7 October 2009 **** Front Page

Finns advised to become joyful workers

By Tapani Lausti

So, the Nobel prize-winning US economist Paul Krugman came and went. He didn't have much of interest to say because, as he himself confessed, he didn't know much about Finland. Only one Finnish newspaper, as far as I could see, picked up the most interesting point he made. Krugman warned about risks to an export-driven small area economy. He said that in the current global crisis exports are not the solution they have been in the past.

Krugman was the keynote speaker in a high-profile seminar organised by Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund. (See Stagnation is the name of the game) However, more interesting than Krugman were two leading Finnish intellectuals who are heading Sitra's new innovation programme. Their contributions will probably set the tone for the wide-ranging debate that they are calling for.

In a magazine interview, Sari Baldauf, the coordinator of Sitra's programme, said that she wants "an intellectually honest and open debate". Simultaneously, she wants people "to leave their preconceptions behind" and "step out of their self-interest bunkers".

Baldauf used to work as Nokia's vice-CEO. Thus she is one symbol of what Sitra's boss Mikko Kosonen described as the recipe for Finland's past successes. According to Kosonen, all this has now to be re-evaluated and new models of action have to be sought.

Both Baldauf and Kosonen used imaginative language to create a vision of a nation which could pool its strengths. People should collectively imagine a future where through mutual trust they could motivate each other to unite their resources in causes which are nationally meaningful and conducive to better welfare.

However, Baldauf was concerned that there are widespread doubts about potentially wonderful possibilities. She said: "It is worrying that according to the latest research into people's attitudes Finns have become more security-orientated and reluctant to approve change. How to replace the often grumpy, stagnant Finnish style with a more relaxed, energetic and joyful attitude to action?"

Joyful! All we boring and staid Finns need is a bit of lively advice from people who have made it to the top and pretend that the corporate world view they ultimately represent can show the way forward. We are all in this together, they claim. Baldauf wants "wide-ranging, dynamic and innovative participation". She wants people to forget false lessons of history and leave behind self-interests.

The trouble is that most Finns know who have been most successful in defending their interests. As in all capitalists countries profits have been privatised and losses socialised. There is ample evidence of an over-worked work-force who might laugh at Baldauf's fancy words about "empowering individuals". "Shared visions of the future" (Kosonen's phrase) is pure propaganda.

Sitra's intellectuals seem blind to the realities of capitalism. They trumpet the need to find new models of action. They do not see how capitalism is able to torpedo serious reform efforts. István Mészáros highlights the capital system's structural antagonisms which are the reason why the system is incapable of reform and also ultimately uncontrollable: "The historical failure of reformist social-democracy provides an eloquent testimony to the inability to reform the system; and the deepening structural crisis, with its dangers for the very survival of humanity, puts sharply into relief its uncontrollability." (World economy: Contradictions deepen)

Visit the archive: Social thinking, István Mészáros, Jeremy Seabrook, Naomi Klein


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