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Bernie Sanders: What can we learn from Finland?

Bernie Sanders held a town hall in Vermont a couple of years ago, where he invited Pekka Lintu, the ambassador from Finland, to come and talk a little bit about their society. Free schooling [through graduate school], free child care, nearly-free health care, 30 days paid vacation and 10 national holidays every year, 10 months paid maternity leave, virtually no poverty at all, kids score high on math and science tests, a very egalitarian society, and a very competitive economy.

The weather kinda sucks though.

I haven't made it all the way through the video yet. So far it's been about 30-40 minutes speaking by Sanders and Lintu, and now a Q&A session [~47 minutes into the 100 minute video].

~46:00 -- The school system: The curriculum is less rigid than ours [teachers have a lot of say in their individual curricula]; like teachers the world over, they'd like a higher salary; there's less than 5% difference between the lowest-performing and the highest-performing schools.

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MsExPat's picture
Submitted by MsExPat on

One of my best pals is a Finn. I met her in Hong Kong, where she was posted for four years as a missionary with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is the national church of Finland. 80% of Finns belong to that church, and it has the power to collect church taxes through the same mechanism as income taxes.

When my friend revealed to me she was a missionary, I was thrown for a loop, since she wore miniskirts and go go boots every day to our Chinese class. But she laughed and told me that in Finland, the state church operates more like a social services organization, and her job with them was to teach English, not to spread the gospel.

As I got to know her, I also became acquainted with the Hong Kong group of expat Finns, who got together twice a month at a different bar to get completely, utterly, and thoroughly trashed.

That's how I found out this second fact of Finnish society: alcohol is the leading cause of death among men.

So, the scoreboard for Finland
Pros: great health care and educational system.
Superb child and expectant mother care (my friend eventually left Hong Kong and became a single mom, which the day care and 10 month paid leave made possible).

Cons: State religion (seems to work okay for Finns, but still not a great thing IMO)
High levels of alcoholism
Very macho culture with Western Europe's highest levels of domestic violence.

Submitted by hipparchia on

being religion-free myself i don't keep up with these things, but aren't there several western democracies with more or less a state-sponsored religion?

it would be interesting to know what the other nordic countries are doing differently, if anything, that keeps their levels of these particular social ills lower [and whether they truly are lower].

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

At least until the 80s, there were several Finnish-immigrant enclaves in the U.S., it would be interesting to know whether the numbers for domestic violence numbers and alcohol deaths persisted once they were in another setting (although they did mostly settle in the same cold northern-type climates, but not as dark most of the year as in much of Finland).

That said, I'm always a bit wary of articles like this one which are scant on data but copious on anecdotal opinion. Half my peeps are Finnish, and that side of the family has no more domestic violence or alcoholism than other folks I know. (I'm 4th generation, though). No one's at all religious (rather the opposite). And although I can't say that any of the men are what I'd call flamboyant, quite the opposite, the 'macho' label really doesn't describe most of them. Quiet, hard-working and not prone to a lot of big talk, yes, but not so much of that women-stay-in-the-kitchen stuff I associate with 'macho'.

Submitted by hipparchia on

to my knowledge, i've never met one, or the descendant of one, in person. all the people i know from that part of the world are norwegians mostly, and a few danes and swedes. can't say i've really met enough of them to have an informed opinion on macho-ness or lack thereof.

i did live in minnesota for awhile, but not long enough to really soak up any cultural differences. i can sure see why people living in cold dark snowy places take up drinking though, whether socially or otherwise.

you and ms expat have inspired me to search for some sociological stuff about finns in and out of finland now.

Submitted by gmanedit on

Known for music. At some point, the Finns decided to support widespread musical training and established schools and orchestras. This lead to the current crop of internally known conductors and singers. Of course, not everyone who studied music took up a career in music—but, cannily, the policy created audiences.

Submitted by hipparchia on

lots of artists and musicians scattered through out my family tree, and yes, we've all been big believers in arts training from childhood on up, whether to develop a true talent or just to add to one's well-rounded-ness. can't say i've ever thought of it as creating audiences too, but you're absolutely correct, it sure does.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

All the Norse countries seem united by their low crime rates, their excellent health, their leadership in clean technology, and their advanced social democracy. It's to the extent that I think there's a cultural element involved. Consider that all the Nordic countries rank better in the metrics of health care (life expectancy, infant mortality) than many of their more southern European compatriots, despite not having the best-ranked health care system.

So, while there is much we can learn from Finland, I think there are also things we can't learn from Finland, because our United States culture is different from theirs.

Submitted by hipparchia on

yep, there's most likely a greater degree of cultural homogeneity there than here in the us, but this is a favorite canard of the racists [the real, virulent ones], used to justify their continued and continuing racism, which not so paradoxically, helps to continue the "cultural" differences.

i liked lintu's answer, when he was asked whether the finns fear more immigrants coming into their country. he quietly but definitely pooh-poohed the idea that finns were afraid of immigrants.