Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Secret to Finland’s Success With Schools, Moms, Kids—and Everything

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Some countries seem to be on track. Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic Monthly:

The country has cheaper medical care, smarter children, happier moms, better working conditions, less-anxious unemployed people, and lower student loan rates than we do. And that probably will never change.

It’s hard not to get jealous when I talk to my extended family.

My cousin’s husband gets 36 vacation days per year, not including holidays. If he wants, he can leave his job for a brief hiatus and come back to a guaranteed position months later.

Tuition at his daughter’s university is free, though she took out a small loan for living expenses. Its interest rate is 1 percent.

My cousin is a recent immigrant, and while she was learning the language and training for jobs, the state gave her 700 euros a month to live on.

“Everyone should get a slice of the cake so that they have what they need to realize their life projects.”

They had another kid six years ago, and though they both work, they’ll collect 100 euros a month from the government until the day she turns 17.

They of course live in Finland, home to saunas, quirky metal bands, and people who have for decades opted for equality and security over keeping more of their paychecks.

Inarguably one of the world’s most generous — and successful — welfare states, the country has a lower infant mortality ratebetter school scores, and a far lower poverty rate than the United States, and it’s the second-happiest countryon earth (the U.S. doesn’t break the top 10). According to the OECD, Finns on average give an 8.8 score to their overall life satisfaction. Americans are at 7.5.

Sometimes when I’m watching the web traffic for stories here at The Atlantic‘s global desk, I’ll notice a surge in readership in one of a couple of archival stories we have about how fantastic Finland is — usually thanks to Reddit or a link from another news site. One is about Finland’s “baby boxes, ” a sort of baby shower the Finnish government throws every mom. A package sent to expecting women contains all the essentials for newborns — everything from diapers to a tiny sleeping bag. (Want to choose your own baby clothes? You can opt instead for the box’s cash value, as my cousin did.)

The other popular story is about Finland’s school system, which ranks as one of the world’s best — with no standardized testing or South Asian-style “cramming” but with lots of customization in the classroom. Oh, and students there also spend fewer hours physically in school than their counterparts in other Western countries.

As the U.S. raises student loan rates, considers cutting food stamps, guts long-term unemployment insurance, and strains to set up its first-ever universal healthcare system, it’s easy to get sucked into articles about a country that has lapped America in certain international metrics but has also kept social protections in place. Like doting parents trying to spur an underperforming child, American liberals seem to periodically ask, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

It’s a good debate to have, and in some ways, it seems like there’s no reason why the U.S. shouldn’t borrow from Finland or any other Nordic country — we’re richer and just as committed to improving education and health, after all. Here’s the difference: Finland’s welfare system was hardwired into its economic development strategy, and it hasn’t been seriously challenged by any major political group since. And just as Finland was ramping up its protections for workers, families, and the poor in the 1960s, Americans began to sour on the idea of “welfare” altogether. What’s more, some economists argue that it’sbecause of all that American capitalism contributes to the global economy that countries like Finland — kinder, gentler, but still wealthy — can afford to pamper their citizens. With actual Pampers, no less.

***

Let’s start with mandatory maternity leave, . . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. From the article, a very interesting graph:

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Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2013 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

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