We often hear about how great people in northern European countries have it compared to North Americans -- they pay high taxes, yes, but they have cradle-to-grave assurances they won't go hungry, homeless, doctorless or toothless. Free university education, good care for children and the elderly, and so on.
Well, according to a Finnish writer who followed her fiance to the U.S. in 2008, it's all true. Anu Partanen thought she was leaving the safety and complacency of Finland for a place where people craved "liberty and a chance to excel." What she found was that Americans may depend less on the state, but they depend more on others like their employers and relatives. They cling to hated jobs for the health care attached, and live off their parents into their 20s and 30s because of high student debts.
"The Nordic system is intentionally designed to take into account the specific challenges of modern life and give citizens as much logistical and financial independence as possible," she writes in a book about her experience. Walrus magazine editor Jonathan Kay, who has written a column on her book, notes that what she found in the U.S. was an "agitated population beholden to their spouses, parents, children, colleagues, and bosses." He says he saw the same thing when he lived in New York City in the 1990s, where except for the one percenters, "everyone I met was living in some kind of cage."
Kay notes Partanen was "especially horrified" by the lot of American women, finding that in some states, they had so little protection that they were pressured into returning to work within weeks of giving birth. And, he says, she argues that the "unforgiving nature of American economic life helps explain why so many American women are obsessed with finding rich husbands." (I will refrain from a Donald Trump reference here.)
Canada offers more help to its citizens than the U.S., but Kay says our country could still benefit from taking a look at places like Finland. "The argument is not one of freedom versus dependency," he writes. "We are all dependent on someone -- the only question is whom."
( Kay's column is in the November 2016 issue of the Walrus magazine. Partanen's book is called The Nordic Theory of Everything.)