The welfare state and Someone

My mother passed away a few years ago, but she is with me every day. She is there in my values, my work ethics, and my priorities. I still chat with her, especially around Mother’s Day.

She might not actually answer, but I like to think that I know what she would say if she did.

It’s safe to say that my parents were old-fashioned by today’s standards. They survived two wars, and built a safe home for their family. That was meaningful enough for them.

They were as mainstream as could be. Individualism and populism was not something they had time to ponder.

Times change.

“Our values are becoming more liberal, and individualism is on the rise. As this happens populism loses ground.”  The quote is from an article in Helsingin Sanomat, the Finnish equivalent of the New York Times.

The article was penned by a gentleman who works for one of the bigger Finnish research  firms. He based his opinion on the European Social Survey, among other things.

Universalism (i.e. tolerance and concern for the welfare of all) is a core value for Finns, according to the survey. More so than for most other nationalities. This was especially clear in the age groups 30 and under.

A few days later a group of university researchers begged to differ. They argued that populism, which does not always have to be right wing as they rightly noted, is here to stay.

They went on to stress that younger generations are becoming increasingly authoritarian and conservative both in Europe and in the US.

It made me question whether we really are more into universalism than others, or just slow to adopt the latest trends. It may well be a little bit of both.

Then everybody else weighed in. After an imaginary chat with my mother, I decided to comment on the matter too.

Do I believe that populism is withering away? No I don’t. It may take new forms, though.

Promises of increased benefits and welfare can be populistic too, when they are made without any concern for whether or not they can actually be realised.

The above-mentioned researchers agreed on one thing: the fact that the biggest political divide of our times runs between nationalist populism and globalist liberalism.

It seems to me that there is a divide that is just as significant. One that will create a new base for populism in Finland.

It’s the divide between the generations that have been ready to take pretty much any job just to ensure their financial security; and the age groups 30 and under that expect their jobs to be meaningful and fulfilling.

We, the older generations, created this divide ourselves.

We both, the increasingly affluent pensioners as well as the youngsters in search of meaningful jobs, have lost touch with reality.

The rest are caught in between, while we paddle around taking selfies.

When asked as a child, if he had done something he shouldn’t have done, one of my cousins cleverly dodged the issue with the standard answer : “Someone did it.”

The same is true for the implementation of universalism in our Nordic welfare state. Someone is expected to do it.

If meaningful and fulfilling jobs are not readily available, the same Someone is called upon to provide financial support instead. Accepting a less “meaningful” job is not an option.

We are all things liberal and sharing – as long as Someone takes care of it without cutting into our benefits and welfare.

Even in times of low or no growth, this elusive Someone is expected to perform the impossible, if not miracles.

There is talk of paying a basic income to every Finn. There is even some totally unscientific testing of the concept going on under government “supervision”.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. The basic income would in theory replace several cumbersome financial benefits. It would be payable to everyone, and reclaimed from those with higher incomes through higher taxes.

I have no problem with restructuring the financial benefit system. I can even work with a well structured (a tall order) basic benefit system that works as the basic income system would.

What I can’t live with is the thought that I would teach younger generations that they have a right to a basic income whether they work or not. That Someone pays them just for existing.

Words matter. A financial benefit is a financial benefit. It can be called a basic benefit for all I care.

But it will not be called basic income, if I have anything to say about it. Which I don’t, unless I can get my own generation to see some sense.

My parents’ generation made it possible for present generations of Finns to live in a bubble of welfare and peace.

My mother would have had no problem with universalism. She knew how to share. But she shared what she herself had worked for. She never expected someone else to take care of the sharing for her.

I don’t consider myself selfish by nature. But I freely confess that it’s easy to get used to being cosseted and helped. I noticed this when I traveled because of my work. After a longer trip, I could patiently sit and wait for my husband to run and take care of our young sons needs. Something I normally was quicker to do myself.

I happily exploited the fact that my husband had got used to carrying the full domestic workload alone in my absence. Sadly he caught on to me quickly.

It’s all too easy to take advantage of help, whether from the outside or the inside. To outsource responsibility, if someone is there to take it.

In the same way we get used to expecting the state to take care of us from the cradle to our grave. Not only us, but our children, our parents, and anyone else for that matter.

There is going to be a rude awakening. At least for the generations who taught their children to believe in liberalism and individualism – and in Someone.

They will learn that they are the Someones, who are expected to make it all happen. By giving up their jobs, their pensions, and their health care, if necessary.

I am my mother’s daughter. I will share the results of my work dutifully.

But when I have shared all that is mine, someone will still have to work – even in less meaningful jobs – if all these benefits are to get paid.

I wonder who that someone is? Will Finland still lead the charts in universalism, if Someone is not up to making the impossible happen?