Scandinavia and Germany

Sune, from the comments, writes:

As a scandinavian I'm surprised by the admiration for Germany.

We often talk of Germany as being a step behind in economic policy with their labor market being so rigid, and the still significant power of unions.

When I first visited West Germany, in 1985, it was arguably the best-functioning social democracy.  You could mail a letter for single-day delivery anywhere in the Bundesrepublik, the concept of "deutsche Wertarbeit" was near its peak, Mercedes was the gold standard of automobiles, and the northwest industrial areas had not yet been hollowed out (though they were suffering).  The country also had among the world's best systems for mass transit and urban planning, as well a high living standard and lots of vacation time, all topped off by what was arguably the world's most curious, most travel-hungry, and most intellectual population.

Since then, unification cost a lot of money, and delayed progress, but the country hasn't exactly fallen apart.  It retains many of these virtues, albeit with some fraying at the edges.  What it has gained since 1985 is a greater feeling of normalcy, a stronger identity as European, much better levels of customer service, and the final aging and (mostly) disappearance of a large number of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.  Those who were sixty, and running the country, are now eighty-five and mostly dead or retired.  Those are some big gains.

The Nordic countries have in some ways moved ahead.  The stunning contemporary architecture of Copenhagen sets the city apart from most of Germany, which now has a somewhat tired-looking infrastructure and a great number of mediocre postwar buildings.  Denmark also has made bigger strides toward economic freedom.  Sweden has shown it can cut spending, reinvent itself, and circumvent what appeared to be a dire fiscal future; this was not apparent in 1985.  Sweden also has done very well by globalization and information technology.  Norway has mobilized its oil and gas wealth to greater degree and strengthened its good governance.

Still, either then or now, I'd rather live in Germany, even if it is harder for larger countries to turn on the proverbial dime.  The country has dealt with more serious problems, so its performance has been less in absolute terms.  But in part it's had more serious problems because it is a more interesting place.  Germany is bigger and more diverse than the countries to the north.  At the very least I would reject the portrait of Germany as a country which has fallen behind the other major social democracies.


The Scandinavian countries are all becoming more and more free-market. Sweden in particular made a rather wonderful turnaround and now had become quite wealthy. :-)

Yay, free market.

Social-Democratic Germany ... hmmm (the Dane said). I wonder how Count von Bismarck and Konrad Adenauer would react to being called Social Democrats.

We should probably distinguish between the Rhineland Capitalism model (commercial banks do the financing instead of investment banks and stock exchanges) which sets Germany apart from the Anglo-Saxon world (for political economy nerds: The LME/CME distinction). To some degree the Nordic countries are more "German" than "Anglo-Saxon" here.

On the other hand, the German welfare state (and education system) is obsessed with the maintenance of social status - the Nordic systems are a bit different here.

The posts on Germany are interesting - but I somehow keep getting the feeling that I'm reading about Sweden.

Oh and by the way - re: Informality. In his blog, the Swedish foreign minister mentions Frederik and David publishing a piece about the need for economic reforms. I cannot for the life of me imagine Guido Westerwelle stating publicly that Angela and Nick will be cooperating on saving the EMU.

I visited a friend in Denmark last week. The entire state and economy is built as a house of cards. In my conversations with him and others I often asked how likely it was to come crashing down in the next thirty years. I couldn't find anyone that gave it less than 60 percent chance of crashing.

Do you think Germany is any different?

Oreg, I agree. I worked in Germany and Denmark a few years ago, and was shocked to discover how shabby and run down Copenhagen seems by comparison to Munich or Duesseldorf. German infrastructure seems at least 10 years ahead of Denmark's, the airports are about 30 years ahead.

What if you're a mother who would like to combine parenting with having a decent job? Germany appears to be awakening from its long slumber, but right now the Scandinavian countries are way ahead on this metric.

As a brown-skinned immigrant to the US, I find all this praise for Scandinavia and Germany overblown. The US is simply light years ahead of these places in welcoming immigrants. So we have more crime and more inequality here, and people are more ignorant about where I come from, but also they care much less. I much prefer the insular, un-curious but genuine and open-minded Americans to curious, knowledgeable but Orientalist Europeans.

Tyler, there have always been medium term swings in relative infrastructure quality in continental (yes, I would like to stress the word continental if I may - Britain has a more secular, long-term trend approach because of its voluntary idiosyncrasy and head-in-the-whatever stance) Europe because, locally, public money follows at best a medium term cycle. This is not the rapid-feedback, private sector, remember. And those swings are exacerbated by national boundaries. But then, I suppose, they make life nicer for the rapidly growing number of people like me with homes in several countries, and provide us with some sort of diversity...

Slightly OT, but for really interesting contemporaneous architecture in the area I recommend a visit to Rotterdam.

Even by American standards, Berlin is not in the area of Rotterdam.

It is by Texas standards. It's only 690 Km on the A2. Should take you about 5 hrs.

Here in the Midwest (USA), Germans are well-liked. But Turks? Well...they aren't so popular any more.

Stop argueing your caricatures of Scandinavia and Germany rightwingers.
The entire premise is wrong, union power in Germany is lower than in Scandinavia. A certain degree of neoliberalism like on will employment is tolerated by Unions that are stronger than in Germany due to the many offseting factors that dont exist in Germany. German unions on the other hand, they sure do fight that neoliberalism, because there isnt much to fall back on in Germany for those that do lose their job - new jobs with lifing wages are scarer, unemployment insurance is far less genersous, disability pensions riquere far more health problems and are less generaous to get, requalifiaction is limited, all less generous in Germany. And why do i have this naging idear that the big nordic public sector also has a lot to do with the ability to get another well paid job. Scandinavia can sometimes be more authoritarian when it comes to those that fall through the entire system to the bottom to those on outright welfare, but its much much harder to get there in Denmark or Sweden, context matters, and context seems to be willfull ignored.

'It is by Texas standards. It's only 690 Km on the A2. Should take you about 5 hrs.'

At 3am in the morning. maybe.

And maybe by Texas standards, but then, I am not a Texan. I was born and grew up in northern Virginia, and am certain that my state will not be erasing Thomas Jefferson from its history books any time soon, to give one example of a difference between the two states. Using this link - - and the standards I am accustomed to on the East Coast, roughly 400 miles is the distance between Washington DC and such nearby cities as Ann Arbor, Michigan (679 km), Knoxville, Tennessee (691 km), and Montpelier, Vermont (704 km).

And as a bonus, the city of Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is only 734 km away from DC. And yet, I have never heard anyone in the mid-Atlantic call Ottawa nearby. Actually, I have never heard a Canadian call DC nearby either. But then, who knows? Maybe a Texan would.

At 3am in the morning. maybe.

What I like about Tyler is that whenever he makes a ludicrous, demonstrably untrue statement such as "The stunning contemporary architecture of Copenhagen sets the city apart from most of Germany, which now has a somewhat tired-looking infrastructure", he never bothers to correct it. What a farce.

@Paul: You say that Norway receives all of the benefits of the EU and pays none of the costs.

That is demonstrably untrue. Norway pays the biggest amount to the EU per capita, and does NOT have any representation. That's a bad deal.

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