The Nordics and the US

Back in May 2015, I wrote a post comparing Scandinavia and the US.  Since then, that post has been viewed over 10,000 times, making it the most-read on this site; however, I feel it is time to update it.  A lot has changed since then- the Paris Agreement was signed, the Sustainable Development Goals went into effect, and Donald Trump became President of the United States.

I also want to enlarge the geographical comparison from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) to the Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.)  I’ve kept many of the original indicators and have added some as well.

Nordic Flags

UN Human Development Index (Rank out of 187 countries; 2019)
a) Denmark: 11; b) Finland: 12; c) Iceland: 6; d) Norway: 1; e) Sweden: 8; f) USA: 15

Life Expectancy at Birth, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 80.8; b) Finland: 81.7; c) Iceland: 82.9; d) Norway: 82.3; e) Sweden: 82.7; f) USA: 78.9

Government Expenditure on Education, % of GDP (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 7.6; b) Finland: 7.1; c) Iceland: 7.7; d) Norway: 7.6; e) Sweden: 7.6; f) USA: 5.0

Mean Years of Schooling, Years (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 12.6; b) Finland: 12.4; c) Iceland: 12.5; d) Norway: 12.6; e) Sweden: 12.4; f) USA: 13.4

GDP per capita (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: $47,673; b) Finland: $41,899; c) Iceland: $48,606; d) Norway: $65,441; e) Sweden: $47,194; f) USA: $55,681

Income Inequality, Gini Coefficient (100 = Complete Inequality; 2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 28.2; b) Finland: 27.1; c) Iceland: 27.8; d) Norway: 27.5; e) Sweden: 29.2; f) USA: 41.5

Total Unemployment, % of labor force (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.0%; b) Finland: 7.8%; c) Iceland: 2.9%; d) Norway: 3.9%; e) Sweden: 6.4%; f) USA: 3.9%

Carbon Dioxide Emissions per capita, Tonnes (2019 HDI)
a) Denmark: 5.9; b) Finland: 8.3; c) Iceland: 6.2; d) Norway: 6.8; e) Sweden: 3.9; f) USA: 15.0

Individual Income Tax Rates, (2019)
a) Denmark: 55.89%; b) Finland: 53.75%; c) Iceland: 46.24%; d) Norway: 38.2%; e) Sweden: 57.19%; f) USA: 37.0%

Public Spending on Family Benefits, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.44%; b) Finland: 3.11%; c) Iceland: 3.40%; d) Norway: 3.38%; e) Sweden: 3.54%; f) USA: 1.12%

Total Paid Leave Available to Mothers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 50; b) Finland: 161; c) Iceland: 26; d) Norway: 91; e) Sweden: 55.7; f) USA: 0

Total Paid Leave Reserved for Fathers, Weeks (2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 9; c) Iceland: 13; d) Norway: 10; e) Sweden: 14.3; f) USA: 0

Public Spending on Childcare and Early Education, % of GDP (2015 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.1%; c) Iceland: 1.8%; d) Norway: 1.3%; e) Sweden: 1.6%; f) USA: .3%

Child Relative Income Poverty Rate (2016 or latest available)
a) Denmark: 3.7%; b) Finland: 3.3%; c) Iceland: 5.8%; d) Norway: 7.7%; e) Sweden: 8.9%; f) USA: 20.9%

Out-of-pocket Childcare Costs for a Two-Earner Couple Family, % of family net income (2015)
a) Denmark: 9.1%; b) Finland: 17.9%; c) Iceland: 4.5%; d) Norway: 5.3%; e) Sweden: 3.9%; f) USA: 22.5%

Best Countries to Raise Kids (rank out of 73 countries, 2020)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 6; c) Iceland: No data; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 18

Environmental Performance Index (rank out of 180 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 3; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 11; d) Norway: 14; e) Sweden: 5; f) USA: 27

Gender Inequality Index (rank out of 189 countries; 2018)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 7; c) Iceland: 9; d) Norway: 5; e) Sweden: 2; f) USA: 42

Gender Gap Index (rank out of 149 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 13; b) Finland: 4; c) Iceland: 1; d) Norway: 2; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 50

Women in Lower or Single House, (% / rank out of 192 countries, as of last elections)
a) Denmark: 39.11% / 23; b) Finland: 47% / 8; c) Iceland: 38.1% / 27; d) Norway: 40.83% / 17; e) Sweden: 47.28% / 7; f) USA: 23.61% / 75

Corruption Perceptions Index (rank out of 180 countries, 2018)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Finland: 3; c) Iceland: 14; d) Norway: 7; e) Sweden: 3; f) USA: 22

Freedom in the World, (100 = highest score, 2019)
a) Denmark: 97; b) Finland: 100; c) Iceland: 94; d) Norway: 100; e) Sweden: 100; f) USA: 86

Official Development Assistance, % of GNI (2018)
a) Denmark: .72%; b) Finland: .36%; c) Iceland: .31%; d) Norway: .94%; e) Sweden: 1.04%; f) USA: .17%

Military Expenditure, % of GDP (2018)
a) Denmark: 1.2%; b) Finland: 1.4%; c) Iceland: No Data; d) Norway: 1.6%; e) Sweden: 1.0%; f) USA: 3.2%

Good Country Index (rank out of 153 countries, latest available)
a) Denmark: 6; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 36; d) Norway: 8; e) Sweden: 4; f) USA: 40

Overall Happiness (rank out of 156 countries, 2019)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Finland: 1; c) Iceland: 4; d) Norway: 3; e) Sweden: 7; f) USA: 19

Life Satisfaction (10 = highest score, latest available)
a) Denmark: 9.7; b) Finland: 10; c) Iceland: 9.5; d) Norway: 9.9; e) Sweden: 8.9; f) USA: 7.4


As I mentioned in the 2015 post, “the list of indicators is not exhaustive and does not give a complete picture of life in these countries.”  That said, these do give us a good idea of a government’s priorities and the extent to which a government uses its wealth to take care of its people and the world.  Don’t get me wrong, people living in the US have a pretty good standard of living; however, given its wealth, the American government should do a much better job of providing for the general welfare, protecting the environment, and helping others.  In this sense, I think we can look to the Nordics for examples of how we can improve.

To learn more about the five Nordic countries, start by visiting their embassy websites:

To learn more about the Nordics as a whole, check out Nordic Co-operation.

Thanks for reading.

History of US-EU Relations: 4

Document: Address in Independence at the Dedication of the Liberty Bell
Date: November 6, 1950

During the speech, President Truman mentions the Schuman Plan, saying, “I have been very much interested in the proposal made by the French Foreign Minister, Mr. Robert Schuman, for pooling coal and steel production in Western Europe.  I hope very much that this plan can be worked out along the bold lines proposed by that French Foreign Minister, Mr. Schuman.” (emphasis added)


Document: The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic Offices
Date: December 8, 1950

In this cable, Sec. Acheson discusses aspects of the Schuman Plan and the US response to it.  At one point he remarks, “There are two main trends of opinion in US on Schuman Plan.  Dominant one at present is enthusiasm for plan based on political attractiveness.  Other view, whose prevalence shld not be underrated, is skepticism as to whether project is anything more than an internatl cartel.” (emphasis added)

Acheson allays the fears of the latter, noting, “So far, it has been possible to insist in good faith that general idea of plan is a single market characterized by competition, and that real auth lies in High Auth, assembly and court, and not in producer groups.” (emphasis added)


US Context: US support for the Schuman Plan was based mainly on two concepts: 1)  strengthening the Western European economy, which was especially important in containing communism; and 2) rapprochement between France and the Federal Republic of Germany.

European Context: Six countries were involved in the negotiations to establish the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)- Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.  In addition to the technical and economic aspects of the negotiations, countries also discussed the role of institutions, in particular a supranational body, the High Authority, as well as other institutions that might check and balance the power of that body.

The Climbers 1950
Cartoon by Illingworth on the start of the negotiations on the Schuman Plan (21 June 1950)

History of US-EU Relations: 3

Document: The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of State, at London
Date: May 11, 1950

“Initial reaction Dept to FR proposal re coal and steel industries is to welcome it as imaginative, useful and having considerable merit.” (emphasis added)


Document: The President’s News Conference of May 18, 1950
Date: May 18, 1950

“Mr. Schuman’s proposal…for the pooling of the French and German steel and coal industries is an act of constructive statesmanship. We welcome it.” (emphasis added)

Pres. Truman goes on to discuss the possible impact of Schuman’s proposal, stating, “I am confident, however, that the kind of imaginative thinking that went into the proposal can work out the details in ways that will benefit not only the countries directly concerned, including those who work in these industries and those who use their products, but also the whole free world.”


Document: The United States Special Representative in Europe (Harriman) to the Secretary of State
Date: May 20, 1950

In the beginning of his report, Harriman starts out with strong praise, “Believe proposal may well prove most important step towards economic progress and peace of Europe since original Marshall speech on ERP.”

At the end of the report, he reiterates the importance of the proposal, “wish emphasize overriding importance that this opportunity be not lost and that US throw full weight its support for prompt initiation and consummation of negotiations…” (emphasis added)


US Context: President Truman and the relevant stakeholders at the State Department recognized the importance of the Schuman Plan and had high hopes for its success.

Acheson 9 May 1950
Dean Acheson during his visit to Paris (9 May 1950)

European Context: Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister, proposed the integration of the coal and steel sectors during a speech on May 9, 1950. For more information on the beginning of the ECSC, I recommend the CVCE webpage, The Birth of the Community of Europewhich has four sections of background information and primary sources- 1) The Origins of the Schuman Plan; 2) The Declaration of 9 May 1950; 3) The Creation of the ECSC; and 4) The Beginnings of the ECSC.

History of US-EU Relations: 2

Document: Rear Platform Remarks in Ohio and Indiana
Date: June 4, 1948

During a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana, President Truman remarked “there are three things necessary for peace in the world,” one of which was the “success of the European recovery program.”


Document: Letter to Premier de Gasperi on Italian Participation in the European Recovery Program
Date: September 16, 1948

The American people support this program wholeheartedly both for humanitarian and for practical reasons.  In a world growing smaller day by day, no nation can profit by isolating itself.  Mutual dependence means your welfare affects our welfare and vice versa.  Therefore, for our sake, for your sake, and for the sake of all other like-minded countries, it is our hope that the program in Italy and elsewhere will be crowned with success.”  (emphasis added)


Document: Address in Miami at the American Legion Convention
Date: October 18, 1948

After a section discussing support for the European Recovery Program, President Truman moved on to European unity, stating, “We have also been giving support and encouragement to the organization of the Western European Union.”  (emphasis added)

He went on to reason, “our interest is bound up with the peace and economic recovery of the rest of the world.”


US Context: In April 1948, President Truman signed the Foreign Assistance Act, which he said was “a measure for reconstruction, stability, and peace.”  Later that month, Pres. Truman urged Congress to appropriate $4.3 billion for the European Recovery Program.

European Context: In June 1948, as part of Germany’s post-war reconstruction, the three Western allies replaced the Reichsmark with the Deutsche Mark.

History of US-EU Relations: 1

I’m attempting a new series to coincide with our new year and the 2020 US presidential campaign.  Given the disparaging remarks by President Trump towards the EU, I thought it would be useful to take a look back at the history of US-EU relations.  The goal of the series is to show that despite what President Trump has said, the US has a long history of supporting European integration and a strong relationship with the EU.

Since my time and resources are limited, I’m not going for a comprehensive analysis; instead, I want to give readers a snapshot of the history.  For the most part, I am relying on the Foreign Relations of the United States series from the US Department of State and what I can find from presidential libraries.  Each time I share a document, I’ll provide a brief context.


Document: Memorandum by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennanto the Secretary of State
Date: January 20, 1948

“1. The project of a union among the western European nations, under combined French-British auspices, is one which we should welcome just as warmly as Mr. Bevin welcomed your Harvard speech [announcing the Marshall Plan].” (emphasis added) …

Kennan goes on to write, “… if they develop it and make it work, there will be no real question as to our long-term relationship to it.”  In other words, Kennan believed it would be a given that the US would be a long-time ally of European unity.


Document: The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador (Inverchapel)
Date: January 20, 1948

“…The initiative which [PM Ernest Bevin] is taking in this matter will be warmly applauded in the United States. I want him to know that his proposal has deeply interested and moved me and that I wish to see the United States do everything which it properly can in assisting the European nations in bringing a project along this line to fruition.” (emphasis added)


US Context: Kennan was known for his essay, The Sources of Soviet Conduct, and his Long Telegram, both of which were influential in the US policy of containment.  His memo is in keeping with the ideas laid out in Marshall’s speech, especially that any efforts must first come from Europeans themselves.  The US’ support for European recovery and unity was based mostly on containing the spread of communism.

European Context: Pro-European unity movements had begun to take shape following the Second World War.  Additionally, the Benelux Customs Union, one of the first steps towards economic union in Europe after the War, was established on January 1, 1948.