Volunteering in Darfur, the problem with Denmark, &c.

Never Again. No, Really

Michael E. O’Hanlon is absolutely correct to call for a division dedicated to genocide intervention within the U.S. Armed Forces (“The Ideal Army,” January 1-15). There would definitely be a percentage of willing Americans from the idealistic and realistic Darfur advocate community who would volunteer for this just cause––including myself. Nevertheless, it is important not to jump to U.S. military intervention as an immediate solution for Darfur. There are still several key steps the Bush administration must take before shipping troops to Africa. First, the president should coordinate with the French to enforce a no-fly zone and prevent the gunships from carpet-bombing innocent civilians. Second, the president should commit to funding a 20,000-strong U.N. force, most likely comprising troops from African and South Asian countries. Third, the president should impose capital market sanctions to cut off the credit line the Sudanese government is using to carry out a genocide. Americans must understand that it will require sacrificing our lives and resources to truly make “never again” a commitment we can keep, instead of just an empty promise.

Mark Hanis
Executive Director
Genocide Intervention Network
Washington, D.C.

Rotten In Denmark

Jonathan Cohn is correct that the example of Denmark gives the lie to the conservative claim that a society can have a generous welfare system or prosperity, but not both (“Great Danes,” January 1-15). But Cohn fails to mention a major factor in Denmark's success. For most of its history, the Danish economy was burdened by energy dependence, which limited industrial growth and imposed a perennial trade deficit. It is no coincidence that, as Denmark’s economy began to take off in the 1980s and 1990s, Danish North Sea gas and oil wells came online, making Denmark, for the first time, energy independent. While one can say that a business-friendly environment has led to the creation of new wealth in Denmark, one must also allow that the tremendous resource of North Sea gas and oil has increased Denmark's aggregate wealth, allowing the Danes to pursue social and economic policies they could not otherwise afford.

Jack M. Rice
Long Beach, California

Cohn glides quickly over the credibility problems in promoting Denmark as a neoliberal, utopian model for the United States. He describes it as a “small, ethnically homogeneous country.” To a reader in the United States, which has a multiethnic population of nearly 300 million, this sounds like Germany. But the population of Denmark, unmentioned in the article, is approximately 5.5 million. You cannot extrapolate a country of only 5.5 million as a serious model for the United States. Denmark is not a “large” welfare state––because it is not a large state. There is no broad lesson here. If we’re going to look to puny countries for our utopian vision, let’s also consider the city-state of Singapore. With a population of 4.5 million and a per capita GDP of $30,900 (versus $37,000 for Denmark), Singapore’s unemployment was 3.1 percent in 2006, with a growth rate of 7.4 percent. There’s a 92.5 percent literacy rate, home ownership is 91.7 percent, and the savings rate has long been among the world’s highest. And, unlike homogeneous Denmark, Singapore is successfully multiracial, with Indians and Malays living in harmony with the majority Chinese. Singapore embraces capitalism. In contrast to Denmark’s 68 percent top tax rate for individuals, Singapore’s is only 21 percent, and this doesn’t trigger until you make about $200,000. Corporate tax rates are also low. Yet Singapore’s policies ensure its citizens are well-educated, own their own homes, and retire well. Alas, it is not a democracy, but a benevolent police state with no tolerance for political dissent or for crime, drugs, or pornography. So one man’s utopia may be another man’s hell. While I should think we could learn something from both Denmark and Singapore, I only say this to be polite. I’d rather live in the United States, at least until we become a dreary nanny state. Has Robert Rubin moved to Denmark yet?

Alan Coon
Los Angeles, California

Jonathan Cohn responds:

It’s true Denmark has easy access to North Sea petroleum, but, if that disqualifies it from a discussion of successful economies, then the same should apply to other countries blessed with natural resources––including the United States. It’s also true that Denmark is a small, homogeneous countries, which is why I pointedly warned readers not to assume they could simply copy its economy here. Still, there’s good reason to think that the broader lessons about taxes and the welfare state are independent of size, starting with the fact that larger Scandinavian countries have adopted similar approaches and achieved similar results. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Many highly respected economists, including a few I cited in my article, have reached the same conclusion.

This correspondence appeared in the February 12, 2007 issue of the magazine.