Now, thanks to a very interesting column in the New York Times, it’s time to rectify that oversight. According to the authors, Anu Partanen and Trevor Corson, Finland is a great place with lots of goodies provided by taxpayers.
Finland, of course, is one of those Nordic countries that we hear some Americans, including President Trump, describe as unsustainable and oppressive — “socialist nanny states.”…We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous… What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. …in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care… Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism. The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families. …if we stay here, …College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year… Compared with our life in the United States, this is fantastic.
Interestingly, the authors are not clueless Bernie Sanders-style leftists.
They fully understand and appreciate that Finland (like all Nordic nations) is not a socialist country.
…surely, many in the United States will conclude, Finnish citizens and businesses must be paying a steep price in lost freedoms, opportunity and wealth. …In fact, a recent report by the chairman of market and investment strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management came to a surprising conclusion: The Nordic region is not only “just as business-friendly as the U.S.” but also better on key free-market indexes, including greater protection of private property, less impact on competition from government controls and more openness to trade and capital flows. …What to make of all this? For starters, politicians in the United States might want to think twice about calling the Nordics “socialist.” …in Finland, you don’t really see the kind of socialist movement…, especially around goals such as curtailing free markets and even nationalizing the means of production. The irony is that if you championed socialism like this in Finland, you’d get few takers. …a 2006 study by the Finnish researchers Markus Jantti, Juho Saari and Juhana Vartiainen demonstrates…throughout the 20th century Finland remained — and remains to this day — a country and an economy committed to markets, private businesses and capitalism.
This is a very accurate assessment. Finland is more market-oriented than the United States in many categories.
That being said, the burden of taxes and spending is rather onerous.
…after World War II, …Finnish capitalists also realized that it would be in their own long-term interests to accept steep progressive tax hikes. …the nation’s commitment to providing generous and universal public services…buffered and absorbed the risks and dislocations caused by capitalist innovation. …Visit Finland today and it’s obvious that the much-heralded quality of life is taking place within a bustling economy of upscale shopping malls, fancy cars and internationally competitive private companies. …Yes, this requires capitalists and corporations to pay fairer wages and more taxes than their American counterparts currently do.
The column concludes by suggesting that American capitalists follow the same model.
Right now might be an opportune moment for American capitalists to pause and ask themselves what kind of long-term cost-benefit calculation makes the most sense.
So should the United States copy Finland, as the authors suggest?
That’s compared to about 30 percent in the United States.
And there’s a very Orwellian aspect of the Finnish tax system. As the New York Times reported last year, everyone in the country has the right to know how much income you earn.
Pamplona can boast of the running of the bulls, Rio de Janeiro has Carnival, but Helsinki is alone in observing “National Jealousy Day,” when every Finnish citizen’s taxable income is made public at 8 a.m. sharp. The annual Nov. 1 data dump is the starting gun for a countrywide game of who’s up and who’s down. …Finland is unusual, even among the Nordic states, in turning its release of personal tax data — to comply with government transparency laws — into a public ritual of comparison. …A large dosage of Thursday’s reporting concerned the income of minor celebrities… The country’s best-known porn star, Anssi “Mr. Lothar” Viskari, was reported to have earned 23,826 euros (about $27,000).
Given the onerous level of Finnish taxes, it’s probably safe to say that “Mr. Lothar” is getting screwed more than he’s…um….well, you get the point.
So what’s the bottom line? Should America be more like Finland? Is the country reasonably successful because of high taxes, or in spite of high taxes?
The U.S. should not mimic Finland, at least if the goal is higher living standards. Finland has some advantages over the United States (including better business taxation), but the United States has more overall economic liberty.
And that presumably helps to explain why, based on data from the Organization for economic Cooperation and Development, the average American enjoys 40 percent higher living standards than the average Finn.
But the most compelling piece of data, for those who prefer apples-to-apples comparison, is that Americans of Finnish descent produce 47 percent more than Finns in Finland.
Is Finland a relatively rich nation? Yes.
Is Finland a relatively free nation? Definitely.
Is Finland a good example of western civilization? Unquestionably.
The bottom line is that Finland seems like a great country (I’ve never visited). All I’m saying is that Americans would not be as prosperous if we had Finnish-style taxation and Finnish-style spending.
P.S. Researchers at Finland’s central bank seem to agree with my concern.
P.P.S. And Finland’s former Prime Minister understood the downside of an excessive public sector.