Life in Finland, one of the world's best functioning welfare states and least known success stories, can be complicated. Consider the dilemma confronting parents looking for day care for a 4-year-old daughter in Kuhmo, a town of 10,000 near the middle of the country.
Finns have one of the world's most generous systems of state-funded educational, medical and welfare services, from pregnancy to the end of life. They pay nothing for education at any level, including medical school or law school. Their medical care, which contributes to an infant mortality rate that is half of ours and a life expectancy greater than ours, costs relatively little. (Finns devote 7 percent of gross domestic product to health care; we spend 15 percent.) Finnish senior citizens are well cared for. Unemployment benefits are good and last, in one form or another, indefinitely.
For all of that, Finland doesn't feel like an entirely foreign place -- I thought I was on familiar ground. Finns obviously enjoy things we enjoy, from a good concert (rock, jazz or classical) and a good ice cream cone to a brisk walk on the beach. They are practical-minded experimenters and problem solvers.
One fundamental Finnish value sounds a lot like an American principle -- "to provide equal opportunities in life for everyone," as Pekka Himanen, a 31-year-old intellectual wunderkind in Helsinki, put it. Himanen, a product of Finnish schools who got his PhD in philosophy at 21, argues that Finland now does this much better than the United States, where he lived for several years while associated with the University of California in Berkeley.
In Finland, Himanen said, opportunity does not depend on "an accident of birth." All Finns have an equal shot at life, liberty and happiness. Yes, this is supposed to be an American thing, but many well-traveled younger Finns, who all seem to speak English, have a Finnish take on American realities. Miapetra Kumpula, a 32-year-old member of Parliament, volunteered this on the American dream: "Sure, anyone can get rich -- but most won't."
This too seems to be part of Finnish egalitarianism; most Finns don't boast or conspicuously consume (except perhaps when they buy fancy cars). Finnish authorities know how much everyone earns, and they pro-rate traffic fines depending on the wealth of the malefactor. Last year the 27-year-old heir to a local sausage fortune was fined 170,000 euros, about $204,000 at the time of the fine, for driving at 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone in downtown Helsinki.
I found Finnish society beguiling on many levels, but in the end concluded that it could not serve as a blueprint for the United States. National differences matter. The Finns are special and so are we. Ours is a society driven by money, blessed by huge private philanthropy, cursed by endemic corruption and saddled with deep mistrust of government and other public institutions. Finns have none of those attributes.
Nor do they tune in to American individualism. Groupthink seems to be fine with most Finns; conformity is the norm, risk-taking is avoided -- a problem now, when entrepreneurs are so needed. I was bothered by a sense of entitlement among many Finns, especially younger people.
Sirpa Jalkanen, a distinguished microbiologist and biotech entrepreneur affiliated with Turku University in that ancient Finnish port city, told me she was discouraged by "this new generation we have now who love entertainment, the easy life." She said she wished the government would require every university student to pay a "significant but affordable" part of the cost of their education, "just so they'd appreciate it." Today every Finnish student is assured free tuition and a monthly stipend to live on that they can receive for 55 months, the length of the six-year courses most still take.
Articol complet: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/05/AR2005080502015_pf.html