Mika Maliranta: Finland will continue to build on its current strengths
“To be born in Finland is like winning the lottery” is an annoying cliché that is today more true than in the 1970’s when it was coined. This is confirmed by Finland’s top rankings in various comparisons of statistical indicators. Finland is a genuinely democratic country, whose citizens are today well placed to fulfil their obligations.
Happiness barometers place Finland in the same category with the other Nordic countries. Even though we Finns are fond of melancholic melodies and tend to look grumpy in the bus on our way to work, we are on average pretty satisfied with our lives. The backbones of our happiness include economic prosperity, the services provided by a Nordic welfare state, and public institutions that do not discriminate, exploit or waver. By “institutions” I mean society’s structures and patterns that steer the behaviour of citizens. They include not only official organisations, such as Parliament, the judiciary and the police, but also various unofficial social systems, like customs and habits. Well-functioning institutions provide us with opportunities and security and enhance our trust in each other and in the future – the building blocks of a happy life.
Dialogue promotes understanding
The origins of our well-being go back much further than a hundred years: they can be found in the long history Finland shares with Sweden. The structures of our institutions took shape during those centuries, and, fortunately, they survived Russian rule over Finland in the 19th and early 20th centuries and throughout the harrowing Finnish civil war in 1918. Even after those events, the nation was able to join forces to reconstruct the newly independent state on foundations that had remained solid.
This success is, in part, the result of mutual trust and a willingness to engage in dialogue. In the early years of Finland’s independence, many citizens thought that there is no point in talking to insurgents. Luckily, however, there were those who believed in dialogue. Cooperation proved essential during the Winter War, if not before. Even today we must talk to those who think differently if we wish to understand where their opinions stem from.
Trust does not develop automatically – it has to be upheld by institutions. I’m not really worried about the sustainability of our institutions: I’m confident that we’ll continue to take care of them.
Conflicts are part of society
Cultural unity has facilitated Finland’s triumphal progress during its independence. A uniform set of values and trust in fellow citizens have enabled cooperation between people with different mindsets. We should remember that two leading Finnish statesmen in the between-the-wars period, Väinö Tanner and Risto Ryti, often disagreed, but they nevertheless cooperated for many decades, trusting one another. In this, they showed true wisdom.
Finns have always shown a measure of moderation. Unrestrained expressions of opposition are not typical of our political culture, and resistance to different manifestations of extremism has been strong. Unlike many other European countries, Finland has enjoyed a stable, uninterrupted democracy for a hundred years already.
While I value compromises highly, it is true that society also needs controlled conflicts. Disagreements are inherent in social life and democracy and they should not be played down. Institutions are there to solve problems in a well-organised manner. What ultimately counts is the whole – not everyone needs to get something on every occasion. Yet resolving problems may prove difficult, and disappointments and bad feelings cannot always be avoided.
Playing by the rules
The great thing about independence anniversaries is that they encourage large numbers of people to reflect on the same issues concurrently, thus facilitating dialogue. During anniversary years, we make a synthesis of where we stand, how we got there and where we’ll head next. By talking to each other we can gain a better understanding of the state of affairs, the different opportunities available and future challenges.
Globalisation is a necessary – but not an sufficient – condition for economic growth. Both globalisation and technological transformation will impose a need for change within institutions also in Finland. For example, globalisation-related migration poses a challenge not only to the current political system but also to the rules of the Finnish labour market.
Nevertheless, I look to the future with confidence. The foundations of our institutions hardly need to be modified. Institutions do not discriminate: they force us to make compromises and to progress gradually. The basic rules applied in Finland work well, allowing all citizens to engage in public decision-making. There have always been those who want to rock the boat, but we have always managed to calm them down, in general by reasoning with them and involving them in decision-making.
Finland’s future success will stem from our existing strengths: well-functioning fundamental structures of society, cultural unity, mutual trust and dialogue between people. Let’s hope that they will survive and become more pronounced in our society.
Mika Maliranta is Research Director at the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA) and Professor of Economics at Jyväskylä University School of Business Economics (JSBE). His research interest include economic growth, productivity, firm dynamics, and job and worker flows.