A Finnish-born journalist says Americans make a crucial mistake in how they look at life

  • Finnish-born journalist Anu Partnanen says Americans tend to compartmentalise various stages of life, while Nordic citizens take a more holistic view.
  • The downside to the US perspective is people must shoulder each stage themselves, Partanen claims.
  • Meanwhile, social services in Finland and other Nordic countries cover the bulk of these major life events because people see them all as connected.

In the US, life often gets divided into distinct buckets: childhood, education, parenting, healthcare, ageing, and so on.

Not so in Finland and other Nordic countries, according to journalist Anu Partnanen, who was born in Finland, moved to the US in 2008, and became a naturalized citizen five years later.

According to Partnanen, the fractured American view may set people up for failure.

Living a good life requires social services working together

Partanen was speaking at this year’s recent NationSwell Summit, held in New York City, on a panel focusing on “The Well-Lived Life.” The contrast she drew between American and Nordic attitudes toward life related to many themes in her 2016 book, “The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life.”

During the panel, Partanen expressed concern that America’s compartmentalized view of life builds barriers between areas that ought to be linked.

“Because they arrange a lot of these essential social services that everybody really needs to grow up to be a productive individual,” Partanen said, “Nordic countries perceive them more as [under] a big umbrella, and they all work together.”

In Finland, for example, whenever a couple has a child the government sends them a small box, known as a “baby box,” filled with clothes, toiletries, and other newborn essentials. The box itself doubles as a crib. And if recipients don’t want it, they can opt for the cash value of the box.

Taxpayers also chip in for early-life benefits like subsidized daycare and generous paid parental leave. When Finns retire, generally at 65, they receive a pension that allows them to live independently for as long as possible.

Nordic countries still use taxes for self-serving purposes

For as much as Americans talk about valuing freedom, Partnanen said, the effect of having so many social services is that people feel far freer. Foreigners tend to view Nordic countries as “these socialist nanny states where everybody has a collectivist mindset,” Partanen said. But “in fact a lot of these services really support everybody’s independence.”

In other words, even if Nordic people throw more of their earnings in to a collective pot than places like the US, their intentions are still self-serving.

“The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship,” Partanen wrote for The Atlantic in 2016. “This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.”

As President Trump moves to push through major tax reform that makes sweeping cuts, Partanen suggested on her panel that giving families small boosts in take-home pay, might not be a substitute for collective financial security.

“Under Nordic thinking, a child’s fate should not be dependent on who their parents happen to be,” she said. “This kind of continues throughout people’s lives.”

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