BY SIRI HAARLØV-JOHNSEN
The Danish word for tax is SKAT, which also means darling.
And indeed, tax is in many ways our little darling. The money collected through taxes is used to fund our much beloved welfare state. The welfare state gives us free access to education. It gives our parents good job security and pension schemes. It gives our grandparents free home care and assistance. No matter what, the welfare state has our back.
The Danish income tax lies at around 40 – 56%. This is in no way the highest in the world, as we Danes may sometimes blurt out. We are succeeded by countries like Sweden, Portugal and Belgium, to name a few. However, according to a report by the Ministry of Finance in 2014, we are the country in Europe with the highest percent of our GDP coming from taxes (51%).
Danish Tax Rage
If you reveal to a Dane that you are being disloyal to the welfare state or doing something shady with your taxes, then this will not be well received. At all.
In Denmark, we are so dependent on everybody paying taxes such that the welfare can continue to function smoothly. If people were to start fooling around with tax havens or tax evasion, everything would fall apart.
We’ve been in a serious relationship with the welfare state since 1849 and we would like to keep it that way. So, if you’re looking to impress some Danes, do like Bernie Sanders and throw in some casual compliments about our welfare state. We appreciate when foreigners acknowledge our fabulous social services.
Next I’d like to share with you some of the taxes I find most interesting:
Church Taxes for Atheists
About 0.5 to 1.5% of Danes’ tax payments go to the church.
All Danish citizens automatically become members of the Church of Denmark when baptised. If they want to avoid the church taxes they can however make an active effort to withdraw their membership. None the less, 77% of the population remain members of the Church of Denmark.
This is however quite paradoxical, as, according to a Eurobarometer Poll, only 28% of Danes believe in God. This year thousands of people left the Church of Denmark following an advertising campaign launched by Denmark’s atheist society. The atheists who continue to be a member of the church do so either because they are too lazy to opt out or because they see churches as a cultural heritage which are worth paying taxes to sustain.
Taxes on Candy and Cow Farts
In Denmark, there is a tax on chocolate and foods with sugar additives like candy. Oddly enough, this doesn’t stop the Danes from ranking as the nation that eats the second most candy per capita in the world!
Denmark’s Ethics Council recently proposed adding a tax on beef. They argue that cows are responsible for a big portion of greenhouse gasses due to their farts, and that a tax on beef would act as an incentive to buy alternative meats that are less harmful for the environment.
Scandalous Car Taxes
Denmark has a 150% tax on cars (vehicle registration tax). It’s the highest in the world, sharing its place with Singapore. That means cars are crazy expensive here. So, while it is admirable that, for many Danes, bicycles constitute the main means of transport, this tendency is probably closely connected to the un-affordability of cars.
Final comments on SKAT, our Little Darling
There is no doubt that tax does incredible things for us Danes and our welfare state. I can rest assured that the majority of my taxes will be set aside to ensure my free access to social services for the rest of my life. None the less, there are definitely some parts of the tax allocations that I find questionable.
Additionally, being so dependent on the state taking care of us can result in family members no longer feeling the same degree of responsibility over each other. We can leave each other hanging because we know the welfare state will always jump to our rescue. There is something very cool about the power of the welfare state, and at the same time something very tragic about the way it replaces family dependence.
What do you think?