I’ve recently read ‘The Nordic Theory of Everything’ by Anu Partanen. Anu Partanen is a Finnish woman married to an American man and living in New York. She contrasts the extraordinary differences between the USA and the Nordic region; how they organise all aspects of society, from education and social policy to taxation and business creation, and how these differences shape individual lives and relationships. It’s a great book and I cited it in my recent talk in Hereford.
She blends extensive academic research with personal anecdote to paint a vivid picture of the two systems. Of course there are differences between the five Nordic countries, as there are between the fifty states of USA, but there is a huge gulf between USA and the Nordic region. Interestingly she chooses not to paint a simple dichotomy between more socialist and capitalist ideologies, and barely uses either of these terms, preferring to talk about the purpose and function of a system. She sees a clear purpose underlying the general direction of policy in the Nordic region, the overall objective being to build strong, happy, healthy, independent, self-reliant individuals, capable of forming strong relationships, families and communities. The implications of this are enormous. The concern is for the welfare of all the people, and therefore equality is central. Providing excellent health, childcare, education and other opportunities for all people flows from this. Children start school later, have shorter school hours and minimal testing, and yet massively outperform USA and UK, in large part because children are less stressed and all schools equally well resourced.
She shows how much greater stress Americans live under. Everything seems designed not for the happiness of the people but rather for the vested interests of corporations whose sole interest is in maximizing profits. But this does not lead to America being better for business. It seems rather to result in a lot of confusion, conflict and stress.
It is not surprising that the Nordic countries have systems of proportional representation, where political representation accurately reflects how people vote. Recent elections in Finland have produced a very interesting coalition government, made up of five parties, including the Greens, and that very quickly they announced some of the most ambitious carbon reduction goals of any country. This is such a contrast to the chaos and division that are ruining life in USA and UK. We have so much to learn from the Nordic region. Tragically UK under Boris Johnson seems set to emulate Trump’s America.
In ‘the Nordic Theory of Everything’ Anu Partanen frequently refers to ‘the Nordic Theory of Love’ as the underpinning principle of the Nordic system. She draws on previous work by Tragardh and Berggren who wrote about ‘the Swedish Theory of Love’. In my talk I extrapolated further, and used the term ‘the Global Theory of Love’ to mean taking these principles of nurture and care for the wellbeing of all individuals to the global scale, and speculated as to the possibilities of providing Nordic quality public services to all humanity, while redirecting the global economy towards ecological renaissance. A phase I used a number of times in the talk was that ‘Everything needs to change, and fast!’ This is true to combat the climate emergency, but the same changes could also be used to bring about a wellbeing revolution. It’s a big and complex concept, and in my talk in Hereford last week I tried my best to make it comprehensible. I hope, at least to some extent, I succeeded.