Thursday, March 8, 2018

Nordic Theory of Everything

Just finished reading Anu Partanen's "The Nordic Theory of Everything:  In Search of a Better Life."  Terrific book.  Well-researched, but not too dense, with personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout.  

I'm unlikely to remember all (most?) of the facts and tidbits throughout this book but among those I found most interesting are as follows:

"The Nordic Theory of Love":  Partanen claims this is the basis of how Scandinavians view society and individualism.  It boils down to this:  "authentic love and friendship are possible only between individuals who are independent and equal" (p.50).   This approach to life allows individuals to maximize their self-sufficiency and independence in relation to other members of their community.  This further translates into an approach to governance that influences a number of policy choices with a singular goal:  "independence, freedom, and opportunity for every member of society" (p.53).  The big manifestations of this governing philosophy -- education, health care, and family policies -- follow from the cultural values expressed as the Nordic Theory of Love.  

Freedom is a cornerstone of the Nordic way of life.  Partanen sums it up best when she wonders, "When are you truly free?"  An American is likely to summon images of the rugged cowboy going his own way out West, everyone and everything else be damned, or of the homesteader relying only on his wits, resourcefulness, and family for support.  But the Nordic citizen will view freedom as something much richer.  To quote Partanen at length (p.324-5):
They see freedom as the assurance that all individuals get real opportunity, so they're free to pursue the good life for themselves, and real protection from the lottery of bad luck, so they're free from unnecessary fear and anxiety. 
There is much debate and hand-wringing in the United States about health care and much of that debate boils down to what model of health care delivery the U.S. should use.  My preferences aside, there are three basic models (pp.171-2)

1.  "Beveridge Model": Health care is provided and paid for by the government through taxes.  Users of the health care system pay little to nothing and most doctors are salaried employees of the government.  Scandinavia uses this model. 
2.  "Bismarck Model":  Health-care providers,hospitals, and health insurance companies are private, employers & employees share the cost of insurance, and the government pays for the unemployed BUT the system is not for profit.  The private companies are essentially charities and they are required by law to cover everyone.  Germany, Japan, Belgium, and Switzerland use this model.
3.  "National Health Insurance Model":  Providers of health care are private but the government runs a single, unified health insurance program that all users pay into.  This health insurance then pays the bill, thus the moniker, "single-payer".  Canada and, to some extent, Australia, use this model.  

Needless to say, the U.S. doesn't use any of these.   

The United States is an exceptional country but we could make it better.  Change may not happen overnight but I suspect it will come, albeit slowly, but arrive all the same.  

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