The Nordic Theory of Everything, by Anu Partanen

In order to do this extensively researched, heartfelt plea for sanity in American policies justice, this review would need to be pages and pages long. Partanen, a native of Finland, fell in love with an American and immigrated to his country. Once ensconced in NYC, she enjoyed (and endured) the vagaries of American life: horribly expensive and insufficient health care, insanely expensive and failing public schools and child care, rock-bottom wages and non-existent parental leave - are you noticing a theme? Americans pay top dollar for nearly everything but get far less back for their money than the Nordic countries do. For example, we pay TWO AND A HALF TIMES what Iceland and Finland pay for health care but our life expectancy is lower and we have higher infant mortality rates. It's lunacy.

And how about the fact that free-market capitalism has apparently mandated that employers, not the government, help pay for benefits? How does that make sense? In Finland, as well as the other Nordic countries, the government (and yes, that means citizen taxes) pay for: universal health care, free public education up to and including university, mandated paid vacation time of at least 4-5 weeks per year, mandated paid parental leave for BOTH parents and protection from job loss, excellent public transportation, and extensive elder care. And for all this, they pay about the same in taxes as we do. None of this, high taxes for the wealthy included, prevents the Nordic countries from excelling in the free market. Entrepreneurship is just as, if not more, common there as it is here, because the risks and stressors of American life simply don't exist in these countries. What could you do, if you didn't have to worry about maintaining health insurance, or paying for your employees' insurance?

Partanen's arguments are all based around her Nordic theory of love: true freedom only happens when a person is unencumbered by ties of dependency on others. In America, children are utterly dependent on their parents and the accident of their birth to determine their economic status (and no, social mobility won't help them much, since about 40% of men born into the lowest income bracket stay in it); workers are dependent on their employers for (crappy) health insurance; spouses are dependent on their partners for financial stability; as we age, parents become dependent on their children to take care of them, both physically and financially. As Partanen points out, this is the exact opposite of freedom. Why do we insist on following a path that doesn't work, and ignore much more successful strategies to achieve wealth and happiness? It's so self-defeating.

I finished the book feeling, well, sorry for Partanen as she gained her U.S. citizenship. She left a land of stability for one of anxiety and stress. And given the current economic climate, the Nordic theory of love is looking better and better. I hope enough people come to their senses and use books like this to help make our country better.


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