Finland Undefeated Champion in Happiness – For How Long?

For the last seven years Finland has received the top place as the world’s happiest country. 

Such an award deserves clarification because it is an extremely curious conclusion about any country whose population of 5,603,075 covers an area bigger than the UK and experiences long, cold, dark winters and short warm summers with a rapidly aging population!

The World Happiness Report is a reliable scientific report based on measurable statistics made  by a partnership of Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the WHR’s Editorial Board. The report is produced under the editorial control of a WHR Editorial Board. 

Its central purpose of the report is to review the science of measuring and understanding subjective well-being, and to use survey measures of life satisfaction to track the quality of lives as they are being lived in more than 150 countries. 

However the report does not look forward into the future and that is its greatest weakness when we celebrate its results and feel good about ourselves…

Finns are normally happy “on average”, but only in a serious sense, because we experience satisfaction with life without being too demonstrable. People are generally reserved and think seriously about life because, being a small country, we are somewhat concerned about looking after ourselves and others. There is a strong social identity and national conscience.

We have the opportunity to enjoy the opportunities of excellent free or low-cost education, and access to a reasonably comprehensive public healthcare service, and other basic social services  for which we dutifully pay our taxes. 

Men are generally rather serious, women are perhaps more open and prone to smile, but we are not great risk takers, and are conservative by nature. Adults put great weight on democracy and equality of opportunity, which are important values which we expect to receive and hold for others. Extreme political parties are frowned upon and have had so far short half-lives! 

But all is not great in this fair land just now and many independent Finnish thinkers are concerned about about falling Pisa results, serious defects in the cost efficiencies of our healthcare, in the prevalence of monopolies in our domestic commercial affairs and in many of the following matters:  

  1. There are also deficiencies in our public safety nets for the unemployed, and others who are in real need of support. The employment rate has been too long at a level below 75% – too few women are outside the workforce, and too many of the unemployed are receiving unemployment benefits when they could and should be working. Targeted re-training for the unemployed is being cut back and significantly higher living costs in the bigger cities where jobs are available stop these people from moving from smaller cities and from other more isolated areas of Finland. Trade unions are conservative protectors of vested interests of their members, and employers’ unions want to protect their own financial interests – we need to have more mutual respect between these parties, and not continue seeing polarisation and absence of dialogue and compromise.
  1. Healthcare has been privatised too quickly and a small number of big healthcare companies have employed huge numbers of doctors and other healthcare professionals from the public sector. This has increased public healthcare costs and significantly reduced public healthcare resources thus prolonging waiting times for needed surgical care and other hospital treatments. These needs cannot be covered by private healthcare because it is too expensive for average wage-earners, and increasingly expensive when the public sector seeks to outsource to these same private companies. A more serious situation is the privatisation of care of the elderly with a few healthcare companies having aggressively expanded by buying smaller companies and by becoming outsourcing partners for the public sector. In particular, helpless elderly patients suffering from dementia-related infirmities are receiving unacceptable levels of care. There are regular reports of profit-seeking companies cutting costs and cutting corners to the detriment of people who can no longer complain. The public sector regulators appear to be sleeping at the helm, or simply being negligent in their duty of care. This is now a public scandal. Preventive healthcare and “own doctor” policies are failing due to funding cuts, and that has significant future cost implications.
  1. Many large industrial companies that are making huge profits are receiving large grants for innovations and R&D, and many questions are being asked why this should continue when these same companies continue to pay large dividends and indulge in costly share buy-backs.
  1. The current main earnings-related pension system far from being cost efficient because of weak investment returns and high administration costs. This gives pensioners much lower pensions compared to Norway and Singapore which have similar pension systems regulated by specific laws. Lower pensions mean that income tax revenues are smaller than they should be.

All of the above are a drain on annual public revenues and necessary reforms could dramatically improve these revenues reducing the imperative to increase taxes.

Unfortunately, the present and past governments have not enacted these reforms in time and the public deficit has been growing as has public debt.

Taken together it is obvious that without reforms Finland will see their measure of happiness lowered because the percentage retired folk will increase strongly from 28% to over 35% of the whole population with fewer people available to participate un the labour market during the next 10 years.

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