The Nordic Theory of Everything

The Nordic Theory of Everything

In Search of A Better Life

Book - 2016
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A Finnish journalist and naturalized American citizen compares and contrasts life in the U.S. with life in the Nordic region to encourage Americans to draw on practices from the Nordic way of life to create a fairer, happier, more secure, and less stressful society.
At a 2012 conference on social mobility, where experts discussed whether people worldwide were attaining a better life than their parents', Ed Miliband, the leader of the British Labour Party, made a surprising quip: "If you want the American dream, go to Finland." For decades, the country best known for opportunity had been the United States. No longer, said Miliband. Anu Partanen, however, had recently left Finland and moved to America for the love of her life, a man who would ultimately become her husband. Their relationship flourished, but she found that navigating the basics of everyday life--from health insurance and taxes to education and child care--was much more complicated and stressful than in her homeland. At first she attributed her crippling anxiety to the difficulty of adapting to a freewheeling new culture. But as she got to know Americans better, she discovered that they shared her deep apprehensions. To understand why life in Finland is so drastically different from the way things are in the United States, Partanen began to look closely at both countries. In The Nordic Theory of Everything, Partanen compares living in the United States with life in the Nordic region, focusing on four key relationships--parents and children, men and women, employees and employers, and government and citizens. She debunks criticism that Nordic countries are socialist "nanny states," revealing instead that it is we Americans who are far more enmeshed in unhealthy dependencies than we realize. Step by step, Partanen explains how the Nordic approach allows citizens to enjoy more individual freedom and equality than we do. She wants to open Americans' eyes to how much better things can be--to show her beloved new country what it can learn from her homeland to reinvigorate and fulfill the promise of the American dream. Offering insights, advice, and solutions, The Nordic Theory of Everything makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild our society, rekindle our optimism, and restore independence to our relationships and lives. --Adapted from dust jacket.
Publisher: New York, NY :, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers,, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780062316547
0062316540
Characteristics: v, 418 pages ; 24 cm

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d
daysleeper236
Aug 29, 2017

A fascinating read that echoes many of the same topics and themes as Michael Moore's film "Where to Invade Next".

l
LK421
Aug 11, 2017

This book uncovers so many failings of society in the United States, that it should be mandatory in the school system.

g
genealogybuff
Apr 18, 2017

Great book that gives us a lot of food for thought about how we can improve our country and its policies.

m
marthabwaters
Mar 02, 2017

I thought this was so, so interesting. Partanen presents a powerful argument that Nordic countries value freedom just as much as Americans do -- but have a very different philosophy about how to truly grant an individual independence and autonomy. There's not much time given in these pages to discussing how Nordic systems of healthcare, parental leave, education, etc. could be implemented in the U.S., though she repeatedly asserts that it's totally possible to do so (and the fact that better policies than ours exist in all other Western countries backs up her claim, in my opinion), but I don't think that's necessarily a weakness of the book -- the point here is more to show how other countries live in the 21st century, and how absurdly behind the times we are over here on this side of the pond. For non-fiction, this was a total page-turner, and it's given me a lot to chew on.

d
dprodrig
Jan 18, 2017

This is entirely directed towards Americans and is a scathing assessment of how Americans view freedom. Despite all the good research in this book, there are times I got quite tired of reading about the Nordic Theory of Love. Anu hammers this point home incessantly. I also don't know how exactly she would explain Canada because if you examine our success using OECD figures, in some cases we out perform Scandinavian countries with fewer investments in our social system (relative to theirs). There are things you can take away to improve anything anywhere, but using the example I just mentioned, it is far too simplistic to say that the Nordic model is the only one that should be used in performing analytics in determining a good standard of living. It is one of many and I think they all influence and inspire each other. There are some lessons for Canadians in this as well, though much fewer. I will say, it was the first time I had a good explanation provided to me on the American health care system. Needless to say, I don't want it here and also believe should we be forced to move to a dual health care model and have more private health care providers entering our system that they too should be non-profit only. Doctors can have good salaries and we can achieve efficiencies through adoption of new bureaucratic techniques, working for affordable prescriptions, changing the model of homecare, etc, without supporting a system that feeds on the bones of our own people when they are in great need. Another one that had me thinking was the explanation of how school boards are funded in the United States, I can now understand the craziness behind their system. In Ontario, and perhaps other provinces, school boards are funded by the amount of property tax collected within a municipality. This can disadvantage those cities and towns that have lower property tax rates, and can disadvantage those school boards that are smaller with fewer students. Some of the comparisons can definitely be filtered for here too. All in all, glad I picked it up.

b
binational
Dec 28, 2016

Anu is Finnish, but married an American and lives in the U.S. Because she understands the U.S. and Americans so well, she does a wonderful job of explaining to us why Nordic attitudes and policies towards education, health care, child care, and taxation - so often dismissed as "socialist" - are in fact focused on individual liberty, while bolstering the family and community. She also explains how they free businesses to focus on business, by not having to deal with health insurance, pensions, etc.

A real eye-opener.

r
roystreet
Dec 23, 2016

Invaluable, all the more so as it comes from someone who has actually lived in both a Nordic country and in the US.

NFreaderNWPL Dec 06, 2016

My favourite book of 2016.

b
brinyurchin
Oct 02, 2016

In our current political climate it's important to get a wider perspective on the role of government in our lives. This book is smart and inspiring. No system is perfect but we could and should learn more from the Nordic countries that are getting a lot of it right.

l
lindap06
Sep 07, 2016

Despite the whimsical title and cover art, the author is making serious points comparing the Nordic social democracies to US society, from the point of view of individual families and people. While many Americans think of the Nordic states as socialist "nanny" states that create dependent citizens, Partanen argues persuasively that just the opposite is true: it is US society that is mired in dependent, archaic and almost feudal (my word, not hers) relationships that are ill-suited to the modern age. To give only a couple examples, is it any wonder people stay in unhappy relationships if the other spouse is the one whose income is critical to affording child care? Or stay in a soul-destroying job because it provides health or pension benefits? And why should businesses be put in the position of taking care of the health and family needs of their employees instead of focusing on running their business? She argues that these relationships of dependency not only create resentment and add immeasurably to the stresses of US families' lives, but are unsuited to the nimbleness that modern economies need.

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r
roystreet
Jan 02, 2017

But isn't this the essential American experience of today, I thought -- squinting my eyes at the sun -- this combination of pride in America's greatness and dismay at its brutal inequalities, all at the same time?

r
roystreet
Jan 02, 2017

"Social systems that do not promote or enable the pursuit of individual liberty are always going to be at a disadvantage. This used to be the great strength of the United States, social mobility and the American dream. But social mobility without social investments is simply not possible. So if you start to give up on public schools and a collective system for enabling individual social mobility, you're going to end up with inequality, gated communities, collapse of trust, a dysfunctional political system. All these things you see now in the United States." -- Lars Trägårdh, who left Sweden for America in the 1970's, but now lives in Sweden.

r
roystreet
Jan 02, 2017

The harshness of American life helps explain the presence in the United States of a dubious, even predatory, [!] wing of the self-help industry, which profits by selling unlikely promises to the unlucky. It's telling that self-help gurus hardly exist in the Nordic countries. They're not necessary. As in other areas of life in Nordic societies, this is an area where the basic goal of the Nordic theory of love -- to provide every individual with independence -- results in freedom. And the sort of freedom I'm talking about here is freedom from investing energy in false hope. Wishful thinking can take a nation only so far. Ultimately, hope has to be generated by the actual presence of opportunity. And if it's really there, it doesn't require constant psychological energy and enthusiasm, or a constant stream of heroic tales of survival against all the odds, to sustain.

r
roystreet
Dec 28, 2016

The reasons for all this Nordic success in business are, once again, not complicated. They result from deliberate policy choices inspired by the fundamental values and goals of the Nordic theory of love: making sure that families are composed of strong and independent individuals who function well as a team, that workers are healthy and well educated and not overly dependent on their employers, that infrastructure is top-notch, that institutions are transparent, that the justice system works in the public interest, that corruption is low, that technology permeates society, that trade is free, that regulations are reasonable.

Another way of saying this is that NORDIC NATIONS HAVE CULTIVATED THE SINGLE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE A SOCIETY CAN HAVE IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: HUMAN CAPITAL.

r
roystreet
Dec 28, 2016

When the World Bank ranks countries on ease of doing business, based on criteria such as starting a company, dealing with construction permits, getting credit, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, or paying taxes, the Nordic countries consistently rank among the most business-friendly nations in the world. In fact, on those criteria, American entrepreneurs would be better off in Denmark, which scored higher than the United States in the 2015 ranking. Sweden, Norway, and Finland followed closely, in the top ten.

r
roystreet
Dec 28, 2016

Nordic nations have produced what is, by any metric, an impressive quantity of successful international businesses and brands, especially for such small, out-of-the-way countries. . . . One thing is clear: Allowing employees to combine work and family, ensuring high-quality universal education, providing health care for all and day care for every child, and curbing income inequality have not destroyed the capacity for innovation, nor have they prevented Nordic individuals from building business empires, an in the process becoming wealthy, some enormously so.

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