Report on disappointing Sustainability Workshop here in Helsinki, organized by SITRA, the Finnish Innovation Fund

The Nordic countries, more than other OECD countries, are suffering from an internal hangover from the 2007 financial crisis. Prior to the crisis we had given birth to giant welfare states that politicians and their parties are only too pleased to expand with “other peoples’ money”. However, the crisis came, unemployment spiked and production fell like a stone, and these same politicians froze in the headlights, scared of cutting back, because they will not get re-elected. Yes, they enjoy the soft life of ministerial cars and legislating with other people’s money, and perhaps have come to believe that they and their children have the right to everlasting jobs in government, again at taxpayers’ expense.

And what can taxpayers do now that the baby boomers are entering their golden years? They are not really inclined to see cuts in services or higher taxes, even if they know that the government budget is well over in the red.

Then we have this sustainability crowd, who like to talk about working less, the coming of robots, AI and universal income. They like to say that GDP is not the right measure. They see work as it is today needs to change and that we must start sharing cars and ride bikes, grow vegetables on our roofs and balconies, and stop producing electricity with coal. They see cities and digital technology as our savior, and that we need “so much” to support all those who lose their jobs and others who cannot find jobs. At this point, they also talk about the need to have all-inclusive discussions about how we are going to handle the future. How we must help the billions in India, China and Africa…

It is as if we alone can make a difference, and that that we somehow have sufficient resources to help the world, when it is all we can do to manage to ensure basic security and welfare of our own people.

The sustainability folk seem to forget that nobody handed out money and advice to Finland 50 to 60 years ago, when we were almost crushed by the allies and the Russians. Nobody poured money into Finland to build export industries, agriculture, commerce; nobody told us how to organize our schools or healthcare, so we had world-class education and good healthcare now.

And step back from the global view – Helsinki, and a few other cities, have been subsidizing the countryside in Finland for decades so they have excellent services, as we do in the city. The Center Party, like all milk farmers, have been busy milking the urban areas for money to pay for costly services for the few. The cities have not complained, but now they are, because you should not be allowed to have your cake and eat it, which is the demand made by the Center Party for the implementation of the Healthcare Reform and 18 Counties Reform. The Center Party knows or should know that there will be no savings from these reforms, just the risk of huge costs. In similar fashion, the Conservative Party knows or should know that healthcare costs will not be lower with healthcare privatization. Sufficient tax revenues are not being generated to cover these future costs for these 2 “reforms”.

Economic growth and economic dynamics do not work the same way in the countryside like they do in urban areas. When there is a long economic downturn, like today, Finland cannot afford to maintain the same level of support for less populated, far-flung small towns and villages. The municipal system needs to be reformed with far fewer municipalities. And that means less financial support with the realization that if people want to live far away from urban centers then they cannot expect to receive equality in receiving the basic services.

But what are our politician doing about sustainability? They are running scared and putting their heads in the sand and trying to ignore the fact that we just cannot afford to do the same for everybody because there is a clear limit on who can pay for all this in a globalized world.

Finland, like the other Nordic countries, cannot be the social insurance office for the rest of the world, nor can the urban areas of our small countries keep on supporting the poorer empty areas of the country when money is tight.

Finally, sustainable policies have first and foremost an economic meaning and secondly a social content. Both are important but with the above proviso. If you cannot afford to keep a big house then you must accept to live more frugally. Naturally your education and healthcare are a top priority, as is keeping the country clean.

Talking about this at the top of your voices is a cost free way of trying to persuade the rest of the world above this imperative for saving the globe from the clear and imminent dangers of climate change.

Read other news on the city site of Helsinki.

http://www.finnishnews.fi
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