Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Bernie Sanders, the only openly socialist member of the U.S. Senate, writes a column in today's Boston Globe singing the praises of Finland and the social democratic economic model:
Finland is a country that provides high-quality healthcare to all its people with virtually no out-of-pocket expense; where parents and their young children receive free excellent childcare and/or parental leave benefits that dwarf what our nation provides; where college and graduate education is free and where children in the public school system often record the highest results in international tests. Eighty percent of workers belong to unions, all employees enjoy at least 30 days paid vacation, and the gap between rich and poor is far more equitable than in the United States.
All of that is certainly true. In reading the column, however, I was also reminded of a conversation I had on an airplane with a German employee of Nokia that had married a Finnish woman and moved to the country. He described Finland as a place where "everything's expensive and no one makes any money." The assessment appears to be supported by the statistics:
On the other hand, Finns live in smaller homes than Americans and consume a lot less. They spend relatively little on national defense, though they still have universal male conscription, and it is popular. Their per capita national income is about 30 percent lower than ours. Private consumption of goods and services represents about 52 percent of Finland's economy, and 71 percent of the United States'. Finns pay considerably higher taxes -- nearly half their national income is taken in taxes, while Americans pay about 30 percent on average to federal, state and local governments.
The other item I was reminded of is that Finland is so freakishly egalitarian that they even assess traffic fines based on the size of the offender's income, something I am not sure would go over so well here.

In any case every time people on the left trot out the Scandinavian model I am reminded of the story about a Swede who bragged to Milton Friedman that in his country there was almost no poverty. "Interesting, among Americans of Swedish descent we have very little poverty as well," was his supposed response.

In fairness Sanders does acknowledge some of the differences between the two countries:
There also are, to be sure, important differences between the United States and Finland. Finland has a very homogenous population of only 5.2 million; we are extremely diverse. Finland is the size of Montana; we stretch 3,000 miles.
He concludes with this bit:
Whether we live in Burlington, Vt., or Montgomery, Ala., we should be prepared to study and learn from the successes of social-democratic countries. Name-calling and scare tactics won't do.
Agreed. Here are a couple of ways in which I think we can learn. Will Sanders listen?

Update: Changed the quote from the German Nokia worker.

No comments: