Like healthy relationships, healthy countries are built on trust— a trust between citizens and their government and between the citizens themselves.
Nowhere is better at building that trust than Northern European countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, which have systems of government that are routinely ranked the best in the world, largely because they take care of people’s basic needs, like financial security and healthcare.
“If you go to our Constitution, which many people hold dear, there are these ideas that form the backbone of the Nordic model: We the people, a more perfect union, promote the general welfare,” Gummi Oddsson, an Icelandic cross-cultural sociologist at Northern Michigan University, tells Tech Insider. “The American Dream is alive and well in the Nordic countries.”
If the US wants a shot at escaping its crippling income inequality and sky-high crime rates, building trust is the starting point.
America’s individualist mentality is a problem, Oddsson explains, because it stops people from thinking about how they can work together. He says it comes from a lack of trust in American institutions, which have historically been embroiled in political and financial scandal.
If we restore that trust, Americans who normally reject group mentalities may start seeing the value in working together.
That begins on the ground level — for example, by making police officers a visible and non-threatening presence in towns and cities, according to Oddsson. Recent shootings only serve to highlight how deeply distrust can run.
It also includes top-down policies, like stronger welfare programs and paid parental leave, that reassure citizens their government has their best interest at heart.
“When people’s basic needs are not being met universally, that breeds insecurity and distrust,” says Oddsson. “If we are to take something from the Nordic model it should be to strengthen our welfare system, and not think of welfare as ‘poor relief,’ but as well-being for everyone.”
Only then can the US become a country where people prize equality of opportunity over equality of conditions, Oddsson says. That is the heart of Nordic countries’ upward mobility.
Most critics, whether they’re everyday citizens or Hillary Clinton, say the differences between our country and the Nordic nations are insurmountable. Our problems are simply too big and too different to borrow any lessons from their way of governing.
Oddsson isn’t convinced.
Even with more than 300 million people, he believes individual towns and cities in the US can still take concrete steps in building a better sense of community.
“I don’t think this is a particularly Nordic thing at all,” he says.
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