12 April 2014

The Almost Nearly Perfect People - The Truth about the Nordic Miracle by Michael Booth [2014]

I picked this book up because I'm very interested in Scandinavia, and I had read and enjoyed another of Michael Booth's books before.  The book has sections on Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland and finishes with a section on what Booth considers to be the archetypal Scandinavian country, Sweden. 

Some interesting points:

1     The Danish concept of Hygge which is sometimes translated as 'cosiness'.  In Booth's view, Danes strive for this more than anything else.  It comes from familiarity, warmth, enclosure, identification with one's neighbours and seems both comforting but also suffocating.  Danes are reputedly the happiest people in the world, which may derive from the validation with which they accord Hygge.  However, maintaining this warmth does come with an overhead - for example there is a passage about a week-long residential choir camp that had my toes curling in my shoes.  In this respect, I was reminded very much of the positive and negative aspects to having an extended family.

2   Allied to this striving for cosiness appears to be the concept of Jante Law, which is apparently fundamental to understanding the dynamics of Scandinavian life.  This is a drive towards conformity and adherence to rigid social norms which discourages any kind of exceptionalism.  Reading about this made me understand why Scandinavian countries are so different from the USA, where exceptionalism is venerated.  

3    Scandinavian homogeneity is also reflected in a low Gini coefficient - a measure of the gap between rich and poor.  I am conflicted in my attitude to income inequality.  From a philosophical point of view, I don't think the size of the economic pie is fixed; i.e. there is no reason why more wealth at one end of the spectrum should create more poverty at the other end.  However, it is undeniable that quality of life - especially outside the home - is better in a low Gini country than in a high Gini country.

This is a thought-provoking book that will make you feel slightly jealous that you don't live in Denmark.

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