Society: The only way is Finland

Our politicians seem to be obsessed with the place, but what makes it so great? Equality, education – and Angry Birds

America may once have been the Land of Opportunity, but thanks to its rising levels of inequality – not to mention the nightmarish visa restrictions – our political class now has another destination in mind. "If you want the American Dream," Ed Miliband says, "go to Finland." This week, the Labour leader told a conference on social mobility that "if you are born poor in a more equal society like Finland, Norway or Denmark, then you have a better chance of moving into a good job than if you are born poor in the United States".

Finland may feature consistently in the world suicide rate top 20, but according to the recent UN World Happiness Report, it's actually the second-"happiest" country in the world (after nearby Denmark), based not only on wealth, but on political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption. The 2011 Failed States Index, compiled by Washington think tank the Fund for Peace, ranked it the globe's most "successful" country socially, economically and politically.

Its students are also the best in the West, achieving extraordinarily high scores in a triennial survey for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to Anu Partanen, a Finnish journalist writing in The Atlantic: "Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the programme that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity."

Finland rivals East Asian educational hothouses such as Singapore and South Korea, but without those countries' high-pressure homework expectations. There are no nationally standardised tests, inspections or league tables, no private schools or private universities, and no fees. Competition is frowned upon; co-operation is king.

The country is conspicuously equal in other arenas, too. It was, for instance, the first in the world to give women the vote, in 1906, 12 years before the UK and 14 before the US. A century later, in 2009, the nation that gave us Nokia was the first to to enshrine broadband as a fundamental human right, when the government promised every Finnish citizen access to a 100mbps connection by 2015.

Finland has much else to recommend it to aspiring émigrés too. It is rich in culture, boasting both the celebrated classical compositions of Jean Sibelius, and the marginally less-celebrated metal stylings of Eurovision Song Contest winners Lordi. Its cuisine is far from merely herring-based: after Silvio Berlusconi insulted their food, Finnish chefs beat Italy to first place in the 2008 America's Plate International Pizza Contest, with a smoked-reindeer pizza called the Berlusconi.

And Finland is known for its family-friendly attractions: Father Christmas in Lapland, the Moomin Museum in Tampere, and even an Angry Birds theme park – which was opened earlier this month by Rovio, the Finnish games company behind David Cameron's favourite iPad game.

On the downside, the Finnish language is near-impossible to learn, and almost entirely unrelated to any other besides Estonian and Hungarian. Finland was also the only Scandinavian country to join the euro, so it might be wise to wait for the results of that second Greek election before you start looking for houses in Helsinki.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks