‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Finland

Given the resounding statement from the US electorate that they are seeking change I wonder if the Finnish way of educating children might be one of the approaches that the USA should look at adopting?


Finland vs America is simply socialism vs capitalism. The Finnish are running their public education system according to the model of democratic socialism (in case you didn’t know, democratic socialism is what Marx was advocating).

In Finland, their social democracy doesn’t encourage or prioritize capitalist competition but instead encourages and prioritizes democracy in its best sense. In America, on the other hand, capitalism has had a long history of undermining democracy and hence public good.

It’s not even that Finland is an absolute perfect example of socialism any more than America is an absolute perfect example of capitalism. Rather, the point is that America strives toward a more capitalist worldview and Finland strives toward a more socialist worldview. Two different strivings leading to two very different results.

By the way, if you want to see where children get the best public education in America, just look at the states with high percentages of Scandinavian ethnicities…

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    1. Hi Benjamin, first of all let me compliment you on your post. I like it a lot. I have worked for 2 Scandinavian companies (Nokia and Ericsson) in my career and I enjoyed the “society” that these companies existed within and created around themselves.

      What I mean by this comment is that the dominant nationality in a company influences the company culture. When I was at Nokia the socialist education of many Finns came through strongly into a company where your opinion and what you did mattered, no matter what level of the company you were. Straight talking and deference to capability (not rank) were paramount.

      The populist votes for BREXIT and Trump reflect, in my view, a desperate need for a different approach to neo-liberalism/capitalism (whatever you want to call it). I personally don’t like the socialist label (associating it with violent union strikes from the 1970’s) but the evidence I have seen from workplace relations, entrepreneurship, economic growth and societal change in Finland persuade me that some form of entrepreneurial socialism is warranted.


      1. I’m glad you understand what I was trying to communicate.

        I don’t care too much about labels. As I see it, ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ aren’t inherently polar opposite and mutually exclusionary worldviews. They are about societal tendencies, ideological emphasis, and broad culture. So, capitalism can exist within a more socialist society and socialism can exist within a more capitalist society.

        Too many people get tripped up by language. We need a better way of talking about these issues. In frustration, other things are used as proxies, such as the problems of neoliberalism getting expressed as anti-immigrant anxieties.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. It is nice to hear from your perspective, as you’ve worked in Scandinavian companies. I also like your description of “entrepreneurial socialism”. A good example of that could be the Basque Mondragon Corporation.

    What do you think shapes Scandinavian culture? And why is it able to create a different atmosphere within Scandinavian companies?

    My father worked as a manager in US companies. He could have climbed the corporate ladder, but the ruthless competition and general stress was too much for him. Because of that, he left the private sector entirely and became a professor of business management in a state college.

    Over the years, my father and I have talked about these kinds of issues. Besides the companies he worked at, he also did consultant work and visited numerous factories. He particularly found interesting Japanese factories. That is another kind of culture, emphasizing company loyalty and lifelong employment. It is a culture of trust like in Scandinavia, but my sense is that there is much more deference to rank within the social hierarchy.

    That shows a useful contrast. Scandinavia is able to combine culture of trust with a less rigid hierarchy and more individualism. Anu Partanen argues that Nordic countries are more individualistic than the US. The difference is that the US uses government to encourage and enforce social relations, instead of supporting individuals in being independent.


    By the way, my father has a humorous anecdote. When he was still working in a factory, at DAB Industries at the time, it was part of his job to deal with inventory using complex computer databases. The company had a highly centralized, bureaucratic managerial system. A coworker once turned to my father and asked him, if centralized planning didn’t work for the Soviets, why do we think it will work for us?

    He used this anecdote to contrast US and Japanese corporations, in how they operated when he began working in the 1970s. Shortly after his coworker asked that question, Toyota introduced it’s kanban scheduling and lean manufacturing to the US in a speech given around 1976 or 1977. My father heard the speech and came away thinking that it could never work because of cultural differences. Yet Toyota had a successful joint venture with General motors and today those Japanese ideas have been widely implemented in US factories.

    I hear Americans have the same kinds of doubts about Scandinavian and Nordic countries. Those are societies that are entirely different. So, what works there can’t work here. Maybe the primary limitation of culture is on the capacity of imagination.


  2. Wow, a lot in your reply. I tend to agree with what you say.

    I think that the concept of culture (at an organisation or a country level) being a driving force in how things get done around here is widely accepted (think the Drucker quote on culture eats strategy for breakfast and the efforts politicians make to be seen in local robes when on overseas visits). so the question in my mind would be why do we see lots of jobs for strategy manager, strategic planner, etc advertised but no (or very few) jobs labelled culture manager or cultural planner?

    We have lots of articles in HBR and elsewhere that describe advances or thoughts in strategy but very little in terms of culture. Why is that?

    One reason might be that globalisation is a fairly recent phenomenon and so the academic thinking on how to handle globalisation has simply not caught up with the current practices.

    Another reason may be that this is “touchy feely” stuff and we feel uncomfortable trying to codify something so nebulous. As far as I am aware there are no definitve studies that look at culture as a determinant of success, whether in business or in social contexts (definitive = quantitative).

    Bottom line is that I think we have a long way to go to understand the effect that culture has on society and on business.

    Liked by 1 person

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