July 2001

Where's all the money going?

Of the Nordic countries, Finland uses the least amount of money in health care and basic education. This fact is highlighted by Atte Jääskeläinen in Helsingin Sanomat (21 July 2001). He adds that only two other countries tax their citizens more than Finland. So, asks Jääskeläinen, why does such a well-resourced country like this spend so little money on essentials?

"The traditional explanation is that Finland's public purse has been kept tight even after the recession. This is how the government and the Minister of Finance Sauli Niinistö (conservative party) have paid the debts accrued during the recession and this is how they are preparing the country for worse times to come.

"On the other hand, doctors and nurses think that Finland is investing too little in health care. Also the Minister of Public Services Osmo Soininvaara (the Greens) has said that more money is needed for health care."

Jääskeläinen writes that international comparisons should be read with caution. A simple comparison of expenses with GNP can distort things.

"Many expenses are influenced by one self-evident and essential factor which is seldom mentioned: the age structure of the population. If there are plenty of children, education expenses are high. If the country has a lot of aged people, this has an influence on health expenses. A pensioner uses health services many times more than a person of working age.

"In Finland, Minister Niinistö again last Wednesday announced that in the extra budget he wants to accrue money for the eventuality of an aging population.

"It is rarer to hear anyone remind us of the fact that for now Finland has one of the best age structures in Europe. There are plenty of working age people, not too many children and the number of the aged is lower than in most countries in the continent: only 14 per cent of the population is over 64 years old, six per cent are over 74.

"After the year 2020 the Finnish population structure will indeed be among the weakest in Europe. There will be lots of aged people who will be wanting better health services than are available now. They will want more of them. They will live longer.

"For the time being, Finland has an excellent chance to accrue more wealth for the nation. This endeavour will not be successful, however, because so many working age people are unemployed or being pensioned off."

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