Learning by comparison

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 7 June 2019

Next week, The New Zealand Initiative will be taking a delegation of more than three dozen senior business leaders to Copenhagen. Our members want to study and experience first-hand what makes Denmark one of the world’s most successful small countries.

Denmark’s success may appear surprising given it is one of the most highly taxed countries in the world. It is often regarded as the social-democratic country par excellence, with a cradle-to-grave welfare state.

There is a grain of truth in these clichés. Still, they are deceptive. Denmark is also one of the best regulated developed economies.

Ranked first for lack of corruption (Transparency International), third for ease of doing business (World Bank) and eighth for competitiveness (IMD), the small Scandinavian country does well in international benchmarking.

Perhaps more astonishingly, despite its reputation as a big government country, Denmark is ranked just behind the United States in the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index.

Denmark’s sound social, political and economic institutions are reflected in its long-term economic performance. In 1960, New Zealand’s per capita income was 70 percent higher than Denmark’s. Today, the Danes are 31 percent ahead of us.

We believe that it is worth discovering what drives Denmark’s success. But we also want to understand its weaknesses and challenges.

During our week, we will thus meet with a wide range of Danish companies and their leaders. They include LEGO, that most quintessential of Danish companies; brewery giant Carlsberg; and the world’s largest shipping line, Maersk.

We will visit Europe’s leading robotics cluster in Odense. We will learn about renewable electricity generation. We will check out Copenhagen’s new waste incinerator Copenhill, which doubles up as a power plant and a ski slope.

We look forward to discussions about Denmark’s flexicurity system, which combines labour market flexibility with a social safety net. We will hear about the country’s discussions around multiculturalism and immigration. We will explore regional cooperation with Sweden across the Øresund with its impressive Øresund Bridge.

We will even spend a couple of hours at Christiania, the self-declared free state and autonomous anarchist district of Copenhagen.

The delegation follows a similar visit to Switzerland two years ago. If our Swiss experience is anything to go by, we will learn a lot about our new destination. But in doing so, we hope to find out even more about New Zealand by comparison.