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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Review: The Nordic Theory of Everything - In Search of a Better Life

 The Nordic Theory of Everything is Anu Partanen's personal journal of her transition to the USA from Finland. It's a good example of how I can agree with everything in a book but still find it wanting, mostly because Partanen approaches everything from a logical explanatory fashion that would work if everyone operated on rational, timeless ethics, but didn't study history.

If you haven't been living under a rock (or maybe if you're just one of those Americans without a passport), you know that most of Western Europe (and especially the Scandinavian countries) have living standards that exceed that of the United States. These include 5-6 weeks of paid vacation, a national healthcare system that means no medical bankruptcies, free college, paid parental leave (for both parents!), gun control laws that means your kids don't get shot at school, great public transit systems, excellent schools, and a generally less financially stressed out life. Partanen takes it upon herself to explain the principles and logic behind those policies, and how they benefit the citizens at large of those countries, while costing less than the American way of doing things.

I agree with all of her logic and explanations, and thoroughly understands why she would miss all the best parts of Finnish society while being thoroughly stressed out by the craziness that Americans accept. But she does all this without explaining why the US is the way it is: a history of racism. Many American counties shutdown their public swimming pools rather than desegregate. Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren county chose to shutdown public schools rather than desegregate. When a people are so concerned with "the others" getting what they've been getting that they would rather their kids lose public schooling, no amount of rational pontificating is going to persuade them that giving everyone healthcare is a good idea.

When Obamacare was rolled out, liberals expected that states would expand Medicaid to help their uninsured citizens. But many states (you can guess which easily by looking at any chart of red vs blue states) chose not to expand Medicaid and decided to leave their poorest citizens (colored or white) uninsured instead.  Kansas, for instance had attempted to pass Medicaid expansion several times but failed.

Without an understanding of the history, you end up with a book like Partanen's. Completely correct, logical, and agreeable, but without explanatory power. If you don't know anything about European social democratic systems, the book's great. But if you already do, this book won't do anything for you. Read Democracy in Chains instead.

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