By Henry Milander, Foster Undergraduate who participated in an exchange with Copenhagen Business School (CBS).
Through my interactions with Danes and class on Scandinavian corporate social responsibility, I was fortunate enough to learn about Denmark’s welfare system, particularly as it pertains to employment. Democratic socialism includes holding the belief that people should live and work when they are able while still having a safety net to help them during rough times when they cannot. Denmark’s flex security system allows companies to easily hire and fire in order to survive recessions and prosper in booms while allowing the labor force to keep having a hyggeligt [read: cozy, enjoyable, stress free] time by receiving up to 90% of their previous salary for up to two years before dropping down to a base amount.
What might seem like a miracle for those reading this with experience with the USA’s unemployment benefit system, this flex security system wasn’t the first iteration. It was instead one of many steps in Denmark’s policy development towards a society where those who can work, work, and those who can’t are taken care of until they can. It started in the 1980’s with the state’s inclusive labor policy, which meant that companies are required to hire those who can work, regardless of their ability so long as they are paid for the work rendered by a normal or average worker.
I was fortunate enough to visit one of Frederiksberg’s mentally disabled residencies, which is run by pedagogues whose job is one of social education. While most of the residents in the building are old and unable to work, there are several who hold jobs at places around the city. One for example works as a dishwasher at a restaurant. The deal is that the restaurant pays for the actual work rendered and the kommune (Danish local government center) pays the wage differential between that and the work of the ‘average’ worker. In this way business and society reconcile their two priorities: having access to labor at the fair price and minimizing unemployment. I am happy to see such a practice happening in Washington State, and hope that it grows and is institutionalized as its social and economic benefits are recognized. As for such a generous system as flex security, I think it best not to hold my breath. However, moving towards a system which can better catch people before they truly fall to the bottom makes fiscal and business sense, both to the company who’d like to hire that person during the upturn and the government who’d have to pay for more welfare benefits.