My Take

Model societies we can learn from

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 1:48am

Funny how when you write something naughty in Hong Kong about the US and Britain, you are automatically accused of being anti-Western. Well, there is still the small continent known as Europe, where anti-US and anti-British sentiments are not unknown.

I rather idealise Scandinavia and think those Nordic countries and the Netherlands provide the model societies which we Chinese would do well to emulate. You already know why if you read those periodic reports on human development and good governance indexes produced by the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Their citizens are richer, happier, better educated and more egalitarian - and yes, taller - than the rest of us.

The UN World Happiness Report 2013 confirms all these, as well as the OECD Better Life Index. Other nations that come close are Australia, Canada and Switzerland: all Western, all democratic, and all worth learning from.

This is what troubles me. References to the US and UK dominate our political, economic and public discourse in Hong Kong when by virtue of their smaller population, economy and intrinsic cultural values, those north European countries are far more relevant to our situation.

"Getting to Denmark" is a problem social scientists have long fretted about when it comes to transforming poor, developing and/or failed states into developed status. With reason, it's not called getting to the US or the UK.

The Dutch might have done one better in balancing social engineering with personal freedom. They have long regulated marijuana use while Copenhagen is still fighting the rest of Denmark to make it legal. But north Europe's liberal stance is still far ahead of the US-inspired war on drugs, which has lasted decades, wasted trillions and ruined lives of millions - only to see the problem getting worse.

As one critic writes: "The Dutch invented much of the world of 2013: bicycles in cities, legal soft drugs and gay marriage. Their next scheme to go global will be legal euthanasia."

It's not all hunky dory. You just have to read Stieg Larsson's "Millennium series" to know about Sweden's dark side or remember Norway's right-wing extremist mass killer Anders Behring Breivik.

But no society is perfect.