21 Nov 2004, Comments (0)

Canny Compassion

Author: Helen

There’s been a lot of depressing stuff in the paper lately, so this might cheer some of you up. Oh well then, maybe not?

This might be a little unfair, but I see Crikey.com.au as an outlet for tough minded young players who think Social Democrat systems are for “loosers”, as well as correct spelling, which is a sign of a pinko Liberal Arts background. So when I saw the title “Finland: Life in a Socialist Paradise” I expected another Crikey-style sneerfest about those silly socialist types, especially references to Santa «laus and Bleeding Heart LiberalsTM early on. Reader, brace yourself for long bread queues, potato gin and hospitals with radioactive waste in the bed mounted ashtrays…


Santa Claus is supposed to live in Finland, and sometimes you can believe it. It has paid parental leave for up to 3 years, was ranked as the most competitive country in the world by the World Economic Forum, has the highest level of reading literacy among 15 year olds in the OECD – read more here, free university, the most transparent public sector – as rated by Transparency International, its economy moved from agrarian to high-tech in one generation, and the country cut its heart attack rate by 70% in 10 years. And it has a budget surplus.
(My bold).

Now, having read this far, I’m sorry but it just doesn’t seem that terrible…and did you get that bit about free university, young Brendan? Could that possibly have something to do with the high reading literacy levels and first-grade competitiveness ranking? Surely not!

But if you want to live in a socialist paradise, you have to pay for it. Personal taxes are high, second highest in the OECD as this table shows.


Uh-oh, here’s where those bleeding heart Finns get their come-uppance…

The Finnish government knows everything about you. It’s all very well for bleeding heart SMH liberals saying “the government should,” and then hold on tight to negative gearing and protest about civil liberties. Sometimes the policies only work because of their context. And sometimes those great policies have really weird consequences.

And what are these weird consequences? After all, we know from the Howard and Bush tax-cutters’ recent victory, it would seem Finland is obviously wrongheaded and backward. They’re surely headed straight for economic hell! But wait….

Finns are entitled to up to three years paid maternity leave / parental leave / childcare leave. PAID. Not some measly job search allowance – it’s indexed to your salary. First, there is maternity leave for 105 working days, and paternity leave of 1 month. Then there is parental leave for a further 158 working days (which is increased if you have more than one child). And then there is childcare leave until your child is 3 years old. The mother or father is entitled to the childcare leave, and can swap months, or share mornings / afternoons. And despite having one of the fastest moving, most high-tech economies in the world, the job is guaranteed when you return, even if you take the whole three years. And lo, the country has not fallen apart, the economy has not collapsed, and SMEs have survived.

And surprise. The Finns have one of the highest fertility rates in Europe: 1.7 per woman (its increased since the 1970s, unlike Australia which has has fallen) and one of the highest participation rates in Europe.

Who pays? The government. Did I tell you that the budget is in surplus?

There was an interesting editorial in last week’s European Edition Financial Times (“Canny Compassion” Thursday 14 October) when the World Economic Forum results announced Finland most competitive economy

….And there’s more. (My bold.)

Jeez Therese, you’re doing a terrible job of putting me off the Finnish Socialist Paradise. In fact, you’re only reinforcing this incorrigible bleeding heart liberalTM ‘s conviction that to forgo a slightly higher personal income in favour of superior social benefits is not only possible, but won’t cause the sky to fall as per employer organization pronouncements.

It’s not all government policy from above-it’s a cultural shift. Read Therese’s last four paragraphs: attitudes to work and parenthood in Finland are vastly superior to ours. The economy is there to support human life, not the other way around. And rather than whining about the “childfree” somehow picking up the slack, as some of the childfree do, Therese makes the point that it contributes to their job opportunities and flexibility, too.
Read the whole thing, mums and dads (and past / potential mums and dads), and weep with envy.

Comments (0)

  • BigBob says:

    It also speaks the language that Tolkien based Elvish on. Take a look at their place names and you will see.

    If it weren’t so damnably cold, it would be worth a once-over immigration wise.

    Seriously, it does point out that it is possible to run a modern economy without sacrificing social equity.

    I love the typical Australian’s hypocrisy. We whinge about paying too much tax, then we complain that hospitals aren’t up too scratch, trains don’t run on time, roads are crap, etc.

    No matter, we will all be given CHOICE soon by our newly elected government.

    Yep, we can choose between crappy, run down public infrastructure and nice,new but oh so pricey private concerns.

    What’s your tax rate when you are FORCED to have private health insurance, to send your kids to private school, to pay for their university education.

    Bah, what was the Finnish embassies number again?

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