Finnish government looking to raise rent prices and decrease competition
Starting 2009, all apartments that are sold or rented in Finland must have an "energy report" that is presented to potential buyers or tenants. The report in question is a piece of paper which, according to wise government officials, will allow people to compare the energy efficiency of different apartment buildings. For apartments that are sold this is a mildly understandable regulation, since an owner has some say in the affairs of the apartment building. But a tenant has no say in the energy efficiency of the building.
But the report itself isn't the problem, it's the costs associated with it. Already, anyone looking to rent an apartment has to pay for a house manager's report that lists various details about the building. This report costs anywhere between 50-80 €, depending on the company responsible for the building. Which isn't cheap, when one considers that the average rent for a one-room apartment in downtown Helsinki is around 700 € and only around 300 € everywhere else in Finland. The price of the energy report will be around 20 € (I'll repeat; that'll be 20 € for ONE piece of paper), which means that every time an apartment is rented, the owner has to cough up around 70-100 € (as the report is valid for only one year).
And if that wasn't bad enough, many of the companies that manage buildings are also involved in the rental business. Which means that the companies can get the reports for free as most companies put the income they earn from the reports into their own coffers. I'm not quite sure about the legality of this procedure, but since most building associations don't care, most management companies get away with it.
The increase in rents may not be huge, but it'll be there. And many large companies will gain market share at the expense of smaller competitors. And in all probability, potential tenants won't even glance at the energy report.
Finnish government preparing to nationalize the stock market in the name of protectionism
The Finnish government has presented a plan to consolidate all "non-strategic" government-owned stocks under a government company called Solidium Oy . And in addition, the company would be given authority to buy stocks to "maintain domestic ownership" if the price of a stock falls too low. But the company would be allowed to do so only with borrowed money, not tax money. Which, in the opinion of the government, means that all purchases have to be considered carefully and thus will prevent haphazard stock purchases. Yeah, sure.
If I recall correctly, according to Mises a capitalist economy can be identified by a functioning stock market. If so, Finland can be scrapped from the list of (somewhat) capitalist economies.
Ideas from the new chairwoman of the Finnish Social Democrats
Some great ideas from the new chairwoman of the SDP, Jutta Urpilainen. Clearly, reality is far more malleable than I have realized.
- "I propose that every citizen should have a subjective right to housing. We must always afford human dignity!"
- "The long term goal is free daycare. But the work has to be started with child benefit reform."
- "Child benefits must be tied to the inflation index. Expenses from the first child are the greatest, the benefit for all children should be equal, until the child turns 18." (Finland has a child benefit system where each succeeding child is paid a larger benefit, which explains the last sentence.)
- "Poverty cannot be eradicated from our country by any other means than money, so benefits should be increased."
- "No product, that cannot be completely turned off, should be allowed into EU markets."
- "Our goal is to make public transportation free for under 16-year-olds."
- "I want to gather thinkers from all around to study why more and more people drop out of political activity after they have tried it."
, if someone is interested (in Finnish).
Sweden's 23-hour work week
According to a new study by the Swedish Ministry of Finance (couldn't locate the original study or any English sources to cite), the Swedish work week is only 23 hours long. Unused work potential amounts to 15 million hours, which translates to 383,000 full-time jobs. Especially young people and immigrants suffer from this.
Add to this the aging population and the rise in associated costs and it becomes clear this needs to be addressed. But social democracies aren't well known for their ability to change employment policies. Expect things to get worse before they get better.
"A bill outlawing the possession of "extreme pornography" is set to become law next week. But many fear it has been rushed through and will criminalise innocent people with a harmless taste for unconventional sex."
Britain is running along the path to serfdom. CCTVs everywhere, a DNA database, all kinds of new anti-terrorist laws, you name it. And now they want to ban 'extreme pornography'. Someone in Britain must have mistook 1984 for a blueprint of government.
I for one would like to know how they plan on implementing this law. Is this law going to be enforced actively? With internet traffic surveillance and home searches and everything? Or is it going to be one of those mostly forgotten laws that is only drudged up when the police/politicians feel a need to get back at someone?
Clearly the law will wipe out pretty much all BDSM related material. But if the law considers recordings of violence and sex between consensual partners to be illegal (but apparently the act itself isn't?), how can you allow recordings of these things separately? Why would these things be ok on their own, but together form some horrific monster that the public psyche needs to be protected from?
Also, if someone decides to put on a BDSM show in front of those CCTV cameras, can the state be prosecuted for possession of extreme pornography?
A kinder, gentler capitalism
It is not always easy to understand the thinking behind calls for a more 'humane' form of capitalism. These calls seem to arise mainly from the left and from corporate leaders who wish to seem compassionate. For example, recently the CEO of a large Finnish insurance company called for 'responsible ownership' and that companies shouldn't seek out only profits. What this exactly means wasn't specified.
A more recent example is a survey commissioned by the SAK (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions), according to which 77 percent of Finns think state-owned (but not directly run by the state) companies should prioritize 'humane factors' over profitability. Again, what this means is left unclear. Which highlights a problem with public perception of the free market (or the corporatism they confuse to be the free market). Most people don't want socialism, but their perception of capitalism is too perverted to fully embrace it. The media offers the people a chimera of capitalism and Marx's theory of exploitation. The idea of mutual benefit is quite foreign to those listening to this message and they have to resort to muddled ideas of general niceness to find solace.
The real world manifestation of this desire for a kinder, gentler capitalism is almost always a call for perpetual job security. The greatest evil the capitalist can do is downsize. This is never done out of necessity in the eyes of the media, but out of 'short-term profit', as if maintaining the jobs would be always profitable in the long run. So it is not unusual for casual viewers to deduct malice on the part of the capitalist; that the capitalist is a shadowy, vampiric character that thrives on the suffering of others.
The end result of all this is rather pleasant for the state. They avoid being blamed for their meddling and they are seen as the hero that rides in and saves the day by slaying or at least reigning in the evil capitalist monster. As to how this results in a more humane capitalism is not clearly evident to me. I guess autarkic primitivism offers job security.
Finnish health care hilarity
It turns out that state-run health care tends to lead to all kinds of queues and delays. Now, I know that must be quite a shock, so feel free to let it sink in before continuing to read.
What is the Finnish solution to these persistent queues? Fines on the local health care districts. So the idea is that poorly funded state-run services will run more efficiently with even less funding? I stand in awe of the robust logic of the central planner...
We acquire knowledge through various
cognitive processes. We feel the breeze, we see the stars, we hear
the beat. Out senses are many, and from what we gather with them, we
reason our reality into existence.
But with all our senses and reasoning
abilities, what knowledge can we trust? How can we verify what our
senses tell us? Can we trust our reasoning abilities to interpret the
information correctly? How do I know you are there? Are you alive, or
do you just mimic life? How do you know that I am here and alive?
For all the posturing of unity and
common interest, the stark truth is that each man is an island. In
fact, an island in an endless ocean. “I think, therefore I am”,
this much I can trust, but all else is suspect. While I can estimate
and proximate what your experience of life is, I can never know for
certain. I know you only as far as it equates to my own experience; I
assume your sorrow to mirror mine, but it will always remain an
estimate. You and I are doomed to exist individually. Our paths may
cross, but they never align.
So, in this surreality where man
imposes on man his presumed reality, we bear witness to the cruelty
of life and possibilities being extinguished. Only to force
conformity, to keep hidden what monsters might lurk in the minds of
But even in this there is hope. While
all revolutions fade away, while just laws give way to unjust ones,
there is still freedom. For freedom cannot be given, nor taken away.
Freedom is a choice, a refusal to follow any other reality but your
own. A choice, by a free intellect, to reject external stimuli.
Tortured Logic from City Officials
The story goes: The city of Nokia (in Finland) manages to mix raw seweage and drinking water. The result: salmonella et al. epidemic with thousands sick, many hospitalized and a city without drinking water.
So naturally the city wants to make nice: they promise to compensate the citizens for damages. I started feeling woozy at this point (statist bumbling overload syndrome, I think).
So who does the city get the money from? Any guesses? Thats right. From the sick and hospitalized and thirsty citizens! Are these people so far gone that they can't spot this little nugget of irony?! Do they think the money comes from magic pink unicorns?!
You won't mind if I break your window, take 100 euros from your pocket, give you 90 euros in compensation for the window (You think I work for free?) and call it even, right? Not that I'm really asking your opinion, because, you know, I have guns and tanks and stuff.
Hitler and Interventionism
I guess this is common knowledge, but hearing the way Senator
McCain used the worn-out Hitler analogy against Dr. Paul ("we
allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of
isolationism and appeasement"), I felt I should repeat basic
I am assuming that McCain was referring to inaction when Hitler
became evidently belligerent around 1938 (Hitler came to power in
1933, but McCain probably wasn't referring to this date).
In a limited sense, McCain is actually correct. If France and England
had acted decisively anywhere between 1935 and 1939, Hitler and his National Socialism would
have been a footnote in history.
But this is an extremely superficial look at history and any
deeper investigation will debunk McCain's position. Hitler's golden
ticket to power was the Versailles
Treaty, which was essentially economic and political
interventionism perpetrated by France and England. The war
reparations bankrupted the Weimar Republic and the political
limitations (limiting the size of the army, imposing a de-militarized
zone in the Rhineland, etc) created plenty of hatred against the
treaty. Had the Allies chosen to leave Germany in peace after WWI,
German democracy likely would have survived and Hitler would have
been the sad, failed artist that he was always meant to be.
Basically McCain is saying that interventionism
is needed to clean up the mess created by interventionism. In other words, McCain is arguing for a vicious circle. The US
bailed out France and England when their interventionist policies on
Germany caused blowback. Who is going to bail out the US?
Fear and Loathing in the Establishment
To an outsider, the quirks of US politics are at times funny, and
at times scary. The latest quirk seems to be coming from the
Democratic side, where the fear of Ron Paul stealing their thunder is running rampant. And I am not surprised, as Ron Paul is certainly
a greater advocate of civil rights than the Democratic mainstream
(excluding people like Gravel and Kucinich). To be honest, I was expecting
assaults from the Neo-Cons, but they have mainly resolved to ignore
Paul and hope the whole thing will blow over. The Democrats on the
other hand are now making more or less overt accusations of Paul
being a cryptoracist, which they base on the now infamous
ghost-written Survival Report article and on a host of even more
For a supposed cryptoracist, Paul is certainly doing a poor job.
Like saying in a public debate that the 'war' on drugs is biased
against minorities and should be ended? That is not going to
make his cryptoracist friends happy. Having rap songs written about
him? That is going to be pretty embarrassing at his next KKK rally.
As far as I can tell, the flaw in US politics is that intent is
deducted by deciphering nuances and minutia in speeches. You
have people looking for hidden meanings and sinister codewords. Every
sentence is dissected and twisted to meet a certain end. I guess this
is born out of necessity, as politicians tend to lack the
proverbial spinal column and looking at their records is absolutely
pointless. But Ron Paul is a completely different animal. To see if
he is a racist, you only have to look at his record.
So, has he voted for restricting civil liberties? No. Has he voted
for preferential treatment to some racial group? No. In fact, Ron
Paul is probably one of the least racist people in politics; he
doesn't advocate taking from any racial group and he doesn't advocate
giving special privileges to any racial group. And let's face it,
setting different rules for someone purely based on race is racism,
no matter how well-intentioned the motives.
I use to hold the Democrats in relatively high regard. As a slight
hope for America that is about the take world with it into whatever
hell awaits us at the end. But their recent ineptitude on reigning in
Bush and now this pathetic smearing of Ron Paul, has made me
understand their failings. They are not the voice of reason in
America, but just another part of the establishment, terrified of Ron
Paul disarming them, simply by saying the things that they should
have been saying from the beginning.
The Authoritarian Welfare State
Awhile back, I wrote about the looming mass resignation of nurses here in Finland.
Now, apparently, the Finnish government is ready to use the favourite tool of the state; force.
Government prepares legislation to keep some nurses at work
Urgent care would be excluded from industrial action
The government is proposing legislation to mitigate the impact of
possible industrial action by the Union of Health and Social Care
Professionals (Tehy), which is threatening to organise a mass
resignation as of the 19th of this month to back demands for higher
The aim of the bill under preparation is to secure urgent
treatment necessary to keep patients alive. Excluded from the action
would be activities such as emergency room treatment, intensive care
units, and treatment of premature babies and support services such as
laboratories and x-ray examinations.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health calculates that
the bill would exclude no more than ten per cent of the 12,700 nurses
who have signed up for the mass resignation campaign.
A mediation board set up
to seek a solution to the dispute has been given a tight schedule in
order to secure passage of the proposed legislation.. The board is
expected to come up with a proposed solution by Thursday morning.
If no solution comes by then, the government will discuss
the proposal for legislative change securing urgent care at its meeting
Another reason for the tight schedule is that possible
legislative action would require a full week of handling in Parliament;
if the legislation is to be in force by the November 19th deadline, it
needs to be brought before Parliament on Friday this week.
The Ministry of Social Affairs
and Health does not want to comment on the possible legislative change.
The ministry first wants to see if the mediation board comes up with a
proposal by Thursday morning.
Helsingin Sanomat was not able to reach Minister of Social Services Paula Risikko (Nat. Coalition Party) for comment.
Top officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
met with Tehy leaders just under two weeks ago. At that time the
ministry appealed to the union to voluntarily exclude treatment from
the labour dispute whose neglect could endanger the lives or health of
Two weeks ago the Commission
for Local Authority Employers in Finland asked the government to impose
restrictions on the action by Tehy. Similar limits were placed on
health care strikes in 1995, 1998, and 2001.
However, the threatened action is not a traditional strike:
Tehy feels that technically resigning, rather than going on strike,
exempts the nurses from obligations to maintain any services.
The mediation board, chaired by Archiatre Risto Pelkonen, continued its efforts to find a solution to the dispute late into the night on Monday.
Link to the Helsingin Sanomat article
The Fragile Welfare State
It's strike season here in Finland, unions are throwing their weight around and a peculiar situation is brewing in the healthcare sector.
Healthcare services here are mainly provided by the state and municipals. The nurses are demanding a 24% pay increase. Legally the nurses have a rather limited possibility to go on strike. They can do it, but they still have to maintain the functionality of the healthcare services. So it is not an effective strike.
So now the nurses are threatening a mass resignation. A little under 13,000 of the country's 25,000 nurses would resign.
Predictably, the left is applauding this action. Especially now that the 'right' (the Finnish right being left of the Democrats) is in power.
But all this leaves the average people in a predicament. The healthcare services are already spread thin and this mass resignation would probably cripple the system. The private sector is small and unable to handle the influx of patients. And many people can't afford private care, since their taxes should have covered it already.
I can't help but wonder once more how fragile the welfare state really is. What is painted as warm and cuddly 'free' healthcare, is really a bureucratic behemoth. People are normally forced to seek private care on many occasions (physical therapy, dental work, optometric care and pretty much any specialized care), even though it is supposed to be provided by the state. That is bad enough, but now the whole thing is about to come crashing down.
I better not get sick any time soon...
Tough Guy Diplomacy
Cowboy diplomacy has been used to describe the current adventurist foreign policy of the United States. It refers to to the hostile, foolish and inept way that George W. Bush has conducted foreign affairs in the recent past. And while this may be descriptive of his particular brand of diplomacy, it fails to take into account the deeper problems of aggressive diplomacy.
One problem of 'tough guy diplomacy' is that it, by its nature, hinders rational resolutions. Once committed to an act, one cannot disengage without loosing face. Take, for example, the Cuban missile crisis. The rational approach clearly shows that, since the US had missiles in Turkey, the USSR had a legitimate reason to equal the playing field. So to resolve the issue, either the US had to allow missiles in Cuba, or withdraw its missiles from Turkey. Yet the world almost ended due to personal and national egos. Granted, reason triumphed in the end, but only barely.
Another example is the Persian Gulf War. Saddam Hussein's reasoning for invading Kuwait is unknown. Perhaps he thought the US would not intervene, perhaps there was a misunderstanding of diplomatic messages. But trying to face down the US, when intervention was clear, was irrational at best. The Iran-Iraq War clearly showed to everyone, even the Iraqi leadership, that the Iraqi army would be no match to the Coalition forces. But Hussein did not withdraw from Kuwait. Why? Because backing down would have made him look weak, and a weak dictator is a dead dictator. His internal enemies might have very well tried to take advantage of the situation. To see what else he would back down from.
The early phases of the Yom Kippur War brought plenty of success to the Egyptian forces. And while they were near total defeat by the end, the early success did remove the burden of past losses and thus freed the leadership from appearing weak if they made peace. With Syria the situation was very different, as their progress in the Golan Heights wasn't as successful and even lost territory in the end. Syria never had the luxury of this catharsis and is still at odds with Israel.
The problems the US is facing in the Middle East fall into the same category. A withdrawal from Iraq is equated with showing weakness. Taking into consideration the demands of the enemy is blasphemy. Concluding that the enemy's reason for acting is anything but pure hate is treason. Talking with Iran is out of the question. The world is seen in binary; one or zero, yes or no. And the outcomes are all too well known.