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Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes (bbc.co.uk)
471 points by akandiah 319 days ago | comments


RyanMcGreal 319 days ago | link

Now this is my kind of nanny state. A thought:

This program started for low-income families but was extended after a few years to all families. The nice thing about universality rather than means testing is that a) middle class families are more apt to continue supporting it if they can experience its benefits first-hand; b) you save the money that would otherwise be spent testing, enforcing and auditing the system; and c) it builds solidarity and shared values rather than socioeconomic conflict and what I've come to regard as revenge egalitarianism.

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protomyth 319 days ago | link

Yeah, this program meets even the literal wording for nanny state program.

Even on a fiscally conservative level, this isn't a bad government program. It address a specific education / health problem and fixes it for everyone at a much lower cost than a lot of other attempts in other countries (think much fewer personal and administration costs). It is statistic-based[1] and save total cost[2].

I shudder to think of how expensive that box would be in the US after all the contractors and graft.

1) Although one would think infant mortality would be a straight forward stat, it actually isn't because of how people class "viable". Even inside the EU it is approached differently by different countries. One of the big dangers of comparing statistics across countries.

2) think problems that could be fixed in childhood / pre-natal as opposed to living costs later.

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arethuza 319 days ago | link

One question I find interesting is to what extent governments should be in the business of building solidarity and shared values.

Personally, I'm all for it - but that's a product of my age (40s), location (Scotland) and where I grew up (a small village in the North of Scotland).

NB Having a father who served in the RAF during WW2 probably influenced me far more than I realised at the time - my political views around 20th century history are now almost identical to what his used to be.

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rayiner 319 days ago | link

I think building solidarity and values is tremendously important, and here's why: what is the government really responsible for? Even as you go down the political spectrum to libertarians (short of anarcho-libertarians), you have consensus that government should at least provide security, from domestic crime and international threats, the enforcement of contracts, etc. Most people would go on to say that it's the government's job to provide at least basic education, utilities and transportation, etc, and do so with low waste and corruption. Fostering a culture of solidarity and shared values goes directly to those basic functions of government.

When you look at Scandinavian countries, and wonder how their systems work so well, you have to consider how shared culture and values plays a role in that success. When you wonder why the welfare state works so poorly in the U.S., you can't ignore the impact of the tremendously acrimonious culture we have, steeped in animosity between the races and between different socioeconomic classes. And if you go further down the spectrum of dysfunction, you can't help but notice the stark contrast between the extensive but relatively corruption-free governments of the Scandinavian countries and the very limited but highly corrupt governments of places like India or Bangladesh. I think that comes from a lack of solidarity. There is no motivation to, say, not take a bribe, if your mentality is that you're only in it for yourself.

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Orva 318 days ago | link

> .. you can't ignore the impact of the tremendously acrimonious culture we have, steeped in animosity between the races and between different socioeconomic classes.

That is actually symptom of the problem, not the cause. It's not too long time ago when Finland had one of the bloodiest civil wars in European history[1], but still country was made enough unified to survive during WW2[2][3] and of course build 'nanny state' we have today.

Only reason that was possible was that big differences between classes was seemed as primary problem, caused by the system, instead of thinking it was caused by external forces which cannot really be affected. Maybe biggest success in this front was to ban private schools for kids and provide good basic education for everyone. Take note that all of the kids went to same schools, so kids from both factions of civil war shared classrooms, meals, etc.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_Civil_War

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuation_War

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_War

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euroclydon 319 days ago | link

I think most people are troubled when they think the government is engaged in political activism or campaigning -- in fact it's illegal. So it's a difficult questions to answer, and you didn't directly answer it: "to what extent governments should be in the business of building solidarity and shared values?" You just identified the results of shared values or lack there of.

If the majority of voters do not want the government to build solidarity, or to build it against the status quo, then the only way the government can legitimately pursue such an agenda is to label it a constitutional or human right. And that is indeed the language we see used by some to promote universal health care or a living wage.

My pet theory is that homogeneity of culture makes it easier to share wealth.

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rayiner 319 days ago | link

I think the vast majority of Americans would not object to the government building solidarity and shared values. That is and always has been a core function of the educational system. The debates, to date, have raged about what those values should be.

My pet theory is not just that homogeneity of culture makes it easier to share wealth, but that it makes most things easier: dealing with crime, dealing with education, etc. E.g. in Chicago, there is a deep schism between the heavily black south side, and the whiter north side. Now, every city has poor parts and rich parts, but what's really stark about Chicago is how completely the two parts disassociate from each other, due to in no small part a lack of shared culture.[1] This is, of course, to the detriment of both. The school system (CPS) is a primary example. Its a deeply dysfunctional piece of welfare: generous on one hand (relatively high spending/student), but crippled by the fact that whites and the middle/upper classes all but "opt out" of the system (CPS is 90% minority and 90% low-income).

[1] My wife grew up in a small town in Iowa, where there were also rich people (doctors, store owners) and poor people. But there was tremendous shared culture: everyone went to the same high school, one of a small number of churches, participated in the same set of after-school activities, etc.

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arethuza 319 days ago | link

Your wife's experience sounds a lot like my own childhood in rural Scotland - where everyone did go to the same secondary school (each village had its own primary school).

Now I live in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, which has a remarkable percentage of kids in private education (~25%) and very clearly drawn boundaries around social class.

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pfedor 318 days ago | link

I think the vast majority of Americans would not object to the government building solidarity and shared values. That is and always has been a core function of the educational system.

Really? But Wikipedia tells me that After 1970 the desirability of assimilation and the melting pot model was challenged by proponents of multiculturalism,[4][5] who assert that cultural differences within society are valuable and should be preserved, proposing the alternative metaphor of the mosaic, salad bowl or "American Kaleidoscope" – different cultures mix, but remain distinct.[6][7]

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nl 318 days ago | link

If the majority of voters do not want the government to build solidarity, or to build it against the status quo, then the only way the government can legitimately pursue such an agenda is to label it a constitutional or human right.

You seem to be writing from an exclusively US point of view. In much of the world governments don't act like that at all (think of France, with their agenda of protecting the French language).

Looking from outside at the US it seems to me that the overt patriotism that is almost uniquely widespread in the US is a shared value promoted by the government.

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GlennS 319 days ago | link

What is the government really responsible for?

Large and long-term investments. Acting strategically over decades on behalf of millions of people. Most organisations aren't in a position to be acting on those scales.

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RyanMcGreal 319 days ago | link

> to what extent governments should be in the business of building solidarity and shared values.

To the extent that government is the actual exercise of the public's solidarity and shared values, I'm inclined to think it does have a legitimate role to play in giving expression to those values.

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king_jester 319 days ago | link

The better question is why governments spend so much time trying to reenforce social stratification by placing so many qualifications on social programs.

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toyg 319 days ago | link

Money. Resources are limited, so it makes sense to prioritise (Whether the resulting accounting efforts end up costing more than it's otherwised saved, it's another matter).

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tomjen3 319 days ago | link

I don't find that interesting at all, I find that question to be very scary, because I don't want a government that is in the business of telling people what is right and what is wrong. I want a government of people smart enough to themselves realize what is right and what is wrong and to ensure that the government follows these things.

A government that runs Guantanamo and puts people in jail for smoking joints isn't an entity that should tell anybody what is right and what is wrong.

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Symmetry 319 days ago | link

Also (d), it doesn't create a disincentive increasing one's income. It's pretty easy to get into a situation in the US where you have more money making 30K a year than 35K, just because you lose access to means-tested benefits.

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duairc 318 days ago | link

It's not really in the interests of the ruling class to build genuine solidarity and shared values. Divide and rule.

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at-fates-hands 319 days ago | link

This is a great idea, until you remember Finland has a population of about 5 million. LA itself has a population of almost 4 million.

While I think this a great idea, it's pretty easy to do with such a small population. Once you start talking about a scale the size of the US, it gets rather spendy in a hurry.

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nawitus 319 days ago | link

The cost per capita is the same, so your argument doesn't really make sense. By the way, I see that argument every single time when someone proposes the USA to do something better. "It's a big country, we can't fix anything".

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Florin_Andrei 319 days ago | link

It is in the nature of some people on the libertarian / autistic / engineering spectrum to look at any issue out there and reduce it to trivial financial arithmetic. It's not out of ill will, it's just that this is their entire reality.

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tych0 319 days ago | link

His point was that the financial arithmetic isn't prohibitive. A box full of stuff costs the same amount whether you give out 5 million or 300 million (in fact, economics of scale says that the US could probably do it cheaper than Finland can). We have 300 million people (or whatever the birthrate is) which is certainly more than Finland has, but we also then have 300 million taxpayers.

Sure, the absolute cost is higher, but the cost per capita is not.

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randallsquared 319 days ago | link

Well, about 300 million people, but less than 100 million taxpayers. About 130 million workers in the US [1], of whom about 30% have a negative income tax rate[2]. Doesn't completely change your point, since less than half of Finland's population works as well[3], but I thought it worth mentioning.

[1] http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/05/employed-persons-1999-2...

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/09/18/w...

[3] http://www.tradingeconomics.com/finland/employed-persons

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pmorici 319 days ago | link

Just because you have a zero or negative federal income tax rate doesn't mean you don't pay any taxes in the US. These people are still paying 7.65% payroll taxes on that income, sales tax, property tax, and the seemingly endless list of other taxes and government imposed fees we all pay on many other services. Since most social welfare programs are funded by a combination of federal and state taxes I don't think the number of people paying federal income tax is meaningful one way or the other.

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Lasokki 319 days ago | link

http://translate.google.fi/translate?hl=en&sl=fi&tl=...

"The employment rate of employed persons between 15 and 64-year-olds in April was 68.7 per cent, which was 0.2 percentage points higher than a year earlier. Employment rate for men fell from the previous year to April by 0.1 percentage points to 68.6 per cent. The female employment rate increased by 0.6 percentage points to 68.8 per cent. For seasonal and random variation, the trend was 68.7 percent."

Source: Statistics / Labour Force Survey

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at-fates-hands 319 days ago | link

Until you consider how the US Government runs any program into the ground, is blanketed with regulations and bureaucracy, and generally hurts the people who it's supposed to help.

Here's a few examples just in case you need some evidence:

The US Postal Service: http://www.economicfreedom.org/2012/12/12/stamping-out-waste...

The War on Poverty: http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/062612-616212-war-o...

Medicare: http://www.aei.org/article/health/entitlements/medicare/why-...

Cash for Clunkers: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020488440457436...

You can also add these to the list:

Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, AmTrak, No Child Left Behind, and the Fair Housing Act.

I would be more in favor if the government had a good track record with some of these programs, but when you see how horrible these programs are run, you feel like we really can't seem to fix anything. Sad but true

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wwweston 319 days ago | link

To respond to a point from the first article you linked (one which I think generalizes well):

"So why isn’t the USPS making innovations and meeting customer needs like Outbox? Simple: because consistent financial support from the government eliminates incentives to do so."

Anybody who thinks it really is that simple is someone to be wary of when getting information or analysis.

The biggest reason USPS doesn't make changes like this is that congress ties its hands -- free market devotees don't want it competing in new areas. Or even old areas, like postal banking/payments (imagine the outcry here if someone decided maybe a public digital/physical payment infrastructure might be beneficial if competitive with the various private services). Some don't want it doing anything at all, but they can't really get rid of it, so they join up with the next group: budget-watchers who want it revenue neutral (which it managed pretty well for a long time)... AND now subject to pension/healthplan requirements well above and beyond any private standards. Meanwhile, cutting service is seen as a no-go.

Some people have actually speculated subjugating the USPS to this set of no-win requirements is actually an intentional strategy to bolster the case for privatization, which would pretty much have been a non-starter before 2006.

You could say that this proves that the US Government is ineffective, I suppose, but in a representative democracy, what that mostly proves is that US politics either prevents good policy thinkers from being elected or prevents them from effectively doing their job. Or letting others do theirs.

There may be an institutional component too (our legislature in particular is less representative than one might think), but I suspect the biggest factor is cultural/philosophical.

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nawitus 319 days ago | link

"Until you consider how the US Government runs any program into the ground, is blanketed with regulations and bureaucracy, and generally hurts the people who it's supposed to help."

Sounds exactly like the complaints I read on my social feed from fellow Finns :).

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anigbrowl 319 days ago | link

Once you start talking about a scale the size of the US, it gets rather spendy in a hurry.

Yes, but look at the long-term benefits. Under-privileged children end up costing society much more over the longer term.

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grecy 319 days ago | link

America also takes in taxes from it's vast population, so it still "costs" the same per capita.

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avar 319 days ago | link

Exactly, if anything it should be cheaper for the U.S. to do this per capita due to economies of scale.

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eru 319 days ago | link

Why don't they chop up the US in 60 Finland sized bits, if it's so much easier to have success in a small country?

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samatman 319 days ago | link

I have to assume this was sarcasm, but they're called states, and many Americans would like to see them regain power relative to the Federal government.

A baby box is the kind of thing California would do, if we weren't broke like everyone else. Though, California alone exceeds the population of all Nordic countries combined.

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ecopoesis 319 days ago | link

Great idea. We can call these bits: "states"

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billybob255 319 days ago | link

Uh, it's been chopped up into bits since it existed as a country (currently 50), and they're all a little different.

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roberto 319 days ago | link

Why not 50... and call them "states"?

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pkulak 318 days ago | link

No, the reason it will never happen is because every single interest that sells any baby anything will oppose it (unless they are written into the bill to sell to the government at 110% retail). Even if 99% of the population wants it, Target gets a veto. That's why all these great programs that anyone mentions have started 50+ years ago; back when something could get done even if you could find one large corporation that it wasn't in the best interests of.

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tomkarlo 319 days ago | link

It's even more expensive to do nothing when your health care system has to pick up the pieces. Appropriate preventative strategies can be cost-effective, and should be easier for voters to support (since they benefit everyone rather than just the ill.)

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mathieuh 319 days ago | link

Did you not read about economies of scale when you were reading whatever libertarian crap you found?

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ProcessBlue 319 days ago | link

Lovely article. However, I must say that the box is only the tip of the iceberg. It's been almost four years since we went through the gauntlet so my memory may be a bit fuzzy but if I remember correctly the FREE tier of forming babby in Finland includes:

- Initially monthly (increaing to weekly) pre-natal checkups that include bloodwork, metabolism tests, ultrasounds and any treatments necessary to ensure the baby's and mother's health.

- About 12 hours of parental training which I found surprisingly useful (containing none of the Lamaze class stereotypes I had been expecting). Also, our group of people contained an absolutely adorable teenage couple, everybody else was in their late twenties to mid thirties.

- The whole "actual business". Now this bit we did have to pay for, about $80 per day that we stayed in one of the maternity ward's private rooms with full room service.

- First weekly and later monthly post natal checkups (also for the mom) including vaccinations. At two years the schedule switches to annual checkups and starts including dental chaeckups. At some point during the first months a doctor actually visits your home to check up on how you are dealing with the whole situation. If there are clear indicators of problems (e.g. alcoholism) the doc can point you in the direction for help.

- You start getting about $150/month from the state for the baby (until it is 18 years old), this is about half of the cost of municpal daycare. In addition to this you get financial support during (m|p)aternity leave (the amount is actually scaled based on your salary). Maternity leave is about 100 days, paternity leave is about 50 days and on top of that you are entitled to 160 days of parental leave (either mom or dad can take this). Your place of employment can get state compensation if they decide to pay you a full salaray during your leave. Then there is a general child care leave than can extend to three years, it gets nitty gritty with the bureaucracy of compensations but effectively it is possible to take care of your kid for the first three years and still have your old job back when you're done. In our circle of friends there are at least a couple of "career women" who have checked out for ~5 years to have two kids and successfully gotten back into the game.

So yeah, the box is nice but it is only the icing on the fabulous cake that is having a baby in Finland :-).

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jan_g 319 days ago | link

It is worth noting that all this is not free, but paid for by the tax payer. Many European countries have similar arrangements.

Personally, I think all this is money well spent by the governments as it gives nice financial boost to young parents and a sense that someone/something cares about them and their baby.

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belorn 319 days ago | link

> It is worth noting that all this is not free, but paid for by the tax payer.

While its technically true, its really misrepresent it. Every time i hear that argument it sounds like a kid holding one part of a singular share of Microsoft stock, proclaiming to the world that he has now "funded Microsoft!" because of his $10 investment.

Sure, in societies with lower tax, the state would be less likely to be funding a baby box. However, in trade of, society itself tend to then evolve a culture of charities to handle the slack. The US is a good example here, where such a box would likely also exist in some places, but maybe coupled with a bible or a cooperation logo on. People could then argue that such a thing is also "not free", but provide under advertisement for a religion or brand.

So while its technically true that this is a gift paid by tax payers money, that description deserve a lesser attention that we currently are giving it.

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RyanMcGreal 319 days ago | link

Not only that, but I expect the neonatal benefits amount to a public good - an expenditure of public money that saves more than it costs by improving outcomes and reducing the need for expensive interventions.

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jan_g 319 days ago | link

It's more than a baby box. I do not know how familiar you are with some European countries' social system, but young parents are usually given quite a few months of vacation time and salary from the state, a sort of children allowance until a child is 18 years old (100EUR or so), tax deductions for every child until a child is 18 years old, kindergarten 'bonuses', free health care for every child and similar.

So this definitely deserves a lot of attention as it makes young parents' lives quite easier. And I am not arguing against it, just that in the end someone has to pay for it.

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rlpb 319 days ago | link

> And I am not arguing against it, just that in the end someone has to pay for it.

What if it turned out that the baby pays for it because the improved average upbringing allows the baby to earn more and consequently pay more tax in absolute terms, though not in percentage terms?

Would it be a cost to the taxpayer then?

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jan_g 319 days ago | link

As it happens, I am one of such tax payers, since I live in a country with similar arrangements for young parents as Finland. Also, by having two kids, I have been twice a beneficiary of this system. To repeat, I completely support such system, I just don't agree with ProcessBlue's statement, quote, ".. bit fuzzy but if I remember correctly the FREE tier of forming babby in Finland includes ...".

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Domenic_S 319 days ago | link

What if the improved upbringing opens up more opportunities for the child -- in other countries? So now instead of an average taxpayer you get nothing at all?

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Gravityloss 319 days ago | link

It certainly gives lots of job opportunities - for example in the USA. With finnish mediocre salaries and high tax rates, americans think young couples are crazy to return here to raise their families. Yet they do. Certainly they're not returning directly because of a cardboard box.

There are many places which extract some high value years from the workforce of some other country, for example I've heard that many educated german speaking young people go to work in Switzerland for a few years but ultimately return.

It's a bit unclear to me who wins here.

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saraid216 319 days ago | link

Obviously the opportunities afforded in your own country weren't sufficient and you should probably work on that rather than crippling children.

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jrokisky 319 days ago | link

I think this idea is often over looked. How much money/time is spent solving problems caused by overwork?

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icebraining 319 days ago | link

It depends. "Brain drain" is a real problem for many nations.

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anigbrowl 319 days ago | link

Not the ones with advanced economies and reliable social safety nets, though. People tend to leave places that don't offer economic security and opportunity for those that do.

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flagnog 319 days ago | link

but you're assuming that this improves the upbringing.

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saraid216 319 days ago | link

If you're suggesting that health and parental attention does not contribute to a quality upbringing, I'd like to see some studies cited.

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yummyfajitas 319 days ago | link

... but young parents are usually given quite a few months of vacation time and salary from the state, a sort of children allowance until a child is 18 years old (100EUR or so)...

In the US we earn 30% more money than Finland (adjusted for cost of living, which is quite high in Finland), so we can just pay for these things with savings if we want to. Most of us choose not to, suggesting these benefits are worth less to us than money.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)...

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rlpb 319 days ago | link

> Most of us choose not to, suggesting these benefits are worth less to us than money.

Or you could be suffering from a Tragedy of the Commons. Your American viewpoint may be preventing you all from pooling your money together and saving overall. Instead you all have to act as individuals, and in this case it is in your individual best interests to not spend the money, since you only get the saving if you all act together.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

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yummyfajitas 319 days ago | link

I don't understand. The tragedy of the commons is about resource depletion in the absence of price signals. If I choose to work rather than take paternity leave, what resource am I depleting? Or more generally, what harmful externality am I creating?

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rlpb 319 days ago | link

> The tragedy of the commons is about resource depletion in the absence of price signals.

This is a narrow view. Think about it more generally, and you'll see that the same concept applies here.

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anigbrowl 319 days ago | link

Ask your kids.

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beagle3 319 days ago | link

More likely, you prefer not to pay because it costs way more than it should. I am not familiar with analysis of e.g. Day care costs, but Americans pay significantly more for healthcare than Europeans, and get significantly worse results; also, they pay significantly more for education and get significantly less.

The party line is that it is a preference - but anecdotally, I've only heard that preference from people who never really looked at the numbers, and from the obscenely rich.

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yummyfajitas 319 days ago | link

More likely, you prefer not to pay because it costs way more than it should.

Americans earn 30% more than Finlanders adjusting for PPP. I.e., taking into account higher cost of health care, lower cost of most other things, we still have 30% more on average.

Americans do pay more for education than Europeans, but our results are quite good compared to most of Europe. The only reason it appears our educational system is poor is because certain subgroups of the student body drag our averages down.

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/12/amazing-truth-abou...

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beagle3 318 days ago | link

> Americans earn 30% more than Finlanders adjusting for PPP.

You're taking PPP to mean much more than it actually does. Just consider the fact that there's no accepted "PPP" measurement methodology.

But even assuming one existed (pick your favorite), it only effectively encodes one specific consumption profile - one that e.g. takes into account the health care costs of a 30-year-olds with healthy 4-year-old kids, but not that of your average 50-year-old which are considerably different.

> taking into account higher cost of health care, lower cost of most other things, we still have 30% more on average.

Averages are totally the wrong tool to measure anything like that - especially when disparity in the US is so much higher.

Compare the proverbial USElbonia to Eulbonia:

In USElbonia, 1% make $16100/month, 99% make $100/month' avg=$260/month

In EUlbonia, 1% makes $400/month, 99% make $200/month, avg=$202/month

USElbonians, make, on the overage 30% more - but every single EUlbonian is at least 100% better off than 99% of the USElbonians.

Real stats are not quite as bad, of course - but disparity in the US is ridiculously high. But there are many respects in which all EU people are better off than US people which do not make it into any PPP comparison -- e.g., http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/05/bankruptcy.medical.bill... "Unless you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, you are one medical emergency away from bankruptcy" - I can't find a real European comparable, but http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2009/11/17/no_one_goes_ban/ suggests that there's more the quality than 30% parity-adjusted purchasing power can buy.

> The only reason it appears our educational system is poor is because certain subgroups of the student body drag our averages down.

Cherry picking statistics will get you anywhere you want, regardless of any "truth" however that may be defined.

Consistently in STEM, about 50% of PhD and postdoctoral students in the US are not USA citizens, and this has been going on for at least 20 years. I would take that as empirical evidence that the US STEM education is, indeed, poor.

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_mulder_ 319 days ago | link

Perhaps American's would be even more educated if they used a system like Finland's, often held up as the worlds best education system. Paying less and getting better results sounds good to me. Maybe Finland's high educational achievement level starts with the picture book in the box?

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_Index

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yummyfajitas 319 days ago | link

If it's so easy to copy, how come no one else in the world has actually managed to do it?

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eru 319 days ago | link

Some parts of Germany now rank as well as the Finnish average in the PISA tests. (And Singapore ranks pretty well, too, but that was not a result of an effort spurred on by the testing.)

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yummyfajitas 319 days ago | link

So do some parts of the US. Ethnic subgroups of the US with similar ethnicity to Singapore also rank quite well.

http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-well-do-above-...

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nawitus 319 days ago | link

One reason is that education politics are extremely conservative.

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Timberline 319 days ago | link

>> The only reason it appears our education system is poor is because certain subgroups of the student body drags [sic] our averages down.

Yeah, lots of people forget how great we really are once you compare our best to everybody else's average! It's pure bias. Individually (booyah!) almost every one of us is well above average. It's just that there are too many of the others who don't deserve to count.

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Nursie 319 days ago | link

That's right kids, Americans choose never to have any vacation time and spend all their lives in work...

Also LOL @ Savings. From what I've read only around 55% of Americans have more savings than credit-card debt.

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_mulder_ 319 days ago | link

Or another way to look at it, Infant Mortality rates in Finland are so much lower than in the US, suggesting they value a babies life higher than Americans value money.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_m...

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nollidge 319 days ago | link

> so we can just pay for these things with savings if we want to.

Uh, who's "we"? You mean the 60% of Americans with more than $500 in savings? Are those the people who can "just" pay for it out of savings?

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yummyfajitas 319 days ago | link

Not to mention all the Americans who choose to consume at American levels (considerably higher than European levels), rather than saving.

As for people at the bottom, they typically do choose free time over money. About 90% of those classified by the government as poor choose not to work full time, for example.

http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswp2010.pdf

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jon-wood 319 days ago | link

They choose not to, or there's no full time work for them to take so they work part time instead?

It may be that they make the choice (I admit to not having read the paper), but lets not jump to that assumption just because they're not in full time work.

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yummyfajitas 319 days ago | link

They choose not to, or there's no full time work for them to take so they work part time instead?

The answer is in the report I linked to, which measures involuntary part time employment in addition to labor force participation.

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eru 319 days ago | link

Sorry, yummyfajitas was being sarcastic.

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anigbrowl 319 days ago | link

So this definitely deserves a lot of attention as it makes young parents' lives quite easier. And I am not arguing against it, just that in the end someone has to pay for it.

The beneficiaries likely return it and more through increased productivity. It's a lot easier to be productive when you don't have to worry too much about essentials.

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mikeash 319 days ago | link

Why exactly is this worth noting?

Nobody jumps to point out that there's still somebody paying for the "free" tiers of Dropbox or GitHub or whatever. Yet the moment somebody mentions a "free" social program, people suddenly have to hammer on the point that somebody pays for it.

We're not a bunch of imbeciles who think that social programs just rain from the sky....

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mhurron 319 days ago | link

> Why exactly is this worth noting?

Because it's one of the best ways to make sure it never happens in the US. Another good way is to call it Socialist.

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efa 319 days ago | link

There are many imbeciles who think that social programs just rain from the sky. Maybe not so much here.

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snowwrestler 319 days ago | link

I disagree, there is a tremendous amount of discussion here on HN about the real cost of "free" services, particularly in light of the recent end of Google Reader, sale of Instapaper, etc.

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mikeash 318 days ago | link

Reading through the comments on the current front-page stories about Bitbucket and Zynga, I don't see a single comment saying that their free services aren't really "free".

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300bps 319 days ago | link

There are plenty of people that think the government has unlimited money and should spend it on the people. These people don't know that it is literal wealth transfer from one person to another with the government acting as middle man. Sure, you may realize that this is the case but many people don't.

It's the same mentality that leads people to believe that insurance companies should pay for everything until they realize that it is other insurance company customers (including thenselves) that actually foot the bill for it.

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jordan0day 319 days ago | link

> There are plenty of people that think the government has unlimited money

Technically, any government that has sovereign control over its currency does have unlimited money. We have examples of governments utilizing this fact to disastrous results, but that doesn't make it less true.

> These people don't know that it is literal wealth transfer from one person to another

This isn't necessarily true. For state governments or governments that don't have a sovereign, fiat currency, it is true, but not for a national government like the USA federal government. If it were true, all wealth would be a "zero sum game."

You're correct about people's misguided perceptions about government spending and insurance companies, but it's also harmful when the pendulum swings too far the other way, and we don't want the government to spend any money because we think it only obtains that money via taxes.

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mikeash 319 days ago | link

Do any of those people post on HN?

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ceol 319 days ago | link

Or exist, for that matter?

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protomyth 319 days ago | link

If you ever have the misfortune to work near or in social services, then you realize yes they exist and are not an urban myth. Sadly, some government programs encourage the behavior (e.g. "free" cellphones).

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theorique 319 days ago | link

"Obama gave me a phone!"

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tomjen3 319 days ago | link

You would be surprised about how many people don't realize that or who choose to ignore it.

My aunt for example really doesn't understand that the government has any limits on their funds at all. She proposed to me that shopaholics should be given money by the government to found their addiction.

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jan_g 319 days ago | link

Irregardless of your extremely poor attitude, I shall point out the obvious: 'ProcessBlue' himself has stated in capital letters that it is free. I was just correcting that.

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mikeash 319 days ago | link

Everybody knows what "free" means in that context, so your "correcting" is not actually adding anything to the conversation. Perhaps you think you are informing people, but everyone who reads your comment already knows what you're saying, so it's not informative at all.

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flagnog 319 days ago | link

Regardless whether or not people are imbeciles, they still have a habit of abstracting away common knowledge, and then forgetting that the common knowledge exists. I see this all the time in the computer industry. It's good to remind everyone now and again that free is not necessarily free.

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rdtsc 319 days ago | link

Thinking about it though, if you are assuming people are operating at that level and don't understand what the "free" means in this context, do you really think a simple explanation will all of the sudden enlighten them?

Using the analogy and talking about common knowledge in computer industry, this is basic enough that's the equivalent of "most computers need an electrical supply to work". If you are talking to someone about building a data center or scaling out a database and then you need to remind them that computers don't work based on unicorns but on electricity not sure if it makes sense to even remind them or continue the conversation.

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mikeash 319 days ago | link

Why do people only ever bring this up with social programs, and not any of the many other "free" things that are discussed around here?

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jerf 319 days ago | link

Because social programs get their money from coercion. GitHub doesn't. (To the extent that you think you can find a private company that can and does use coercion, I object to that too.)

Even as a liberatarian, I'm happy to say some things are well worth the coercion. But it should never be forgotten, because otherwise people do start thinking it's just free money that has no other concerns whatsoever, and start spending it stupidly. We know this by simply looking around at political discourse, to the point that I almost wonder if you're dissembling when you claim that nobody thinks this way. Look harder. We should never forget that social spending is a cost/benefit question that never has zero costs.

I actually personally find it a bit bizarre that people find this an objectionable statement. Realizing that money is not free and should be spent on worthwhile things to account for the coercion should lead to better spending. Defending the proposition that we shouldn't be so concerned about the costs is a recipe for producing less efficient spending, as always happens when costs are misjudged. The fact that this sort of thing has been politicized ought to lead you to wonder who is politicizing it, and what they're hiding behind it.

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CaptainZapp 319 days ago | link

  Because social programs get their money from coercion
Language matters, and the verb 'coercion' in this context, to me, is actually repugnent.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coercion):

"Coercion /koʊˈɜrʃən/ is the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force,"

I don't see taxes (and I pay a fairly significant share) as our evil government squeezing out our hard earned cash by threatening, or intimidating us.

Quite the opposite: taxes are our entrance fees to a civilized society, to a working infrastructure, to good and fair education and to umpteen other things that make up a society.

You may argue how the public money is spent and how much of it should go into social programs and how deeply the state should get involved. Interesstingly, more equal societies, like the Nordics, seem to provide generally a higher quality of life for their citizens.

You can see taxes as a necessary evil, or hate them, but defining taxation as coercion is pretty loaded and rather close to Orwellian newspeak.

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jerf 319 days ago | link

"You can see taxes as a necessary evil, or hate them, but defining taxation as coercion is pretty loaded and rather close to Orwellian newspeak."

In addition to what refurb said, I feel you're exactly backwards. We should always remember that taxes come from the threat of imprisonment if you don't pay and coercive force. There are things that are worth this threat. Civilization is a big deal. It's a good thing. I'm rather Hobbesian on my view of Nature; in that sense I'm probably more enamored with civilization than the average liberal who believes in the inherent goodness of man. I think we have much farther we can fall than such a person would. But people should not casually use this power. To wipe away the fact that taxation is coercive is to encourage attitudes that spend your time and energy on irrelevant, if not downright wrong, purposes. That's not something we should overlook.

Taxation is a big deal. It's intrinsically coercive. It should only be used on really important things, not for things like shutting up some interest group somewhere, or buying votes, or lining the pockets of your buddies, or worthless administration (and please note the word "worthless" isn't superfluous there), or any of the other myriad of ways government can coercively spend the fruits of our precious, precious time on this planet.

That said, by the way, I think this particular thing is a solid use of taxpayer dollars. Or at least it is, provided it's somewhat efficient; if they're managing to blow $10,000 a box or something, as the US government would probably find a way to do (a snipe at our particular government today, not the concept of government in general), that's less true.

Also, if you do not today agree with me, wait three years. When a Republican is President again, it will once again be a popular notion that we shouldn't have to pay our taxes blindly to the government and we should think really carefully about how we're spending on things. I'm just ahead of the progressive curve here, that's all.

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mindcrime 319 days ago | link

Taxation is a big deal. It's intrinsically coercive. It should only be used on really important things, not for things like shutting up some interest group somewhere, or buying votes, or lining the pockets of your buddies, or worthless administration (and please note the word "worthless" isn't superfluous there), or any of the other myriad of ways government can coercively spend the fruits of our precious, precious time on this planet.

That's a very good point. I, for one, consider taxation to be theft, plain and simple. But yet I don't try to defend myself from this theft via force, for pragmatic reasons (they employ more men with guns than I do, for one). So, I grudgingly tolerate a certain level of coercion, even though it is extremely distasteful to me.

BUT... I maintain that if you're going to steal my money and spend it - nominally - in my name, then you better damn well spend it wisely and on something important. This is one reason government agencies piss me off so much.. I see so much waste and inefficiency and fraud and other shenanigans, and it just enrages me that they are taking my money and blowing it on idiotic shit, or - worse - things that I'm fundamentally morally opposed to.

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refurb 319 days ago | link

Different strokes for different folks.

Taxes are certainly not voluntary. If you do not pay them, you will be coerced into doing so. Hence the use of the word.

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sneak 319 days ago | link

> You can see taxes as a necessary evil, or hate them, but defining taxation as coercion is pretty loaded and rather close to Orwellian newspeak.

By your own copypasted definition, how can they be anything but?

Even if you love taxation and government spending, this is factually true.

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andrewflnr 318 days ago | link

You say that using the word "coercion" is repugnant, and then quote a definition that perfectly fits taxation? You've got some nerve. You can see it however you want, but if you don't pay taxes, someone will come and physically haul you off to jail whether you like it or not, someone who is prepared to escalate to deadly force. Sure sounds like coercion to me.

Taxation might make sense as an "entrance fee" if someone asked you whether you wanted to participate, and gave you an honest chance to say no, but we don't really have that. You usually can't even just hide out on your land and not interact with anyone except dealing with trespassers, because of property tax, a form of coercion I find particularly repugnant.

Yes, language matters, which is why "coercion" is the perfect word for taxation.

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clicks 318 days ago | link

It is a curious thing that you object to this.

Are you not also being coerced to conform to virtually every other societal norm? Try walking out naked down the street in broad daylight. See if you're not jumped by the police. Try hunting some deer in the non-hunting season for food, -- because afterall you're hungry and the meat would do: you'll meet the heavy side of law.

You're seeing things from a libertarian-lens I think. Human society is built on a social contract, that pretty much basically boils down to an agreement of certain rules and guidelines so the collective fares better in the end. It's a thing to avoid a tragedy of the commons. We recognize that the unprivileged are not given the same opportunities as the privileged ones (their children are not going to schools where their peers are supportive/smart, they don't have the right role models, they don't have access to the same resources), and we decide that it is only fair that they receive a little help from the privileged. You can choose to stop paying taxes and in the end be left with a deteriorating society with unable customers... but you don't want that do you? What is so hard to understand about this?

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oblique63 318 days ago | link

Thank you for saying this. It really bothers me how arguments are reduced to meaningless 'facts' around here so quickly, when the real world is a lot more nuanced than that. A 'fact' without context is effectively meaningless (i.e. saying "the sky is blue" would be useless if we had no concept of a "sky"). The simple fact that "coercion" is defined in such a way that aligns with the way taxation is implemented is about as useful as one of those "fun facts" you see under snapple caps. Yeah, that's nice coincidence, but it's really only notable when you look at it for what it is: a relation between a word definition and a system implementation. In other words, the connotation of the word and the context of the system implementation are not necessarily guaranteed to be congruent, as there are many paths that lead to the same destination. And as you clearly stated, taxation is just a special case of the more general practice of governance through law enforcement. And while a lot of people here like to see 'law' as equal to 'right-ness', it too is not necessarily congruent but rather a close approximation (much the same way that I.Q. scores are a rough approximation of 'intelligence' -- another relatively 'vague' concept). What's funny, is that this incongruence makes itself pretty clear whenever drug laws are brought up. Several clamor to "legalize", yet many of the same people then go on use law/law-enforcement as an accurate metric for 'right-ness' in argumentation. The thing is that law is a pretty good metric for what society deems to be right in general for practical usage in implementing guidelines, but the system behind it is never going to be responsive/fast/informed enough to represent a useful snapshot of societal values that can then be used for argumentation[1]. If culture/society were generally static then that would be fine, but this big mess of dynamic interactions is much too complicated, so we just resort to using simple arbitrary factoids to end discussions.

[1] Not to mention that a government's body of law as a whole is not generated by a fixed algorithm; different laws arise from different needs/contexts/scenarios, and not understanding what context brought about any specific policy, yet still using it in argumentation, is essentially a strawman.

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andrewflnr 318 days ago | link

Where did I say I objected to it? Coercion has it's place, and government's role is to use coercion where and only where it's justified. My point is, let's be clear that when we talk about things the government should do, we're necessarily talking about things for which coercion is justified.

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mindcrime 319 days ago | link

"Coercion /koʊˈɜrʃən/ is the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force,"

I don't see taxes (and I pay a fairly significant share) as our evil government squeezing out our hard earned cash by threatening, or intimidating us.

And what if you decide that you have a better idea of how to spend your money than the State, and stop paying "your taxes"? Do it long enough, they send men with guns to arrest you, and put you on trial and (probably) put you in jail. If you resist any portion of this process, you will probably be shot to death by the men with guns.

How is this not "use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force"?

All State power is ultimately rooted in the use of force. Just because many (even most?) people happily pay "their taxes" out of rote habit, or because they've grown to accept a certain measure of coercion as acceptable, doesn't change the underlying principle.

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res0nat0r 318 days ago | link

I guess it is not coercion due to the fact that no one is preventing you by force from packing your bags and leaving the USA.

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anigbrowl 319 days ago | link

Because social programs get their money from coercion.

Garbage. I quite like paying taxes, because it suits me to outsource some money allocation to the government. You have a vote, and presumably when you benefit from things you voted for you don't go around feeling guilty at how you've coerced other people into going along with it.

Defending the proposition that we shouldn't be so concerned about the costs

You're focusing only on the costs, while ignoring the potential savings. Finland spends this money because it expects to get something in return: lower infant mortality, and its correlate, lower rates of infant ill-health and negligence. Bringing a baby to term and delivering it only to have it die represents a massive loss of productivity, and that loss is not confined to the grieving or irresponsible parents, it ripples out through society, both via spending by the parents' relatives and friends and through loss of economic productivity from illness, despression and so forth, not to mention that underprivileged children who do survive are more likely to suffer from mental illness, fall into crime, become homeless etc.

This notion that social programs are just a cost and deliver no benefit is asinine. It's highly economically efficient to provide new parents with the essential tools for looking after a baby, and a great more productive than issuing homilies about the (tiny) marginal increase in taxation that results.

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jerf 319 days ago | link

"You're focusing only on the costs"

Bollocks. I'm saying we should talk about the costs, not ignoring the benefits. I actually think this is a net good move on Finland's part. I know you're projecting, since you've imputed claims to me I actively disagree with.

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anigbrowl 319 days ago | link

Well, why is it so imperative that we talk about the costs if we're in a agreement that there's a net benefit? Perhaps I am projecting, but generally when people are at pains to point out that things are not free and there's a cost, what they mean is that there's a net cost to society (or think that there is) and that the money would be best spent somewhere else or not collected at all. When you lead off with a complaint that the money from social programs was extracted from you by 'coercion' the implication is that you're being forced to pay for something people should have to finance themselves.

I really don't get how you think this is a net good move but couch your argument in the form of a complaint about the government taking your lunch money. By definition, a net good is economically less costly to provide than to withhold. Even over the very short term (ie within the same fiscal year) I suggest that the opportunity cost of supplying the baby box is no more, or possibly lower than the costs of autopsies and lost productivity resulting from a higher rate of infant mortality.

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iy56 319 days ago | link

It just means they feel like the other party is forgetting about the cost. For example, if I hear my friend raving about this new phone that only costs 99 dollars, I might remind him that it would require him to upgrade to a data plan that costs 20 dollars more per month. That doesn't mean that the phone isn't still worth buying, just that it's not as cheap as I think he is imagining it to be.

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anigbrowl 319 days ago | link

Honestly, and especially in the case of public goods like the baby box discussed here, I think people are perfectly well aware that they don't fall out of the sky or grow on trees, even if they can't articulate the entire cost-benefit structure at the drop of a hat. But people who say the cost is being forgotten usually complain that it has to be picked up by 'the taxpayer' (meaning themselves), as if the expectant parent(s) had no history or prospects of ever paying taxes themselves.

Intentionally or not, the implicit suggestion that the costs are being picked up by someone else is rooted in economic stereotypes that remain widespread in the US despite a lack of supporting evidence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_queen or for a more current example: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-09/politics/38405...

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snowwrestler 319 days ago | link

There's a net benefit to eating out every night (it's tasty and we don't have to do dishes), but my wife and I still consider the costs.

Just because something produces a net benefit does not mean that there are infinite funds to allocate toward it.

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anigbrowl 318 days ago | link

Those are benefits. A net benefit means it's more economically efficient than the alternative - which might be true for you, but isn't necessarily so.

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Retric 319 days ago | link

This is far from unique to social programs. In the US defense spending is ridiculously over the top stupidly high because in large part because there is little cost benifit analysis just how much can we increase it. The same can be said for targeted tax breaks, capital gains being taxed at 15% shafts everyone that does not have significant investments.

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mikeash 319 days ago | link

I don't think any of the people who think taxes are free money post to HN.

Constantly reminding HN posters that "free" government programs actually cost money, like every single other thing in life, just derails the conversation. It serves no useful purpose, because we already know. It's just political grandstanding.

Imagine if every single post on HN about the success of some company included comments like, "it's not really their success, since they used public roads and electrical infrastructure, oh and that whole Internet thing started out as a government program!" You'd probably get annoyed pretty fast at people shoving their politics in your face where it's unnecessary.

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Domenic_S 319 days ago | link

> people shoving their politics

How is pointing this out politics? If pointing it out is politically conservative, ignoring it is politically liberal? I don't get it. It's one of the few economic absolute truths we have.

> "it's not really their success, since they used public roads

That happens already. You didn't build that! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_didn%27t_build_that

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jerf 319 days ago | link

'Imagine if every single post on HN about the success of some company included comments like, "it's not really their success, since they used public roads and electrical infrastructure, oh and that whole Internet thing started out as a government program!"'

Errr... I don't really have to imagine. That happens pretty frequently. I sort of agree that it's a grandstanding distraction either way.

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protomyth 319 days ago | link

Despite a set of politicians views, that wouldn't be the logical conclusion.

The services provided by the government are paid for by the people (citizen and non-citizen) as taxes, foreigners as duties, or debt. The logical conclusion is that a person or company is paying for those roads and infrastructure. It is just another service, no more sacred than the cellular contract or rent on office space. We don't generally attribute the rent to our success.

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sneak 319 days ago | link

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

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naradaellis 319 days ago | link

Also there is more bang for the buck making sure babies are raised well and healthy, over trying to fix maladjusted and unhealthy teenagers and adults years later.

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rdtsc 319 days ago | link

> It is worth noting that all this is not free, but paid for by the tax payers

Not sure why you are saying that. It is something I would tell my 5 year old maybe. Perhaps some do think God makes cardboard boxes magically appear in Finland out of thin air, but is it really worth mentioning that in this forum, if you expect your audience to operate at that level?

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ProcessBlue 319 days ago | link

True, true, I didn't want to go into that because that way lies a never ending comment chain on fiscal policy ;-).

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ivix 319 days ago | link

Interesting that the health system in Finland has the concept of paid 'luxury' options. In the UK NHS that would be considered anathema.

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vidarh 319 days ago | link

Most NHS hospitals allow you to pay for certain extra services. TV and internet access is common. In many hospitals it also includes being able to pay for private rooms with en suite facilities.

EDIT: Specifically regarding maternity wards: We did pay extra for a private room when my son was born, so I have first hand experience with that.

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arethuza 319 days ago | link

We payed for a private room as well. I did note that this wasn't something that was "advertised" but if you asked they were more than happy to give you a room.

Mind you this was 13 years ago in the old maternity hospital here in Edinburgh - don't know what the arrangement is in the new Royal Infirmary.

NB My wife gave birth in a private room in the midwife run "Normal Delivery Unit" which was fantastic - we only asked for a private room a few hours after she had given birth after she had been moved to a ward.

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vidarh 319 days ago | link

Generally the criteria is that clinical needs go first, so if someone needs a room, they'll chuck you right out again (and not charge you), which is fair enough, but also a reason for them not to create a too high expectation or demand.

Overall the NHS trusts have quite a bit of latitude in carrying out private services to offset costs by increasing utilisation of facilities and equipment (private surgeries are often carried out in NHS operating rooms, for example), but the extent to which they take advantage of it varies quite a bit.

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ProcessBlue 319 days ago | link

Do you mean the private room? That wasn't a luxury option, I should have been more clear on that :-). All rooms are private, and though we got lucky and got one that was slightly larger than the others it didn't cost extra. I think the small fee they impose is simply meant to encourage people not to overstay.

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jami 319 days ago | link

I'm experiencing extreme envy at these private room stories.

I had my first child in a great hospital with the same room all to my family for our full two-day stay.

For my current pregnancy, I switched care providers, but I chose the new midwife based on her ability to deliver at the great hospital where I had my first child.

Last month (when I was seven months pregnant), my insurance company decided they no longer cover the awesome hospital. My midwife said insurance companies almost never let you stick with the hospital you'd planned in these situations. So unless I want to pay for the whole thing (despite being insured at great cost to my employer and me), I can spend my first days with my new baby sharing a room with some random family of strangers and their new baby, at a hospital where there's a high likelihood that the other family's new baby will be enduring significant medical problems.

Hooray for privatized health care, right? Clearly better than any other possibility.

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Nursie 319 days ago | link

Definitely in the NHS it would, but there's always the option of opting-out to the private system.

That's very much all-or-nothing though.

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aaronbrethorst 319 days ago | link

It's a pity that in neither ar nor new york does babby get a box. I haven't heard of it happening this mroing or on any other day. You will not get a box, even if you have three kids ; i am truley sorry for your lots

In all seriousness, though, even though the United States' infant mortality rate is declining[1], it's still very upsetting to me that we're aren't far lower than we are, given how wealthy we are as a country.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/health/infant-mortality-ra...

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