are taking place. “We are still working to find a solution, and so long as there is still some point in continuing negotiations, we will do that.” 

Mats Ruland, a mediator for the Norwegian government, said that there were “still several difficult issues which need to be solved”. 

At 1pm on Friday, the two sides took a short break from the talks for lunch, after starting at 9am. On Thursday, they negotiated for 15 hours, breaking off at 1am on Friday morning. 

READ ALSO: What’s the latest on the SAS plane strike?

Marianne Hernæs, SAS’s negotiator on Friday told journalists she was tired after sitting at the negotiating table long into the night. 

“We need to find a model where we can meet in the middle and which can ensure that we pull in the income that we are dependent on,” she said. 

Klokset said that there was “a good atmosphere” in the talks, and that the unions were sticking together to represent their members.

“I think we’ve been extremely flexible so far. It’s ‘out of this world’,’ said Henrik Thyregod, with the Danish pilots’ union. 

“This could have been solved back in December if SAS had not made unreasonable demands on the pilots,” Klokset added. 

The strike, which is now in its 12th day, has cost SAS up to 130m kronor a day, with 2,550 flights cancelled by Thursday, affecting 270,000 passengers. 

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