As we close out the summer season in our paradise on the Pacific with a late burst of beautiful sunny weather, soft ocean breezes and impossible traffic on Coast Village Road, it is interesting to watch traditionally liberal Newsweek rank the “Best Places to Live” based on Education, Healthcare, Quality of Life, Economic Dynamism and Political Environment. The surprising winner is Finland, a place that is as different from Montecito as flip flops are from furry mukluks.
The survey set out to decide if you were born today, which country would provide you the very best opportunity to live a healthy, safe, reasonably prosperous and upwardly mobile life? The # 1, 2, 3 best countries on the face of the Earth were Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, with the United States coming in at #11, behind Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Luxembourg and Australia. The three Nordic nations–Finland, Sweden and Norway–finished #1, #2 and #6, indicating cold may be better than hot.
Finland shot into the lead based in part on its 100% literacy rate and 17.1 average years of schooling. 100% of the population over the age of 15 can read and write Finnish. The U.S., with its 8 to 20 million illegal residents, many of whom do not speak English, has a massive high school dropout rate, and can only boast of a 15.8 average years of schooling.
Finland’s population of 5.3 million people, equal in size to either Minnesota or Wisconsin, has only one language, one flag and little multi-cultural diversity. Finns have a life expectancy of 72 years, compared to the 310 million people in the United States with a 70-year life expectancy. The higher life expectancy in Finland is partially explained when you learn that Finland has only 93 McDonald’s while the U.S. offers 12,804, all serving double cheeseburgers with super-sized fries. That means that Finland has a thinner and more fit population than the U.S. which faces a rising obesity epidemic from our coddled “couch potato” children thumbing away on their Sony Play Stations, XBoxes or cable TV.
Our country has over 700,000 Finnish-Americans, equal to one-eighth of the population of Finland, living mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the northern half of Michigan, where the U.S. life expectancy is 78.9 years. Some credit the preponderance of saunas for increased life expectancy in Finland. After all, if 5.3 million people habitually get naked, pour water on steaming hot rocks, jump into a 140⁰ hot box, beat each other with birch branches and then throw themselves into a snow bank in December, they deserve to live longer.
In quality of life, the Finns rank higher than the U.S. Their government has succeeded in forced income redistribution. Finland is about equal to the U.S. in gender pay disparity, much lower in consumption spending per capita, lower in homicides per 100,000 and slightly lower in unemployment. On the other hand, Finland has a much higher suicide rate, probably due to those long dreary winters and a much higher consumption of Vodka. Unfortunately, Finland is also the first country in the developed world to officially double-dip into a second recession, putting a crimp in its #1 economic dynamism rating.
The Finns also rank lower in their innovation index than their counterparts in this country. Finland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe with the vast majority of its people huddled in the South for warmth where they go into hibernation for much of the Winter.
Finland has 60,000 lakes and a lot of ice, snow and reindeer. The country was once a Grand Duchy of Imperial Russia and was a latecomer to the industrial revolution. Its mostly agrarian population fled to Sweden and America in the Great Migration from Finland between 1870 and 1930. Since then the Finns have given us lots of uncomfortable furniture; Eero Saarinen (the architect who designed the St. Louis arch and the TWA terminal at JFK); and famous Finns like Matt Damon (actor) and Pamela Anderson (the Baywatch babe, Playboy centerfold and onetime wife of Motley Crew drummer Tommy Lee.)
The lesson learned from the Newsweek survey is that to reach the top it helps (1) to be small in population, (2) to have a relatively homogenous society lacking significant minorities of low-wage immigration workers, and (3) to be a country where 91% of citizens speak a common language. It is also notable that the Finns have a single religion; 83% are Lutherans with a strong sense of right from wrong. These are uncomfortable messages for all of us, including the liberal staff at Newsweek. As former Senator Fred Thomson said in explaining the low U.S. ranking, “The U.S. does have some flaws. For example, it is where Newsweek is located.”