The Nordic Theory of Everything
In Search of A Better LifeBook - 2017
A Finnish journalist, now a naturalized American citizen, asks Americans to draw on elements of the Nordic way of life to nurture a fairer, happier, more secure, and less stressful society for themselves and their children.
Moving to America in 2008, Finnish journalist Anu Partanen quickly went from confident, successful professional to wary, self-doubting mess. She found that navigating the basics of everyday life--from buying a cell phone and filing taxes to education and childcare--was much more complicated and stressful than anything she encountered in her homeland. At first, she attributed her crippling anxiety to the difficulty of adapting to a freewheeling new culture. But as she got to know Americans better, she discovered they shared her deep apprehension. To understand why life is so different in the U.S. and Finland, Partanen began to look closely at both.
In The Nordic Theory of Everything, Partanen compares and contrasts life in the United States with life in the Nordic region, focusing on four key relationships--parents and children, men and women, employees and employers, and government and citizens. She debunks criticism that Nordic countries are socialist "nanny states," revealing instead that it is we Americans who are far more enmeshed in unhealthy dependencies than we realize. As Partanen explains step by step, the Nordic approach allows citizens to enjoy more individual freedom and independence than we do.
Partanen wants to open Americans' eyes to how much better things can be--to show her beloved new country what it can learn from her homeland to reinvigorate and fulfill the promise of the American dream--to provide the opportunity to live a healthy, safe, economically secure, upwardly mobile life for everyone. Offering insights, advice, and solutions, The Nordic Theory of Everything makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild our society, rekindle our optimism, and restore true freedom to our relationships and lives.
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But isn't this the essential American experience of today, I thought -- squinting my eyes at the sun -- this combination of pride in America's greatness and dismay at its brutal inequalities, all at the same time?
"Social systems that do not promote or enable the pursuit of individual liberty are always going to be at a disadvantage. This used to be the great strength of the United States, social mobility and the American dream. But social mobility without social investments is simply not possible. So if you start to give up on public schools and a collective system for enabling individual social mobility, you're going to end up with inequality, gated communities, collapse of trust, a dysfunctional political system. All these things you see now in the United States." -- Lars Trägårdh, who left Sweden for America in the 1970's, but now lives in Sweden.
The harshness of American life helps explain the presence in the United States of a dubious, even predatory, [!] wing of the self-help industry, which profits by selling unlikely promises to the unlucky. It's telling that self-help gurus hardly exist in the Nordic countries. They're not necessary. As in other areas of life in Nordic societies, this is an area where the basic goal of the Nordic theory of love -- to provide every individual with independence -- results in freedom. And the sort of freedom I'm talking about here is freedom from investing energy in false hope. Wishful thinking can take a nation only so far. Ultimately, hope has to be generated by the actual presence of opportunity. And if it's really there, it doesn't require constant psychological energy and enthusiasm, or a constant stream of heroic tales of survival against all the odds, to sustain.
The reasons for all this Nordic success in business are, once again, not complicated. They result from deliberate policy choices inspired by the fundamental values and goals of the Nordic theory of love: making sure that families are composed of strong and independent individuals who function well as a team, that workers are healthy and well educated and not overly dependent on their employers, that infrastructure is top-notch, that institutions are transparent, that the justice system works in the public interest, that corruption is low, that technology permeates society, that trade is free, that regulations are reasonable.
Another way of saying this is that NORDIC NATIONS HAVE CULTIVATED THE SINGLE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE A SOCIETY CAN HAVE IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: HUMAN CAPITAL.
When the World Bank ranks countries on ease of doing business, based on criteria such as starting a company, dealing with construction permits, getting credit, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, or paying taxes, the Nordic countries consistently rank among the most business-friendly nations in the world. In fact, on those criteria, American entrepreneurs would be better off in Denmark, which scored higher than the United States in the 2015 ranking. Sweden, Norway, and Finland followed closely, in the top ten.
Nordic nations have produced what is, by any metric, an impressive quantity of successful international businesses and brands, especially for such small, out-of-the-way countries. . . . One thing is clear: Allowing employees to combine work and family, ensuring high-quality universal education, providing health care for all and day care for every child, and curbing income inequality have not destroyed the capacity for innovation, nor have they prevented Nordic individuals from building business empires, an in the process becoming wealthy, some enormously so.
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