Archive for July 5th, 2008
Denmark just lost one of its best voices. My personal recollections of Winding go back to the 1970s when he was very active on children’s TV as reader and performer. His relaxed and yet distinct voice will be missed.
Jesse Helms would be a bit exceptional as a Danish-American, not by being conservative, but by being from North Carolina. Most Danish-Americans can be found in the northern Mid-West and, of cause, California.1
And you could cast a movie with Scarlett Johansson – yes, Johansson is a Swedish name but the lady should be counted as Danish-American as her grandfather was a well-known Danish TV presenter; his ancestors probably emigrated from Sweden to Denmark in the late 1800s or early 1990s – William Petersen, Viggo Mortensen, Virginia Madsen and Michael Madsen and have an all-Danish-American lead cast.
Update: Forgot about Jessica Alba. Quite a cast, really.
- My frequent correspondent would like to point out that Ted Sorensen, Lloyd Bentsen and Janet Reno played in the blue corner. [↩]
Noam Screiber of The New Republic reviews Peter Gosselin’s High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families in the New York Times.
Scouring the data, Gosselin finds that the income of a middle-class family in the early 1970s typically rose or fell by no more than 17 percent in a given year; today, that range is plus or minus 26 percent. And it’s not just the middle class who’ve seen their incomes fluctuate wildly. The most affluent tenth of the country saw a slightly greater rise in volatility.
The cause of this increased turbulence, Gosselin says, is a changing labor market and a decades-long erosion of the corporate and social safety net. A generation ago, when unemployment relief was more generous, when companies provided liberal health and pension benefits and private insurers weren’t as stingy as they are today, a serious illness or the loss of a job usually wasn’t devastating. Now, such a setback is much more likely to bring economic ruin.
But to attribute the long-term rise in risk primarily to corporate malevolence misses the point. The years following World War II, which Gosselin posits as a model of corporate responsibility, were a historical anomaly: American companies faced little competition from war-flattened Europe and Asia. They could buy labor peace with rising wages and benefits. But with the resurgence of Japan and Western Europe in the 1960s and ’70s, American profit margins declined and workers got squeezed. Later on, the ease with which companies could tap foreign labor (along with pressure from Wall Street to show steady profit growth) further frayed the labor-management relationship.
These trends are of more than just academic interest. Easing the anxieties Gosselin describes requires understanding the forces that produced them. If greed and malevolence are the chief culprits, then aggressive regulation should suffice. But if the changes are structural and irreversible, we may have to rethink the role of government in the economy. Something akin to the Danish model might make sense. The Danes have one of the most business-friendly economies in the world — corporations can hire and fire with relative ease, taxes on profits and investment are low — but also one of the most generous welfare states. Perhaps not surprisingly, while Gosselin does offer a few sound policy recommendations, his discussion here is brief and somewhat scattershot.
These days the question if and how we can make the Americans go Danish and in that way solve all, ok: a lot, of the problems in contemporary labour markets seem to pop up every now and then. What to make of it?
First, economists and political scientists have pointed out that trade and welfare state policies tend to substitute each other. Denmark, and the smaller European countries, unlike the US had few means of influencing trade policies. So the cynical response to this is that we should expect calls for protectionism rather than calls for improving social insurance programmes as the medium and long-term response to the effects of international competition in the US.
Second, the Danish model rests on an explicit and formalised deal between employers’ associations and trade unions. Danish trade unions as a consequence are less shop-based than their US counterparts. But could we expect US employers to enter formalised large-scale negotiations?
Third, even Danish researchers frequently point to the traditional homogeneity of Danish society as a precondition for maintaining a large-scale welfare state – this is a parallel to the argument made by Robert Putnam about variations in social trust. You can call the US a lot of things, but homogeneous is not a very fitting description.
Fourth, we can see some tendencies toward the introduction of work-based welfare in Denmark. This especially applies to health care where private insurance – while still a marginal phenomenon – has received larger attention both in collective and individual agreements during the last decade. We are still a long way away from a US-style model but Denmark certainly isn’t immune to the siren calls of private insurance.
Thanks to Mark Thoma for the pointer.
The economists have interesting news for us: The more educated you are, the more time you will be spending with your children.
We draw three major empirical conclusions about parental child care time:
* Higher earnings or earnings potential are associated with more time spent with children, even though higher earnings parents also work more hours in the labor market;
* This relationship appears to hold within the United States, across other countries, and within other countries examined; and
* This positive education/income gradient in time spent in child care is the opposite of the education/income gradient observed for typical leisure and home production activities.
Collectively, our results suggest that time spent with one’s children is more highly valued by individuals with a higher opportunity-cost of their time, as measured by earnings potential. This result could arise if caring for children is a “luxury good”; if more educated parents have a lower elasticity of substitution between own and market-based child care (or just a higher relative preference for time spent with their children); or if the returns to investing in the children of more educated parents are relatively higher.
As a Scandinavian, I can occasionally feel that US liberals (in the US sense of the word) can be a bit strange. But then again, I have to remember that they were dealing with conservatives like Jesse Helms.
I must admit that my movie-going became pretty erratic during my time in Umeå so I am one of the few people who (mysteriously) still haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain. This all all the more strange as I watched some of Ang Lee’s early films in the cinema when I lived in Copenhagen – this was when Lee still wasn’t really a mainstream director (I use the term mainstream in a neutral sense here) – and liked them very much.
But it gets stranger as I have had Eat Drink Man Woman lying on my DVR for, well, let’s just say far too long.
I remembered it as a wonderful film and I wasn’t the least disappointed.
Just one more thing: Roger Ebert – even more mysteriously – hasn’t reviewed Eat Drink Man Woman but he gave Lee’s earlier Wedding Banquet a three-star rating with these concluding words:
What makes the film work is the underlying validity of the story, the way the filmmakers don’t simply go for melodrama and laughs, but pay these characters their due. At the end of the film, I was a little surprised how much I cared for them.