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

In This Review

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life
by Anu Partanen
Harper, 2016
432 pp.
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“If you want the American dream,” the former British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband once quipped, “go to Finland.” The Nordic countries have higher per capita incomes and more social mobility than the United States. They rank among the world’s leaders in education, equal distribution of wealth, and quality of life. Average Nordic tax rates are lower than in the United States, although corporations and very wealthy individuals pay more. Partanen, a Finnish journalist who is married to an American and lives in the United States, is troubled by the pervasive unease she observes in the everyday lives of Americans she knows, an anxiety rooted in diminished educational opportunities, the isolation of the elderly, uneven and often ruinously expensive health care, and declining social mobility. The solutions to these problems that many Americans favor—the deregulation or privatization of education, pensions, medical care, and housing—only make matters worse. Better, in Partanen’s view, would be for the United States to adopt some of Finland’s policies. Far from being a socialist nanny state, Finland promotes liberty and family values: it frees individuals and families to enjoy closer, fairer, and less stressful lives. In this election year, Partanen’s sensible book should be required reading for those who wonder why so many Americans feel resentful and alienated.