…because some thoughts are worth remembering
“An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation” ~Enrique Peñalosa Londoño, Mayor of Bogotá
Increasingly in the U.S., the public services offered by government are under scrutiny: from public schools to public transportation, their standards are being questioned or whether they should be funded at all.
In Scandinavian countries, the striking difference (besides the fact that public services are well-funded by their tax system) is that everyone—the rich and the poor—takes part in it, from child care services that can start as early as 6 month olds to free university education, including Ph.D. programs. Because everyone–the young and the old–directly benefit from these public services and programs. They see value both in the tax system (and one of the highest rates its citizens are assessed), but furthermore, they see it as their duty.
In Denmark, you pay 3 times for a car compared to the suggested retail price the car due to taxes and fees. That’s one way of getting people to support public transportation while controlling traffic jams. There is no stigma for taking public transportation because you don’t have to be poor to use it. As a matter of fact, my in-laws are fond of telling a story that the locals hesitated to tell them private shuttle bus options from the airport when they visited Scandinavia, and when they did discuss that option, they did so with a tone of disapproval.
But increasingly (even in Denmark), more options optimized for the wealthy have become available where options didn’t seem necessary, such as the introduction of private health care system which is slowly shifting the more experienced and sought after doctors to work for private hospitals. In “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”, Michael J. Sandel describes the ball park experience as a true community gathering before the advent of sky boxes and VIP seating, where people from all walks of life enjoyed the same game in the same ball park side by side. I felt justified after reading this book why I vehemently argued against getting a Global Entry card. The program allows pre-approved U.S. citizens expedited clearance when re-entering the country for a fee. The security screenings and immigration checks are mandatory, but you can get a streamlined version of it with a fee (and pre-screening). Would there be an opt-out program for a hefty fee for a draft? Would we be able to jump the line for an organ transplant because your family has the means?
I am interested to see how countries like Denmark can stay the course on its welfare policies and if (or, hopefully, when) countries like the U.S. can adopt the kind of sentiment Enrique Peñalosa Londoño expressed.
Photo: Three Smiths Statue in downtown Helsinki, Finland