What’s So Special About Finland?

by WCE

This Atlantic article discusses differences between the U.S. and Finland. I liked the emphasis that speaking English as a first language is a natural advantage that people in the United States have. I enjoyed the part about what citizens receive in return for high taxes, because in the U.S. model, upper middle class citizens pay taxes at marginal rates comparable to those in Scandinavia but must still pay significant amounts toward childcare, healthcare and college for their children. I think that the diversity of the U.S. compared to Finland in terms of the background and culture of its citizens is both a benefit and a disadvantage, depending on the situation. Discuss!

What’s So Special About Finland?

“In terms of immigration, if you have a situation like you have now in Europe—huge numbers of immigrants coming in all of a sudden—that’s a very difficult situation for any country. But if a lot of these immigrants also [have] education levels [that] do not help them in this society to find work, then this puts strain on the system. The system is built on the idea that everybody works, everybody pays taxes, and then they get these things in return. Whereas in the United States you don’t really have any [government-provided] benefits. That’s not so much of a problem in terms of immigration.

In higher education, the Nordic approach of offering everyone free tuition is a really good system for educating the whole population well. On the other hand, the U.S. has fantastic research institutes, leading Ivy League universities [that] are amazing, [and] their resources are very different from the resources that Nordic [universities] have.

Friedman: Many Americans might say, “This all sounds great, but you guys are paying sky-high taxes. We don’t want anything to do with that.” How would you respond?

Partanen: First of all, the taxes are not necessarily as high as many Americans think. One of the myths I encounter often is that Americans are like, “You pay 70 percent of your income in taxes.” No, we do not. For someone who lives in a city like San Francisco or New York City—where you have federal taxes, state taxes, city taxes, property taxes—the tax burden is not very different [than the tax burden in Finland]. I discuss my own taxes in the book and I discovered this to be true: that I did pay about the same or even more in New York than I would have paid on my income in Finland. I’ve talked to many Nordics in the U.S. who say the same thing.

The second thing is that there’s no point in discussing the levels of taxes in different countries unless you discuss what you get for your taxes. Americans in many states, certainly, or cities—they might pay less taxes [on] their income or [on] property than Nordics do. But then, on top of that, they pay for their day care, they pay for their health insurance, they pay for college tuition—all these things that Nordics get for their taxes.

Advertisements

148 thoughts on “What’s So Special About Finland?

  1. I think many in the US would like the illusion of choice even if it costs a little more. We would prefer to pick our daycares and health insurance, even if it costs more or isn’t as good. We are the land of the free and most of us resist the government intrusion in our lives. Plus, our population is so large and diverse. It is hard to administer programs that are uniform and beneficial.

  2. It is hard to administer programs that are uniform and beneficial.

    Then why are Medicare and SS so popular?

  3. Kate, we like to choose in part because what is “best” for one person isn’t “best” for another. My kids have gone to church-associated preschools and childcares, but that isn’t what everyone prefers. And if church-associated programs were eligible for government funding, as they are in Germany and maybe in Scandinavia, we’d have even more problems with conflict over religious/cultural beliefs norms and discrimination law. At our church, Mr WCE teaches toddler/preschool Sunday School and they recruited him, because they wanted a Dad during the Sunday School class for single moms. But he is not allowed to change diapers (which doesn’t bother him).

  4. At least loosely related to the topic we (USA) still tie health insurance for many to employment. No one has yet been able to satisfactorily answer my question of ‘why is this the best way?’ And if we were to change to a single-payer tax-funded model I don’t think it should be ‘insurance ‘; it should just be ‘show your ID and get service’. Societally I think tax-funded single-payer would consume less of gdp than the current set up.

  5. Money (SS) is easy to administer. Lots of people I know complain about Medicare (and especially Medicaid). But govt run daycares? They have some in DC (universal pre-K). I have never known anyone who used it if they could afford another program.

  6. I think she makes a lot of good points. Her main theme seems to be that there’s more freedom and opportunity when people are able to live, have children, work, and switch jobs without concerns about providing quality childcare and maintaining health care coverage. There’s something to that.

    On the other hand, ultimately it seems that you are much more locked into a government-prescribed path, and, mainly because of the high taxes in exchange for free childcare, you and your spouse have less freedom to carve out your own lifestyle, such as having a SAH parent or a part-time job schedule. You can do it, but it’s a lot more difficult financially and you’re foregoing a big chunk of benefits for which you’re already paying.

    I wonder what it would be like for MMM or RoG to map out their early retirement paths in Finland.

  7. But govt run daycares?

    Are you kids in or will they be going to private school? K-12 is only partly about education with a significant amount of it is being gov’t run daycare.

  8. “Kate, we like to choose in part because what is “best” for one person isn’t “best” for another.”

    I agree with this. We could go back to yesterday’s exchange between LfB and WCE where they agreed that what makes each happiest is not the same working and family lifestyle. My assessment of the Finland model is that there is one best, and citizens will pay a higher cost there to deviate from it (in either direction).

  9. Rhett – yes. I am not a big fan of our school district. It is huge and kind of a cluster, despite most of the schools receiving high ratings.

  10. WCE – agreed re: what is best for each person/family. And I think we value that individualism higher here than in some other countries.

  11. I can’t think of a country that values individualism higher than the U.S. That’s at least partly a reflection of our diversity compared to, say, Japan or Finland.

  12. I, and lots of other conservatives, would support a “basic” healthcare plan funded by government. The problem is what is “basic” and what do we do about access to services not deemed “basic”. In other discussions, we’ve talked about declining state support for secondary school. If you look at where that proportion of the state budget has gone, it’s largely to Medicaid, with K-12 and educating children with challenges (~20%+ of education budgets) in second place.

  13. Fred – totally agree. My employer-provided insurance (plus dependent care, pre-tax parking reimbursement, etc.) is a big reason why I don’t think more seriously about setting up my own practice.

  14. I can’t think of a country that values individualism higher than the U.S.

    The pendulum seems to be swinging a bit on that. If an individual wants to buy the Chinese version at Walmart because it’s cheaper, they should be able to do that. If a business owner wishes to move his plant to Mexico due to lower labor costs, he should be able to do that.

    Both sides now seem to agree that consumers and business owners shouldn’t’ have the freedom to do what they think is best due to how it impacts the entire country.

  15. Findland recognizes that it is a small country. We have a friend who is from there, lived in other places in the world, and returned to Finland to raise her family. She notes that children are told to learn English and at least one other language as no one in the rest of the world is learning Finnish. The country is small and fairly homogenous which leads to more agreement on what taxes are reasonable and what they pay for.

    I read, but cannot find the source now, that there is less agreement in the US on what government should/should not do and what our taxes should/should not pay for than ever in history. The last time we had a “reasonable” amount of agreement is when JFK was president. Is that because our country is so large geographically, so diverse, or are we just plain ornery?

  16. I read, but cannot find the source now, that there is less agreement in the US on what government should/should not do and what our taxes should/should not pay for than ever in history.

    The nomination of Donald Trump tends to argue that a lot of those claims were due to skin deep propaganda or the deeply head beliefs of a small minority of ideologues, not what most people actually think.

  17. The population of Finland is 5.5 million. The population of New York City is 8.5 million.

    Why do journalists, including this author and her interview subject, always want us to debate this as the proper role of the Federal government? Why not make universal daycare and single-payer health insurance NYC initiatives?

  18. The population of Finland is 5.5 million. The population of the greater metro Denver area is 2.8 million. I’ll bet we could get a little socialist empire going here in Denver if we were an autonomous nation.

  19. CS,

    Since the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has distinguished himself from his Republican rivals by pledging not to cut Social Security and Medicare. It’s a pledge he repeated at the GOP debate in Miami Thursday night.

    “I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is; to make this country rich again,” he said Thursday.

    “It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is,” he added. “Not increase the age and to leave it as is.”

  20. To WCE’s point. I have a friend from another country, who has been away more than 30 years, so I don’t know if they still use this model. The government set up is/was:

    Every citizen gets a basic level of heath care – all preventative care and then more like Medicaid.
    Pay a small premium per person and increase your benefits – such as you can make an appointment for your child’s well check rather than going and waiting in line at the clinic.
    Pay a slightly bigger premium and increase benefits more – such as getting to select a PCP and make appointments only with them at the clinc.
    There were several more levels, but then you could also buy private insurance that was more like the US, but this was rare and used only by the very rich.

    The other component was every doctor who did not work in the government system, which was maybe in the 10-20 percent range, still had to “donate” a certain number of hours each month in a government facility usually in line with their specialty. Even if you worked in the government system and a lot of people selected you as their PCP, you still had to have that same number of hours treating those who paid no or almost no premium.

  21. I liked the article and think that a lot of the points make sense. I would love to get single payer healthcare. I think the current system is a mess.

  22. And in fact, Colorado will have a statewide universal healthcare initiative on the ballot in November.

  23. Why do journalists, including this author and her interview subject, always want us to debate this as the proper role of the Federal government?

    I assume because they think these services should be available to all Americans.

  24. Government run daycares – from the reactions I got when I sent my kids to daycare, one would have thought my kids were being sent to the coal mines. This was a good private daycare. And no one wanted to call it daycare, they wanted to say they sent their infants to school.

  25. “Government run daycares – from the reactions I got when I sent my kids to daycare, one would have thought my kids were being sent to the coal mines”

    LOL

  26. “I assume because they think these services should be available to all Americans.”

    Start small, see how people like it.

    Also, theoretically, there’s no reason why in a country with 300 million people and multiple levels of government, we can’t have a choice of systems, much like Mooshi talks about NY vs. CT.

  27. Milo,

    That’s certainly an option. But, take SS. Would it be better to have 51 different versions and if you lived in 4 states for various lengths of time you’d apply to 4 different states with the amount prorated for length of stay and income level while a resident? Not to mention each state having different rules about file and suspend, 62 vs. 65 vs. 67, etc? Maybe. Is it possible it would just be a lot more expense and complicated with no real benefit? Also an option.

  28. If you’re looking for a system that’s fractured into completely different things for different people, look at education and the way schools in low income areas are not able to maintain their infrastructure.

  29. “mainly because of the high taxes in exchange for free childcare, you and your spouse have less freedom to carve out your own lifestyle, such as having a SAH parent or a part-time job schedule.”

    That was my first thought, too, but after reading her further explanation of the sliding scale, I’m not so sure. If what you pay for daycare varies based on your income, then a family that decides to have a SAH will pay a lot less for daycare if they choose to use it. Add in the health coverage differences (e.g., my health insurance is free from my employer, but if I quit and went on DH’s, it would increase our premiums by hundreds of dollars a month), and I’m not really sure there’s a financial difference. There’s certainly social pressure — as she says many times, the system is built on the assumption that everyone works — but I’m not entirely sure that translates into financial pressures forcing moms to return to work (at least, not moreso than here).

    I also somewhat disagree with the “one best” characterization, at least to the extent you are implying that the US doesn’t also have the same “one best” philosophy with comparable penalties imposed on those who choose differently. It all depends on your point of comparison. I think the Finland model assumes both parents working, and so the programs are structured on that assumption. I also think the US model has historically assumed one parent working, and so our systems are structured on that assumption — everything from school schedules to SS for SAH spouses to figure-out-your-own-damn-daycare-and-pay-for-it; yes, we have specific departures from that model (e.g., FMLA), but each of those is always accompanied by arguments about government favoring special interests, family values, etc.

  30. “What’s So Special About Finland?”

    It’s full of Finns?

    The population there must be quite conversant on SATs.

  31. I second the suggestion we have a college prep/application topic. We’re in the process for ds3

  32. “No one has yet been able to satisfactorily answer my question of ‘why is this the best way?’”

    Perhaps there’s a reason for that. My understanding is that it has historical basis in wage and price controls.

  33. I read “The Nordic Theory of Everything” recently and agree with Milo’s first comment.

    I read some articles on Finland’s health care system and it seems to have problems – long waits, etc. There is a private market that is used by those with the means to pay for it.

    In the book, the author notes that many of the ideas Finland used to turn their education system around originated in the US.

    The author also believes in “the Nordic theory of love” where relationships should be equals not depending on each other. To the extent that 18 year olds should not rely on parents at all and, at the end of life, the elderly should be taken care of by the government and not burden their children at all.

    It was an interesting read. I agree with her point that health insurance tied to employers is an issue in the US that impacts many life choices.

  34. To the extent that 18 year olds should not rely on parents at all and

    Doesn’t it strike people as odd that a 21 year old rising college senior has to provide his/her parents’ financial information to determine how much it will cost that student to attend college?

  35. “I read some articles on Finland’s health care system and it seems to have problems – long waits, etc. There is a private market that is used by those with the means to pay for it.”

    I remember back in the 90s when CA had a ballot measure to change their health care system, and my take was had the measure passed, a similar duality would have resulted.

    I’m not sure that such a dual system would be a bad thing. The biggest problem I can see is those without the means to avail themselves of the private market would try to get government to make it available to them, which would likely result in much slower advancement of the state of medical science.

  36. “Doesn’t it strike people as odd that a 21 year old rising college senior has to provide his/her parents’ financial information to determine how much it will cost that student to attend college?”

    Among other things, that tends to have the effect of punishing typically totebaggy behaviors of fiscal responsibility and delaying gratification.

  37. “She notes that children are told to learn English and at least one other language as no one in the rest of the world is learning Finnish.”

    Making it easier to become conversant on SATs.

  38. Free college tuition sounds great to the readers of The Atlantic, who are all college graduates and whose children will likely go to college too. So does free day care. But because most people don’t go to college in either Finland* or the US, and (in the US at least), only a minority of working parents** send their children to day care centers, it’s not clear that the “high taxes but even better benefits!” argument would have much appeal in our country.

    * It’s interesting to note that, at least in one survey, the US has a higher percentage of college graduates than does Findland. http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/09/27/and-the-worlds-most-educated-country-is/

    **Also interesting to note that a much higher percentage of mothers with young children are in the work force in the US (64%) compared to Finland (less than 40%). http://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm

    http://www.stat.fi/til/tyti/2009/16/tyti_2009_16_2010-10-12_kat_002_en.html

  39. “I think the Finland model assumes both parents working, and so the programs are structured on that assumption. I also think the US model has historically assumed one parent working, and so our systems are structured on that assumption”

    Those are some sharp counterpoints.

    Perhaps a more robust child tax credit could satisfy everyone? We could have a higher child tax credit for ages 0-10, but keep the existing rate for 11-18. Or if the existing is X, make it 3x for 0-5, 2x 6-10, and x for 11-18.

    “I read “The Nordic Theory of Everything””

    Made me think of Nordhavn:

    Maybe we could use a separate boat thread :)

  40. that tends to have the effect of punishing typically totebaggy behaviors of fiscal responsibility and delaying gratification.

    As well as punishing children who had no control over their parents spending and career decisions.

  41. Rhett,

    If the parents of a 21 year-old special snowflake are unwilling to finance her master’s degree in gender studies, why should she expect Someone Else to pay for it?

  42. My earlier comment got caught in the “too many links” filter, but it’s interesting that, despite the free tuition and free day care, Finland has a LOWER percentage of college graduates than does the US, and a significantly smaller percentage of mothers with small children in the workforce.

  43. “As well as punishing children who had no control over their parents spending and career decisions.”

    Not necessarily. Those whose parents haven’t saved for their college educations are more likely to qualify for financial aid.

  44. Ah….The Snowflake who wants an advanced degree in Kinesiology of Gender doesn’t have to ask her parents to pay for it. You are independent after a first bachelor’s degree in the eyes of FAFSA.

    This is an interesting thing I have never thought about before – get my kids some kind of mail-order bachelor degree and then they can qualify for all kinds of aid. Or just be a teen mom.

    By law, an associate or bachelor’s student must be married, a U.S. veteran, an orphan, an emancipated minor, a homeless youth, a parent who provides more than half of the financial support for a child or have been in foster care for any stint after the age of 13 to be considered independent on the FAFSA.

  45. “where relationships should be equals not depending on each other”

    In some ways, I kind of agree with this. Trying to make quality of life less about “winning the genetic lottery” might be worth considering. It’s terrible in a way, but so is the life of a kid with parents who don’t care. Or the life of an elder person who does not have a family to rely upon.

  46. On college tuition as an improvement to society, I suspect that many countries with that policy also have a system like Germany’s numerus clausus, which determines the number of students to be admitted to courses of study, so that a situation like the glut of lawyers the US has had in recent years is very unlikely. Raising those numbers effectively provides more people who are, for example, capable of evaluating transcripts from other countries to see what qualifications the students have in the German system, or engineers specialized in quick construction of durable housing or other needs that arise. It also effectively keeps enrollments proportional to faculty, so that classes have enough students but programs aren’t overburdened.

  47. “Finland has a LOWER percentage of college graduates than does the US”

    How many Finns are in the trades or other employment without a college degree? Are those numbers lumped into the college grads numbers or kept separate?

    WCE – “But he is not allowed to change diapers (which doesn’t bother him).”
    Is that true of all Sunday school teachers or just the men?

  48. If the parents of a 21 year-old special snowflake are unwilling to finance her master’s degree in gender studies, why should she expect Someone Else to pay for it?

    I think the government should pay and recoup the money via taxes on the student. If she can’t pay then the government claws it back from the school*. It seems like that would self correct the gender studies problem, would it not?

    * I believe that’s Trump’s plan which I wholeheartedly support.

  49. “despite the free tuition and free day care, Finland has a LOWER percentage of college graduates than does the US, and a significantly smaller percentage of mothers with small children in the workforce.”

    They also have a lower birthrate, although not by much. But still, if we’re to believe that such tax structures and policies make for significantly better, more productive, and happier childrearing, you’d expect them to be having more babies.

  50. “You are independent after a first bachelor’s degree in the eyes of FAFSA.”

    Perhaps, but not in the eyes of many institutions, such as law schools.

  51. Finland has a LOWER percentage of college graduates than does the US

    I don’t know how fair that is as a metric. In Germany it’s 27% and in the US it’s 44%. My understanding is that, for example, a mid-level IT job at BMW or Deutche Bank would be staffed with someone who attended an IT trade school where a similar job at Ford or BofA would be staffed by someone who went to a four year college.

  52. “You are independent after a first bachelor’s degree in the eyes of FAFSA.”

    I went straight from BS to MBA without any break. I don’t think I re-did my FAFSA, but I was working and paying for school, so any eligible aid would probably have been loans, right?

  53. CS,

    You might be able help me with the details. In Germany, would you agree that many of the kids who end up as business majors, accounting majors, nursing majors etc. in the US would go through the Berufschule system that starts at 10th grade and ends with an internship and exam resulting in a professional certification?

  54. ” I don’t think I re-did my FAFSA, but I was working and paying for school, so any eligible aid would probably have been loans, right?”

    In my situation (finished BS and returned 3 years later for MS/PhD), since I had a stipend from the U, and my assistantship covered most of my expenses, I was offered only loans. Since I was married, I had to declare DH’s income, which made us ineligible for a lot. But, I could take out loans in the amount of 1 year’s tuition at a time, regardless of the assistantship. Sadly these were loans that immediately started gaining interest (unlike those gov’t backed ones that start 3 months after graduation… I can’t remember the name for the loans…).

  55. ATM, he’s the only man but it applies to men in general. It’s hard to recruit men for the toddler/preschool class.

    One little girl was proud of wearing big girl underwear and was showing it to him. He responded with, “You should keep your dress over your underwear at Sunday School” but such interactions are fraught with peril. When my DS1 was a similar age, a friend asked if he had Thomas (the Tank Engine) on his shirt. His shirt had a generic train, but he was wearing Thomas underwear and within seconds, he had mooned her and said, “No, Thomas is on my bottom.”

  56. I saw this book at the airport this week, The Almost Nearly Perfect People Miracle, about the Nordic culture. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  57. Rhett, exactly. People who are going into jobs that require college educations get college educations. People who are going into careers that don’t require college degrees get whatever training is needed for what they’re going into, and the schools for that are more numerous, and maybe more specialized than here. I don’t think 44% of jobs require college degrees.

  58. and the schools for that are more numerous, and maybe more specialized than here.

    My understanding is that they also include an apprenticeship period with an employer. So, you’ll not only get the classroom accounting training, you’ll also get an hands on training in the accounting department of an actual employer.

  59. @Lemon – I read that book, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The author is a Brit who moved to Denmark & he has a lot of interesting personal anecdotes too.

  60. Rhett, yes, apprenticeships are often part of the training. There are different systems for different jobs. Part of that is because of the different needs of each job, but part of it is because of the guild system that many of the training programs are descended from. A complaint is that some training programs include archaic requirements that exist primarily to keep others out. The janitorial training is often given as an example. Otoh, looking at jobs at Apple the other day, I saw that they are hiring a cleaner, and have a long list of requirements, some of which veer into management, so training is required. Apprentice wages are also lower, which makes sense in some positions, but maybe not for McDonalds employees. But between the different types of training and the numerus clausus putting a cap on university grads, the idea is that they’re producing the workforce they need.

  61. If we can get an accountant up to speed in three years starting at 17 vs. 4 years starting at 18 that’s a lot of savings. It certainly doesn’t make sense that EE majors and communications majors both take 4 years to graduate.

  62. One thing I don’t like about German universities is that they do not generally have liberal arts programs or gen ed requirements. That’s all supposed to happen in Gymnasium, but I’m not sure how much does.

  63. One thing I don’t like about German universities is that they do not generally have liberal arts programs or gen ed requirements.

    Just a thought: Does it make sense to compress those all of it into four year program? What about a 3 year accounting program and a continuing education requirement with a liberal arts component such that you needed to take the rest of those classes by the time you were 32?

  64. What about a 3 year accounting program and a continuing education requirement with a liberal arts component such that you needed to take the rest of those classes by the time you were 32?

    Erg, it would be like that nightmare where you realize you missed a required class at college so your degree and everything you’ve done since doesn’t count unless you return to school and take [fill in course].

  65. WCE, the universities I’ve been at all have stronger Gen Ed requiremtns than that. Besides the math, science & English, a foreign language, some amount of humanities and social sciences are included. Engineering is often a five -year degree at these schools. I’m sure we could look up how many do and don’t have liberal arts requiremtns, if we really wanted to. The plan you linked to reminds me of the bumper stickers and memes that say something like. “An engineer can tell you how to [do some huge, world-alter the project]. A philosopher/ social scientist can tell you why it’s not a good idea” I’d prefer that engineers have some humanities and social science training, so they could include those types of requirements in their plans.

  66. Erg, it would be like that nightmare where you realize you missed a required class at college so your degree and everything you’ve done since doesn’t count unless you return to school and take [fill in course].

    Why would you set it up like that? I was thinking more of a continuing education model where you’d need to take x credits every y years.

  67. Besides the pragmatic concerns of fitting everything in, I also think the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Taking a period of life for higher education lets one bounce ideas from one course/school of thought off the others. In the US system, this is really difficult for most students, because they are working full time or very near it while taking classes. Tuition covered by taxes evens the playing field there, once one has gotten to university. There are some folks in Wolfsburg who maybe could have benefitted from broader courses beyond straight technical skills.

  68. The question is who should pay for those additional courses and if the additional debt is necessary.

    The U.S. requires more general education for physicians than many other countries do. That requirement makes training physicians more expensive and increases their debt load.

    The ROI question is a tough one to measure, in part because the quality of the SSH electives at large state universities varies widely.

  69. Taking a period of life for higher education

    Right, for university students. But, what about Berufschule students?

    Also, might it be possible that periodic exposure to new ideas in a formal setting over a lifetime is better than trying to squeeze it all into a rigid 4 year system?

  70. Rhett – In support of what you are saying, in Accounting specifically, there are a decent number of clerical-track jobs that used to be filled by people with HS Bookkeeping and/or 2-year degrees that now seem to require a BA/BS. Is that necessary? No, probably not. A 3-year “technical”/apprenticeship would suffice, IMHO.

    But I think more CPA-track type jobs are a different side of the same story. To even sit for the CPA now essentially requires a Master’s Degree. Is that necessary? I don’t think so – it is an increase in requirements that is fairly recent (15 years or so) & I’m not sure that anything has been gained from a business perspective. But CPA-track roles are going to be broader than Accounting, and there is something to be gained from having more education that is not purely vocational in nature.

  71. But I think more CPA-track type jobs are a different side of the same story.

    Then wouldn’t it make sense to have a 2 year program to train someone enough to start at E&Y as an auditor and if they later want to go back for a 2 year “Masters in Accounting/CPA” degree they could?

  72. The whole premise of this journalist’s argument seems to be that Totebaggers such as herself would be better off in Finland than the US because they get more services for the same or lower level of taxes. But there is no such thing as free tuition or child care or health insurance. If YOU are paying less but still getting the stuff you want, someone else must be picking up the tab. So is it fair for Finns who don’t go on to college, or who leave the work force to care for children, to subsidize others who have made different choices (and who already are privileged by having chosen smart parents and such interesting occupations that they stay in the workforce when they have little children)?
    Besides, actions speak louder than words. She and her husband chose the US over Finland for the professional opportunities here.

  73. Scarlett, she says somewhere, perhaps not in this article, that they chose the U.S. largely because it’s easier for her to get a job here (because she speaks English) than for him to get a job there (since he doesn’t speak Finnish.)

  74. Besides, actions speak louder than words. She and her husband chose the US over Finland for the professional opportunities here.

    Didn’t she say in the article that this was due to her speaking Finish and English and her husband speaking only English?

  75. From the land of “My employer strictly requires that we wear clothes to work”, I just passed someone with a tall, gray mohawk, bushy gray beard, birkenstocks and a kilt.

  76. WCE, that looks similar to what I remember (I’m assuming that SSH is social sciences/humanities), although our liberal arts core was more prescribed.

    I also remember two English classes. IIRC, there were also university-wide requirements for two world history classes and one econ class. I had a couple more SSH classes beyond that which I think were electives, which adds up to the same number as at ISU.

    Also similar is the lack of a foreign language requirement.

    CS, the correlation between more general ed requirements and a longer program is logical. At my alma mater, most engineering majors take more than 4 years to graduate, and those that graduate in 4 years typically also have some combination of summer school classes, AP credits, or credits from college courses taken in HS. So increasing the general ed requirements could practically extend the typical graduation time to more like 6 years.

  77. I like Rhett’s idea of periodic new ideas over a lifetime. The only education metric I can remember seeing the US leading in is adult education.

  78. Scarlett, perhaps the culture there and the social norm of “everybody works, everybody pays taxes” means that their taxpayers aren’t supporting a group of people with a “preference for leisure.”

  79. Wine, I also went straight from BS to MBA while studying for the CPA exam, and I know at least the first year I got some Pell Grant money. I had an assistantship and worked a janitorial job because it required about two hours any time between 6 pm and 6 am that I felt like going and paid well for the effort. (This coveted job was passed among friends for years). I did graduate with some loans, but I think I used those more to supplement my living expenses. I believe it’s the same way now – if you’re not working on the books as an undergrad, you can get some good financial aid for grad school.

  80. If YOU are paying less but still getting the stuff you want, someone else must be picking up the tab.

    That’s not true if the services are being delivered more efficiently.

    For example, this summer E&Y Munich is hiring 19 year old kids who started a three year accounting program in 10th grade and probably spent a year of that as an E&Y apprentice. In the US, E&Y is hiring 22 year old direction state U grads who did four years of high school and four years of college. I don’t have a lot of evidence that all that extra debt, parental funding, taxpayer money and time is delivering all that much of value.

  81. In the home country there is no 4 year undergrad requirement for doctors, so just like engineers take engineering courses over 4 years, medical students take 4 years of medicine followed by residency. Doctors don’t come out with a boatload of debt and start practicing earlier in their lives. Relatives are surprised when I tell them how long doctors have to be in school for here.

  82. “For example, this summer E&Y Munich is hiring 19 year old kids who started a three year accounting program in 10th grade and probably spent a year of that as an E&Y apprentice. In the US, E&Y is hiring 22 year old direction state U grads who did four years of high school and four years of college. I don’t have a lot of evidence that all that extra debt, parental funding, taxpayer money and time is delivering all that much of value.”

    They’re not though. They are hiring 4-year business school grads with comparable university education in Germany for entry-level Audit jobs. The equivalent of a CPA in Germany is very similar to here, if not harder to attain.

  83. Ivy,

    22 year old US E&Y newbies aren’t CPAs and many will continue in their career ever without getting their CPA license.

  84. “In the US system, this is really difficult for most students, because they are working full time or very near it while taking classes.”

    Most full-time students work only part-time, if at all, during the school year.

  85. “22 year old US E&Y newbies aren’t CPAs and many will continue in their career ever without getting their CPA license.”

    Right. It’s the same in Germany/France/Brazil/etc. It’s a demanding weed-out career track that people use to get experience and then move up or out. I don’t know that “many” people who start as a Big 4 Auditor don’t eventually get their CPA though. Do you have stats for that or are you speculating? IME, people leave Public Accounting, but they stay in the field and still get their CPA. Or get their CPA while on the E&Y payroll and then leave.

  86. Rhett,
    I thought that we were talking about Finland, where college tuition is “free” and overall taxes are lower than for comparable taxpayers in NYC.

    I couldn’t find quick numbers for Finland, but this was an interesting tidbit on Sweden.

    “Swedish colleges and universities are free. Yep. Totally free.

    But students there still end up with a lot of debt. The average at the beginning of 2013 was roughly 124,000 Swedish krona ($19,000). Sure, the average US student was carrying about 30% more, at $24,800. But remember: Free. College in Sweden is free.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/05/the-high-price-of-a-free-college-education-in-sweden/276428/http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/05/the-high-price-of-a-free-college-education-in-sweden/276428/

  87. Rhett – It is expected that all US E&Y accounting/tax newbies will obtain their CPA license. They cannot continue at the company in those roles if they do not. In many states, there is an apprenticeship requirement for two years working in public accounting (not necessarily Big firm) to obtain the license.

    There is a difference between an accounting degree or certification and a CPA. CPA is not quite as hard to get in most US states as Chartered Accountant in the UK commonwealth countries, but it still is an important credential for many jobs – a marker, if you will. I am not familiar with the exact titles used in Germany, but I do know that my direct report from Germany who had a high level Tax certification was entitled to sign her work Dr. K— R—.

    Many if not most directional state U accounting grads go to work in industry or government, where a CPA is not required, or do tax work where Enrolled Agent is sufficient, or go into another sort of finance job. Most jobs that used to be done by bookkeepers are entirely automated. Human inputs where necessary are usually provided in offshore processing centers.

  88. WCE, you are still insisting on seeing it as a benefit only for the person getting the education? The country is investing in the workers it needs, so that’s how the ROI should be calculated as well.

    Rhett, this will get me slammed, but I think the people in positions to influence a lot of people, like the VW engineers, need the humanities more than the technician at QuikLube.

    Scarlett, what Finn said: there are lots of things taxes pay for besides college educations. If one has training to get a job for which one is well-suited and is paid well for it (wages in Scandinavia are much higher than in the US) and has parks, childcare, health care, arts, public transit, sound infrastructure, and other amenities…they seem to be happy. Russia and the Baltics are not so far away, if they wanted to vote with their feet. I haven’t checked, but I don’t think there is a big exodus from Finland happening.

    Louise, the standard German degree, until the PISA reforms about a decade ago, was the master’s. Doctors and lawyers went straight through to their degrees as well. I’m not sure what the track for doctors and lawyers is now, but universities are required to offer Bachelors.

    Scarlett, that really depends on what schools you’re talking about.

  89. Rhett, this will get me slammed, but I think the people in positions to influence a lot of people, like the VW engineers, need the humanities more than the technician at QuikLube.

    This isn’t a slam, but typically the engineers aren’t the problem in those instances. It’s the head honchos. Cf. the Challenger engineer who refused to sign off on the launch recommendation.

  90. Rocky, don’t the head honchos come up the ranks? What background did the guy who insisted on the launch have?

  91. I dunno. But lack of ethics isn’t something that I attribute to, for example, WCE or Finn.

  92. I would need data that people who endure more of the SSH electives at State U are more ethical than people who don’t.

  93. Finn (back to the health insurance linked to employment) — exactly. Health insurance became an employer offered “fringe benefit” during WWII wage and price controls as a way to keep/attract workers. For the next 30-40 years the linkage seemed to work pretty well, especially after medicare/Medicaid became available to cover the elderly/poor and many retirees had generous plans. The linkage has become less workable IMO since the mid-80s or so and needs to be changed.

    I realize there are all sorts of operational issues of actually delivering enough of the needed healthcare to all in a timely manner in a single payer system (at least anecdotally, e.g. Canada, UK National Health) and the looming rationing issue that WCE brings up from time to time, but I basically believe that all US citizens (and probably all legal residents, too) should just be able to get the healthcare they need, funded thru taxes.

  94. Another aspect of distribution requirements for engineers is that the people who are most interested in thinking broadly also tend to be the best at their engineering coursework. My friends who had double majors or almost double majors (in history, vocal performance, classics and one person who was first chair in the university orchestra) were also very good chemical engineering students. The people struggling to keep up in their coursework weren’t looking to add courses in other areas.

    The double-major type people rise in industry because they are bright (I believe), not because they took lots of courses outside of engineering. The pressure to maximize shareholder profit usually overrides diversity, concern for the environment and other nonfiduciary values in a corporate setting.

  95. I just took a look at the website of my alma mater to see the current grad requirements for a BSEE. The non-technical course requirements have been pared back to a total of 5 classes, including Eng100 (composition) and an Econ class. Total credits to graduate has also been cut back to 122; my recollection is that it was about 128 when I graduated (16 credits/semester over 4 years).

    Given that, I tend to agree with CS that they should have more general ed classes. The total credits could easily be bumped back to 128 with two more general ed classes, which typically aren’t very difficult classes.

  96. Finn, are students graduating with 122 credits or are they taking more courses in their area of interest? I chose to graduate under a catalog that required a challenging chemistry course instead of one that required two diversity courses for all students. The decision was because I knew my political beliefs were poorly tolerated in the diversity courses and in the chemistry course, my political beliefs were irrelevant.

  97. This isn’t a slam, but typically the engineers aren’t the problem in those instances.

    Not in Germany. The disgraced CEO of VW: “Winterkorn studied metallurgy and metal physics at the University of Stuttgart from 1966 to 1973. From 1973 to 1977 he was a PhD student at the Max-Planck-Institute for Metal Research and Metal Physics, where he received his doctorate in 1977.”

  98. CS can correct me but I believe he has two PhDs so his formal title is Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Martin Winterkor

  99. From what I can see the need for broader based understanding comes as one climbs the career ladder. At that point people are encouraged/required to take leadership, ethics, diversity, negotiation….
    So, Rhett has a point on education in that piece being required later on.

  100. WCE, I really don’t know what the kids are doing these days.

    Back in my day, I was unusual for graduating with significantly more than the minimum number of credits. Most kids took just enough to graduate, with a few taking an extra class or two, especially if they didn’t need many classes in their last semester. Those that I knew who took an extra class or two typically took an extra EE class in their areas of interest, usually device physics.

    It was far more common for kid to plan for a light load in their last semesters to allow for a lot of job interviewing, often requiring travel.

  101. Total drift… Did anyone else think there was an obvious answer to what could make the water in the swimming pool turn from blue to green?

    Of course, the absence of a strong smell might have made that a less obvious possibility that it might seem from seeing the pools on TV.

  102. The showrunners for The Americans were interviewed on Q on the CBC today. The guy who had most experience with spies said they aren’t usually the dark, shadowy types people picture. They are usually gregarious and reach out to people easily, draw people to themselves and convince them to spy for them. Sounds a lot like the guy in East Germany who everyone said was a spy. Also reminded me a little bit of a guy who used to teach in the same department I did and was an analyst for the CIA. Anyway, Rhett might want to listen to the interview and the rest of you who were talking about spies you’ve known, I’m curious if they fit that profile.

  103. WCE, if you thought I was saying that taint humanities classes makes people ethical, you misunderstood me.

  104. WCE (I’m going through posts on my cell phone, and replying as I see them, because I don’t have the wattage to remember them all right now), are you sure about causation/coincidence? Seems to me that the years those people spent developing the “arts” side of themselves influenced their type of thinking as engineers.

  105. Rhett, Germany has this thing called a Habilitation which is basically a second doctorate degree. You finish your PhD and then go study under someone else for a few more years and do another research project that he’ll a a book-length publication (and there dissertations/habilitationen are expected to be published as books. My guess is that that is what his second degree is, and the person writing the blurb just called it a doctorate because that a lot easier than explaining.

  106. CS, I believe that the natural intelligence of the people that allowed them the bandwidth to handle a challenging engineering curriculum on top of “arts” is what made them successful. I don’t think forcing people with less bandwidth to take more SSH classes would change their thinking.

    It’s one of those correlation/causation questions that’s very difficult to answer. But there were no people who spent lots of time developing their “arts” side with low GPA’s in engineering. (They quit the arts and focused on obtaining the GPA they could.) The people with high GPA’s and no broad interests unerringly climbed the technical, not the management side of the corporate ladder.

    Recall also my opinion of the quality of SSH classes when half the class doesn’t bother to show up and half the people who show up don’t bother to read the assignments.

  107. CS,

    How does his Prof. work? I know it’s super prestigious but how was he a CEO and a professor? Is it honorary or does he have to teach a class on metal physics?

    I know it’s a huge deal but I know idea how it works in practice.

  108. Oh, and Doktor Professor basically means that he is tenured and a department chair. German universities are feudal. Each full professor runs a department of people working on things related to their work. It is not uncommon for the professor to assign research topics to the underlings, which would be unheard of in the US. In my discipline and from what I know in the humanities more broadly in the US, formulating a good research question is the first step in writing and researching the thing, so having one handed to you would just be wrong. In my ex-husband’s EE program in the FRG, theses were sponsored by various companies; his was on information data packet switching, for Siemens. The topics would be posted and when someone chose one, they worked with the prof who was connected to it. From what I know, engineers in the GDR also had topics assigned, but they did not have such free choice; I think that the degree to which they supported the system came into play. My spy friend was defensive when I told him his diss topic (writing a software program to determine the strength of concrete with rebar in it in various shapes) sounded boring, like it was something he had fought to get. Another friend was mildly resistant–she joined an ecology group and gave tours at her church I which she pointed out symbols for protest against the govt, and when Gorbachev came to power, she supported him. She was not permitted to study her field of choice, biology. But both systems came from the same vine before WWII and have flowed back together since unification arguably better than other systems.

  109. Louise, aren’t business courses in leadership, ethics, diversity, negotiation taught more or less as best practices/ “do this”, instead of like humanities?

  110. WCE, yeah, Gen Ed classes can get watered down to where they have no rigor and don’t so anyone any good. Bleh!

    Rhett, not being an engineer I don’t really know, but my guess is that he gives people their habilitation, diss, and thesis topics, and employs some undergrad research assistants. Typically PhD and habil students teach classes, or are funded by research. I assume VW has money to spend on research that way, so they may be all research, no teaching. Mooshi or WCE’s husband might know better than I about engineering departments.

  111. CS,

    I think you’re right. I looked up BMW and the current chairmen got his PhD while working under the former CEO who was also a professor and dean of the mechanical engineering department of the Technical University of Munich.

    I never realized how different their system is than ours.

  112. I never realized how different their system is than ours.

    When I see things about people going to Germany to get their degree because it’s free, I always wonder how that works.

  113. “She notes that children are told to learn English and at least one other language”. Well, I learnt in school four languages: English, German, Swedish and French in addition to Finnish. Now, when senior citizen, I blog in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. I have forgotten nearly German and Swedish nearly due to lack of use.

  114. “Can you guess their sport?”

    No. 6/16, which is only 12% better than random.

    Archery for that poor guy with no arms??? What some people overcome is incredible.

  115. It looks like Maya DiRado won a gold medal last night. This she can add to the silver and bronze won earlier in the week. As you may recall, she’s the Stanford grad starting at McKinsey in September who also had a perfect math SAT score.

    And to think, even at that age I could barely get myself out of bed.

  116. Rhett – don’t beat yourself up :-).
    I watched the USA swimming documentary about the 1976 Olympics and the swimmers went on to quiet lives (East German doping first appeared at that Olympics) and life intervened in all sorts of ways for each of the winners.

  117. “In my discipline and from what I know in the humanities more broadly in the US, formulating a good research question is the first step in writing and researching the thing, so having one handed to you would just be wrong.”

    DH and some of his colleagues have lots of good research ideas that administrative burdens prevent them from pursuing, so they pass them off to graduate students. Many graduate students don’t actually have the experience to come up with good research questions on their own, especially because they are simply unaware of the availability of the necessary data sets, and it’s possible to waste a year or more spinning one’s wheels at this stage of the PhD process. The students are always free to decline these ideas and come up with their own, but the strategic ones quickly figure out the track record of the senior colleagues and pick something that will get them a good job talk paper and out the door in 4 or 5 years.

  118. In 11th Grade English Composition, we had to learn how to do a research paper with a very specific process and format, including graded note cards and whatnot.

    The teacher played Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” after handing out copies of the lyrics, and we were told to pick a topic. I took Watergate.

    I can still recite that song word-for-word.

  119. Milo – if that is the requirement for 11th grade – I am hoping my kids will be able to meet that expectation because their writing inspite of the revamped standards still has a way to go.

  120. Milo – I had the same Billy Joel assignment in history class. And we did the note card thing with sources written on the back, too.

  121. CS, a heavily empirical one.

    I honestly don’t know how humanities PhD candidates come up with “original” research.

  122. Scarlett, hahaha. Yes, a discipline that relies on data for its research would indeed be empirical, lol. But you obviously don’t want to give it away. Fine. You are correct that coming up with an interesting question and devising a good way to pursue it are difficult. That intellectual challenge is the difference from stats-based disciplines.

  123. WCE – I thought that NY Times piece was really cool. And I love that they included the Paralympic athletes. Scarlett – I agree on the archer – but how cool is that??? I’d love to see how he shoots.

  124. Louise, is the swim documentary you mentioned online?

    So tired of trying to watch the Olympics events. Failed to record the 800 free relay and now I can’t find it online. The NBC website video won’t play. Relays are so much more fun to watch than individual races. If only Rowdy Gaines would STFU. Time for him to retire.

Comments are closed.