A Finnish journalist offers a surprising theory of why Americans are neither currently upwardly mobile nor free.
Partanen, who came to New York in 2008, married an American writer/teacher, and lives in Brooklyn, enlists her Nordic sensibility to delineate what has gone wrong with the so-called American dream. In recent years, Finland has been featured as the poster country for the most livable, best educated (especially in early education and math), and even happiest society (alongside neighbors Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and even Iceland). In her careful, evenhanded series of thoughtful essays, Partanen, who just became an American citizen, parses the recipe for Nordic success that even the self-congratulatory “exceptional” American may want to ponder and adapt. Having arrived in the U.S. full of excitement to embrace American “optimism, gumption, ingenuity, and knack for magically transforming challenging circumstances into profitable advantage,” she found herself mystified and frustrated by the hindrances of living—e.g., getting credit cards or cable TV and understanding the hidden fees; buying affordable health insurance, thus forcing her to depend on her new husband’s plan, which in turn forced him to find a suitable full-time job; the bewildering, utterly inequitable tax code; paying for higher education and, eventually, day care for the children they wanted. In short, Partanen was appalled by how the anxiety for affording the basics of life rendered Americans completely dependent on spouses, family, employers, and government, unable to restore themselves on vacations they feared to take (lest they lose their jobs) and so chronically insecure about their children’s chances of having a better life than they did (which has resulted in the “helicopter parent” phenomenon). Step by step, the author sifts through the Nordic system of universal health care, early education, and equitable taxes, a system that frees citizens to be autonomous and creative without stress—a “well-being state” rather than a “welfare state.”
An earnest, well-written work worth heeding, especially in our current toxic political climate.