- Annie Fadely is the senior policy and programs associate at Civic Ventures, a public policy incubator based out of Seattle, and a producer of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast.
- Parents-to-be in Finland look forward to receiving their “baby box” stuffed with 60 essential items, everything from clothes, blankets, and bedding.
- Besides having the world’s lowest infant mortality rate, Finland is also ranked as one of the most stable, crime-free, and family-friendly countries in the world.
- Yet, the Trump Administration continually claims that ‘socialism’ worsens the quality of life in Nordic countries.
- The difference between Finland and America is that Finland has a much more harmonious marriage between democracy (a political system) and capitalism (an economic system), because the government has established a minimum humane standard of living.
- For more on this topic, listen to the latest episode of “Pitchfork Economics.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Listen up, parent people: Your new celebrity crush is the Finnish baby box.
Kela, Finland’s social security institution, has been sending new parents a baby starter kit for 75 years. It’s stuffed with 60 essential items – clothes, blankets, toys, a book, bedding, an assortment of personal care items, and probably also instructions for reaching Narnia. It’s all designed with very IKEA-cute prints, and the box itself has been designed for safe use as a padded crib.
I invite you to visit the maternity package website, where the Finnish government will treat you to a baby box unboxing video. Feast your eyes on the cutest baby snowsuit you’ve ever seen. Does your baby have a balaclava? Finnish babies do. According to Kela, everything in the box is chosen “with a view to their significance for promoting the health and well-being of the mother and child.” And if parents already have what they need, they can choose a voucher for €170 instead (and for the record: Finland gives the box to non-citizens living in the country, too).
The sign-up page for the maternity package helpfully includes information about everything else a parent might be interested in that the Finnish government offers: maternity, paternity, and parental allowances, child benefits, three different types of childcare allowances, child sickness and disability assistance, an adoption grant, and more.
Americans might find the idea of a baby box to be charming and, ultimately, frivolous. But the truth is that paying attention to these details matters. It’s not a coincidence that Finland’s under-five child mortality rate is 1.7 per 1,000 live births – the lowest in the world. In the United States, it’s 6.53.
Finland has also been ranked the most stable country in the world – as well as the freest and safest. The World Economic Forum says Finland has the least organised crime in the world, its judicial system is the most independent, its banks are the soundest, and its protection of property rights is the best. In 2016, the Sustainable Society Index found that Finland is the best country in the world in a multinational comparison of human well-being.
And yet, in 2018, the Trump Administration reported that “socialism” has worsened the quality of life in Nordic countries – that living standards are 15% lower than in the US, and the returns on a college education are lower. This type of fear mongering isn’t new. In fact, both parties are guilty of believing narratives like “the undeserving poor,” “welfare queens,” and “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” But it’s kind of a waste of time to try to demonize socialism, because the Nordic countries aren’t even socialist. They’re capitalist, just like us.
Capitalism is an economic system, not a political one – it’s just the way that we organise the production of goods through a market that we create, with private ownership and profit incentives. The difference between Finland and America is that our Nordic friends have a much more harmonious marriage between democracy and capitalism; in Finland, the inequities that are created by capitalism don’t cut as deep, because the government has established a minimum humane standard of living.
Although low child mortality rates are largely the result of an excellent and freely accessible health care system, the baby box is a perfect example of how Finland uses its wealth to invest in the well-being of its people – and everyone is better for it. You could call that democratic socialism, but you can also just call it smart.
Last week on the Pitchfork Economics podcast, we were joined by writers Anu Partanen and Trevor Corson, a Finnish-American couple living in Helsinki and the authors of the recent New York Times piece, “Finland Is a Capitalist Paradise.” When their daughter was born, though, they were living in Brooklyn – and thought they were going to have to forego the baby box tradition. After their friends managed to smuggle one across the world, Anu wrote:
“To me the box was home, and it was filled with love and support. It was a gift from a country that started out among the poorest in Europe, having endured famine, oppression and hardship, but that built itself up to be one of the wealthiest. But what matters to me most is what Finland has chosen to do with its wealth: Finland has chosen to invest in its people – all of its people – and especially to nurture its children – all of them. The path was not always straight or easy, and struggles continue even today. But I cannot imagine a better way to use one’s freedom, independence, and fortune as a society than to ensure a good future for the nation’s children.”
What if we used our freedom, independence, and fortune – all qualities Americans believe we enjoy more than the rest of the world – to do the same?
This week on the podcast, we’re talking to Professor Steve Keen, who has spent his career building a new economics – one that will support creating a more inclusive democracy. He helps us imagine what American society could look like if we stopped believing in long-held fictions.
For now, if American progress or Finnish citizenship seem out of reach, companies like “finnbin” and “Finnish Baby Box” will sell you a replica of Finland’s baby box. It’s like democratic socialism, but for the rich.
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