Editorial: The grass is not greener in Finland

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7th April, 2012 2 comments

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Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I want to be,
Pony trekking or camping,
Or just watching TV.

For those too young to remember, those were the opening lines of a classic ditty sung by Michael Palin when he was more famous for being a carefree comedian than an affable travel guru. And it has to be said that Palin and the Monty Python crew did a much better job of poking the borax at the Finns than Gerry Brownlee managed in Parliament recently.

Not only was Brownlee particularly unfunny, but on many points he was laughably wrong. However, the real lesson politicians should take from his buffoonish behaviour is not the need to avoid diplomatic incidents. It is the perils of naming any country as one we should emulate.

Presumably, David Shearer thought hard about mentioning Finland in his first big speech as Labour’s new leader. So comparing himself to former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho was a curious choice, given that Aho was turfed out of office after just one term. What Shearer seemed to be saying is he is someone who is prepared to make the tough calls. And that once again, Labour intends to push the high-tech sector as one of our potential saviours, partly through a new focus on education.

It is certainly true that Finland’s focus on education helped transform its economy by allowing it to become a leading player in the mobile phone market. And for a long time now, we have talked about creating our own Nokia in New Zealand. So long, in fact, that the company has since lost much of its shine. As Finland’s main newspaper noted just a few days ago, its deal with Microsoft is widely regarded as a shotgun marriage of two companies struggling to stay relevant in a fast-changing world.

On the bright side, the culture that created Nokia also helped a Finnish company create wildly popular video game Angry Birds. Creating our own such clusters, as Shearer acknowledges, is yet another goal we’ve had for ages, with limited success. People, he conceded, have grown tired of hearing about it.

But is it any wonder the public has become so sceptical when politicians seem so faddish in their enthusiasms? It was, after all, a Labour Government that decided more than two decades ago that agriculture was a “sunset industry”. Four years ago Labour changed its mind, and announced a $700 million fund intended to stimulate research and development in our primary industries.

According to the then Minister of Economic Development, Jim Anderton, its MPs had become disillusioned with the high-tech sector. “We gave those things a real run and we put up a lot of money,” he said at the time. “We’re not going to be the Switzerland of the South Pacific and we’re not going to be a Nordic haven. In truth that was always bullshit.”

In truth, that statement raised eyebrows even in his own caucus. But in any case, the fund was quickly scuppered when National got into office. And Labour is back to namechecking Finland, Singapore and Israel. Perhaps we should be grateful that Ireland, at least, is no longer on the agenda. Ireland’s most recent miracle is that it became a poster child for austerity when its economy pulled out of a nosedive last year. It has since sunk back into recession. However, it has just struck commercial quantities of oil off its own coast for the first time, and finding more oil does indeed seem to be a key part of the Key ­Government’s plan.

Of course we should be ambitious about our own future, and we should learn from others’ successes. But in our constant quest to find other countries that have turned their fortunes around, we are often far too selective about their circumstances. And it is all too easy to forget that despite our problems, New Zealand is not such a bad place to live, ­particularly in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Last year, Auckland was named by international recruitment company Mercer as the world’s third-most liveable city. The Economist Intelligence Unit also rated Auckland in the top 10. Wellington, too, has had its moments in the sun, and although it’s in a sorry state now, Christchurch has the potential to eventually emerge as a truly world-class urban environment.

It would do wonders for our national self-esteem if we ­occasionally took just a bit more pride in what we do well, and stopped beating ourselves up quite so often about the colour of other people’s pasture.

7th April, 2012 2 comments

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2 Responses to “Editorial: The grass is not greener in Finland”

  1. Manta Dontaro Apr 7 2012, 7:32pm

    These guys in the north of europe is a tribal race which has nothing of european. They behaviour is based on instincts, it follows a set of own intelligence based on a common understanding and own set mutual understanding, this you wont be able to be part of or even understanding it s working rules if you are not born in it. The principle of functionement is based on self efficiency and a strong sence of individualism, the society of a solitaire and lonely personn. They are stubborn and usually preatty depressive sad. The like living alone, they fancy of peace, in facto their country is a sanctuary of souls which we are not really able to analyse and understand the fonctionement, from an external point view these are the same myths that care the slave people such as africans moved to Usa containing small hopes of surviving mood. They satisfy of not much, except taken in the nasty games of selfish abuse which the whole race seem to suffer at an outraging level, nobody can be better so all has to be equivalent, with a sort of communist role and playing the nasty rules of the liberal market, this makes it a preatty selfdestructive “hernekeitto” which they degustate pea soup in english.
    They are mostly trustfull and commited to do what has to be done ” on the paper ” personnal and interpersonnal level, be carefull of their selfishness. This is surely and mostly the only people who has paid it s debt of war to their great loved eastern neighbor. Relations to east has been growing better sence, but still tend to stay red lighted with the of “ryssä”.
    The attitude is slowly changing, but the place is good to live, secure and efficient in all basic services. The people lack of social behaviours and find themselves struggling on their own with a heavy sence of self culpability, assuming to sad ends such as violence under alchool and other criminality levels such a extreme school shootings. The initial sadness comes also and rises up in a very young stage from their education, it is keeping a lot of lacks in the show of emotions which they tend to hide inside themselves.
    A strong movement of feminisim is growing in the country to aquire certain rights and priviledges which has been rebuild by the force of ladies post war. The feminism movement can be considered currently as a destructive force as it has gained it is over limited values long time ago.

    The comments of your politic is surely true but certain key elements are to be known when he puts the subject on the table, he talks of results, before this I believe he will have to evaluate where these factors are from such as stated in the past lines.

    Finns find the evaluation of critism towards their society an insult, they hardly aquire a sence of metaphysics due to the development of their linguist based on very pragmatical and rationnal terminology, you might find it easier to explain what you mean taking just concrete exemples, the use of as they call it “kapulakieli” a basic language.
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  2. Basil Wood Apr 2 2012, 4:23pm

    The idea that politicians can are most qualified to pick winners and risk someone else's (tax payer's) capital is absurd: they should focus not on picking winners (and the forgotten losers who pay for this folly) but on creating an environment that supports a competitive, free market that, in itself, rewards innovation.
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