It’s all Jante’s fault

Yesterday I mentioned Wisconsin’s ridiculously high taxes and blamed them in part on …

… the protosocialist cultures of the countries whose emigrants came to Wisconsin (Germany and the Scandinavian countries), who in trying to escape the old country forgot to leave behind the bad features of their former countries …

One of my alert readers then passed on something I had not heard of before now — the Law of Jante, created by Danish author Aksel Sandemose. According to Wikipedia:

The Law of Jante (Danish: Janteloven (Danish pronunciation: [ˈja̝nd̥əˌlo̞ʋˀən]); Norwegian: Jantelova or Janteloven (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈjantɛˌlɔ̹ːvɛn])); Swedish: Jantelagen (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈjantɛˌlɑːɡɛn])) is the idea that there is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities that negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. The Jante Law as a concept was created by the DanoNorwegian author Aksel Sandemose.[1] In his novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor, 1933, English translation published in the USA in 1936) identified the Law of Jante as ten rules. …

Sandemose wrote about the working class in the town of Jante, a group of people of the same social position. He expressedly stated in later books that the social norms of Jante were universal and not intended to depict any particular town or country. It should be understood that Sandemose was seeking to formulate and describe attitudes that had already been part of the Danish and Norwegian psyche for centuries. Today, however, it is common in Scandinavia to claim the Law of Jante as something quintessentially Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian.

What are those 10 rules? Glad you asked!

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

Until yesterday, I had not heard of the Law of Jante, which, if Wikipedia is correct, wasn’t translated into English until 1936. This state’s “progressive” traditions predate that, but the Law of Jante could explain, as I wrote yesterday …

… a state whose citizens don’t value success and envy people with more money than they have …

… although there is a logical consequence:

… we are chronically behind the rest of the country in businesses, business incorporations, personal wealth and personal income growth.

One wonders if Jante’s Law in Scandinavia became, to immigrants here, the odd concept of “Minnesota Nice.” And what is that? Back to Wikipedia:

Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.[1] It can also refer to traffic behavior, such as slowing down to allow another driver to enter a lane in front of the other person. Critics have pointed out negative qualities, such as passive aggressiveness and resistance to change.[1]

“Minnesota Nice” could be the embodiment of most of the points of Jante’s Law — particularly “aversion to confrontation,” or “disinclination to make a fuss or stand out.”

There is a problem in my hypothesis. If anything, there are more people of Scandinavian descent in Minnesota (including both of my paternal grandparents’ families) than in Wisconsin. And yet in business climate comparisons Wisconsin is compared to Minnesota repeatedly, and usually unfavorably, and of course that has become an issue in this year’s gubernatorial race. Tom Still, of the Wisconsin Technology Council, suggests that Wisconsinites have historically been more risk-averse, and Minnesotans perhaps are more willing to take the risks involved in going into business.

Maybe more of the Scandinavians who left the old country for the New World because they wanted to better themselves came to Minnesota than Wisconsin. Of course, as Tim Nerenz pointed out a few Independence Days ago

Americans are the perfected DNA strand of rebelliousness.  Each of us is the descendant of the brother who left the farm in the old country when his mom and dad and wimpy brother told him not to; the sister who ran away rather than marry the guy her parents had arranged for her; the freethinker who decided his fate would be his own, not decided by a distant power he could not name.  How did you think we would turn out?

Those other brothers and sisters, the tame and the fearful, the obedient and the docile; they all stayed home.  Their timid DNA was passed down to the generations who have endured warfare and poverty and hopelessness and the dull, boring sameness that is the price of subjugation.

They watch from the old countries with envy as their rebellious American cousins run with scissors.  They covet our prosperity and our might and our unbridled celebration of our liberty; but try as they might they have not been able to replicate our success in their own countries.

Why? Because they are governable and we are not.  The framers of the Constitution were smart enough not to try to limit our liberty; they limited government instead.

Well, something apparently happened between 1776 and 1848, when Wisconsin was incorporated as a state, 10 years before Minnesota. Perhaps it was the influence of too many Germans. Karl Marx was a German.



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