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Bernie Sanders: The Finnish Success Story

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I was honored to show Ambassador Pekka Lintu of Finland around my home state of Vermont this week. We met with a large number of students and faculty at the University of Vermont, sat down with leaders of the business community, and hosted a town meeting in the evening in front of a standing-room-only crowd.

Why did I ask the Ambassador from Finland, Pekka Lintu, to come to Vermont to talk a little bit about his country? The answer is pretty simple. We as a state and nation should do our very best to learn as much as possible about the best kind of economic and social models that exist throughout the world and, where these models make sense, we should see how we can adopt them to this state and this country. This is especially true today when the United States faces so many difficult problems.

It is no secret to anyone in Vermont that the American economy today is in pretty serious trouble: that the middle class is shrinking, poverty is increasing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider. It is also true that despite all the rhetoric about “family values,” the American worker now works the longest hours of anyone in a major country, and that many of our families are stressed out and exhausted.

It is no secret that our health care system is disintegrating, that 47 million Americans have no health insurance and, despite that, we spend twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation – 14 percent of our GDP.

It is no secret that the way we treat our children is nothing less than shameful; that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world; that our childcare system is totally inadequate; that too many of our kids drop out of school, and that the cost of college is increasingly unaffordable. And, in my view, one of the results of how we neglect many of our children is that we end up with more people behind bars, in jail, than any other country on earth. There is a correlation between the highest rate of childhood poverty and the highest rate of incarceration.

In talking about the United States and Finland, we should be very clear that these are two very, very different countries. Finland has a population of 5.2 million people. We are over 300 million. Finland has a very homogenous population. We are extremely diverse. Almost all of us have come from somewhere else in the not too distant past. Finland is the size of Montana. We stretch 3,000 miles from coast to coast, plus Alaska and Hawaii.

And yet, as we acknowledge the difference we should also acknowledge that we are all human beings with very much the same DNA, the same kind of intelligence and the same human needs.

In that context, we should ask how does it happen that in Finland they have virtually abolished childhood poverty, have free high-quality child care, free college and graduate school education and have, according to international reports, the best primary and secondary educational system in the world? Is there something that we can learn from that model?

In Finland, a high-quality national health care program exists which provides almost free health care for all – and ends up costing about half as much per capita as our system. In Finland, when students become doctors and nurses they leave school debt free – because there are no costs in going to school. Is there something that we can learn from that model?

In Finland, in the midst of having one of the most competitive economies in the world, 80 percent of workers there belong to unions and the benefits that workers receive there, such as unemployment compensation, dwarf what workers in this country receive. One statistic that I found particularly interesting is that in Finland workers receive 30 days paid vacation, plus ten national holidays.

Let us be clear. Finland is no utopia and it has its share of problems. Not so many years ago, in fact, Finland had a very severe economic downturn and its economy today is not immune to what happens in the rest of the world.

Having said that, there is no question that Finland, as well as other Scandinavian countries, have much to be proud of. When one thinks about the long march of human history, it is no small thing that countries now exist, like Finland, which operate under egalitarian principles, which have virtually abolished poverty, which provide almost-free, quality health care to all their people, and provide free, high-quality education from child care to graduate school. These are models, it seems to me, that we can learn from.


Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)
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actually checking out other nations doing a better... by Rob Kall on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 11:19:39 AM
Could use more like a few hundred like him.  ... by August Adams on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 8:56:55 PM
Barry Sanders is great and I could see him do... by Kevin Anthony Stoda on Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008 at 5:25:57 AM
Thank you for another example of how the avoidance... by John Sanchez Jr. on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 12:43:19 PM
If it doesn't make a fast buck for the rich an... by John Hanks on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 2:42:12 PM
Finland doesn't stick its nose in everyone els... by Archie on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 3:27:44 PM
Not quite. I admit that it has been some years sin... by Mike Folkerth on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 5:01:04 PM
To Mike Fokerth ... Lets Compare Finland to Alaska... by paulocurry on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 6:09:25 PM
America should adopt Venezuela's social and econom... by Ty on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 7:58:47 PM
Ending the ownership classes, the mega corporation... by August Adams on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 9:07:18 PM
There is definitely a germ of an idea in the last ... by Archie on Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008 at 11:36:11 PM
I also recently read that a number of these Scandi... by Bia Winter on Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008 at 6:55:43 AM
We chose our government exactly the way you that p... by Mike Folkerth on Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008 at 9:32:19 AM
You totally missed my point. I was pointing out th... by Mike Folkerth on Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008 at 11:24:41 AM