Be More Danish, You Newfoundlanders!

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A Letter to the Editor, by “Crusty Dusty”

The week it was announced the airport made a $5 hike in the now $35 “Airport Improvement Fee” I went on a social media blackout, to avoid the misguided mass hysteria. We’re far too angry to calm down, breathe, and read up on how more progressive places feel about taxes and fees.

Here in Newfoundland, we act like taxes and fees are out to get us, when really, they’re out to improve our surroundings, our lives, our cities — it’s about society pooling together to enjoy a better collective daily life. (Supposing your government isn’t useless.)

I winter in Florida, where there are tollbooths everywhere, and you know why no one cares about 50 cents here and there? Because the roads are PRISTINE on account of the toll fee paying for road maintenance! It’s a pleasure to drive in Florida compared to the potholed roads of NL. But if you try and toll a Newfoundlander to help pave potholes, HAH! I can see the Facebook mob now!

Small fees fund big societal perks. High taxes in Sweden and Denmark are verifiably WHY the Swedes and Danes rave about their hometowns and quality of life. It’s called society: we all chip in for the things we all enjoy.

There is this place called “The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).” It exists solely to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. They created a thing called the Better Life Index, based on 11 measurements of quality of life including housing, jobs, community, health, and life satisfaction, to discern which countries had the happiest people in the world.

In that study, as with many others, Danish people consistently rank themselves as the happiest. Now, it could be because they have remarkable income equality, and make more bacon than they can consume, but it’s more likely because they have one of the world’s highest rates of income tax, and that tax money buys them the kinds of societal perks that make them happy. Instead of blowing their cheques on iPhones and boots, a bigger portion of it goes towards parks and free university. Note: it’s a progressive tax system where people earning over 61,500 euros a year pay 7% higher taxes.

Meik Wiking of Denmark’s Happiness Institute has famously said, “Denmark’s welfare model turns our collective wealth into well-being. We are not paying taxes. We are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life. I see countries such as the United States and South Korea having achieved tremendous growth in the past decades, but failing to convert wealth into well-being for the people.”

Education is free in Denmark, there is no tuition fee at university. And every student is given $900 a month from the state! “This means I won’t have to worry about how to finance my kid’s education,” Wiking has said, “It will be their talents and dreams that shape the path of their careers, not the size of my wallet.”

The Danes also get 5 weeks paid vacation! And parental leave that lessens the financial burden of bringing more happy Danes into the world. It totals 52 weeks. Not to mention high quality healthcare for free.

Maybe our problem in North America is our greed — we want our hard-earned money to buy something for ME not US. We want new clothes or a lavish meal out, but not to cough up money to help fund a community library or … fancier airport.

Various economic organizations have studied the OECD study, and they all say some variations of ” The happiest people in the world enjoy loads of tax-funded social services.” So, the government isn’t out to get you. It just needs some of your money to make the world go round. Think about it next time you flush your toilet (sewer systems!) or make it through a traffic intersection safely, because of tax-funded traffic lights.

As for the airport fee, c’mon. You can’t even buy a pint in the departures lounge at our airport. You can’t get a hot meal before a flight! (weird heater-lamped sandwiches are not meals). So screw it, I’ll pay $35 per outgoing flight to fix that. Because where is our airport going to get the money to build more space for more things? Thin air? Don’t be greedy minded: if you can afford the ridiculous airfare of Air Canada, you have some spare change for the airport.

That’s not to say government or corporations like the airport don’t mess things up sometimes, and make poor investment decisions, they do. NL’s credit rating is shot because of shoddy leaders. But that’s on us for electing fools. Get some bright minds in government, and give them a chunk of your income, and maybe, just maybe, Newfoundland would be a deadly spot to call home.

Norway has nearly no debt: it’s why they can afford great social services, healthcare, education, etc.  We can’t even afford a new mental health system.

I know, you can’t compare Denmark to NL for reasons X and Y. I’m just saying: we have to pay income tax. We might as well start seeing the bright side of it. And start pressuring government to do better with it.

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8 Comments

  1. The island portion of the province is ten times the size of Denmark but Newfoundland and Labrador have one tenth of the population as they do. To be more like the Danes would mean moving everyone to St John’s lest we be taxed to death. Don’t be an idiot.

    • Agree. And Norway invested its oil boom riches early with only has the population of toronto to support with that money. Add to that, the amount of industry, links to EU benefits and lack of isolation make this comparison almost totally impossible. IF NL had 6 million people, mostly on east coast, with a permanent connection to mainland and industry and didnt have a federal/prov tax structure and and and.. not even worth comparison. Denmark is a great place, just not a model for NL. Look more closely at Iceland, but again some of the above differences.

  2. I take issue with some specific points in this article, in particular its implications that it would be easy for NL to achieve the same level of social services enjoyed in Denmark and how it ignores the fact that the current NL approach to finance has been to increase taxes AND reduce expenditures (very un-Danish). The author rightly acknowledges that taxes are only beneficial government spending is being overseen by people who know what they’re doing. On that note, I would suggest that a big part of the anti-tax sentiment going around ultimately boils down to a feeling that tax dollars aren’t being used to increase anyone’s well-being (e.g. Muskrat Falls).

    Having said that, I think the main thrust of this article was something else. I think what it ultimately tried to convey was the idea that taxes, where effectively managed by the government, are intended to increase well-being overall and should be regarded as such. This stands in contrast to a lot of the rhetoric I hear characterizing taxes as legal robbery.

    A lot of the anti-tax talk I hear these days focuses on the right of taxpayers to keep their hard-earned and do with it what they please. There are a couple of problems with that idea. First, it assumes that the distribution of economic resources is fair on its face or that unfairness isn’t a bad thing, which I would say it most certainly is both from a moral and economic perspective (on this point the article notes the lack of income inequality in Denmark – in large part a function of the progressiveness of its tax system – i.e. those who can pay more, do pay more. It also notes the equalizing effect of free education and the economic benefit of that). Second, it assumes that individuals are able to allocate their resources more effectively than government, thus able to achieve greater efficiency overall – probably also not true considering how much money we all waste at Tim’s and Starbucks. Third, it fails to acknowledge that there are some benefits which the government is simply better positioned to provide and the provision of which betters society as a whole (e.g. sewer system, public roads, parks, etc.).

    To a degree, I think the article rightly points out that the logical fallacies that underpin this anti-tax perspective are more easily swallowed on account of greed. The bigger issue to me, though, is shortsightedness. Everybody wants good roads, everybody wants affordable education, everybody wants a good police service, but nobody wants to pay for them even though we know that somebody has to. Ultimately, I think the big thing that Denmark has that we don’t is an appreciation for the link between taxes and social services – they understand that taxes are part of what makes their lives enjoyable and they don’t mind paying for that. That, I think, is something that we could stand to learn.

  3. I don’t want Crusty Dusty’s collectivist, big government nanny-state. I don’t mind user fees because I, as an individual, am paying for services that I am choosing to use. But I do not want to pay higher income taxes so that my neighbour’s kid can get a “free” university degree in gender studies or Lithuanian basket-weaving or something. Some tax is necessary so that the government can provide basic services, but I do not want government trying to create a utopia, they should primarily be concerned with keeping as much money as possible in the pockets of individuals.

      • Utopia would be nice, but I assure you that the hyper-regulated, bloated, politically correct-by-enforcement nanny-state is not how to get there, but in fact how to quickly end up in Stalin’s USSR. We need less government, for cheaper, not morefor more money.

        • Stalin was a psychotic mass murderer responsible for tens of millions of deaths. The article started with a $5 airport fee hike and you landed at Stalin? Congratulations on proving the author’s point about people griping online, and then some.

      • It’s a subjective thing. Government should keep well out of the way and let hard-working individuals build the kinds of lives that they want. High taxes and overregulation impedes this.

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