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Friday, 14 December 2012 07:06

Finland and the US: Why the War Economy Is a Failure

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I had to laugh out loud when I heard NBC’s Andrea Mitchell’s criticism of North Korea for spending money on weapon testing “when North Koreans are starving to death.”  Good to know that our corporate media reporters and government officials are so worried about military spending superseding hunger problems in that country.

Perhaps Andrea Mitchell failed to notice that there are 13 million children starving and nearly 700,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. while the feds are spending an estimated annual $170 billion dollars (probably more) off the backs of average working American taxpayers for defense and related military operations. As William Rivers Pitt, editor of Truthout.org, reported: “More than half of every dollar collected in taxes goes to warfare and spying, a multi-trillion dollar industry, while we reel through national ‘debates’ about cutting health care benefits for old people and closing schools under the false excuse that we can’t afford it.”

David Vine did an excellent job researching the out-of-control federal defense spending. If you missed this article, “Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab: How US Taxpayers Are Paying the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet”  originally at TomDispatch and republished at Truthout.org, it’s worth reading the entire article.  Copies should be sent to the President and to every member of the House and Senate with a large note attached:

FISCAL CLIFF? Pentagon-Military Spending. P.S. Leave entitlements alone!

budgets for the Departments of Justice and Agriculture and about half the State Department’s 2012 budget, it contrasts sharply with economist Anita Dancs’s estimate of $250 billion. She included war spending in her total, but even without it, her figure comes to around $140 billion -- still $120 billion more than the Pentagon suggests.

Wanting to figure out the real costs of garrisoning the planet myself, for more than three years, as part of a global investigation of bases abroad, I’ve talked to budget experts, current and former Pentagon officials, and base budget officers. Many politely suggested that this was a fool’s errand given the number of bases involved, the complexity of distinguishing overseas from domestic spending, the secrecy of Pentagon budgets, and the “frequently fictional” nature of Pentagon figures.  (The Department of Defense remains the only federal agency unable to pass a financial audit.)

What do other countries receive for their tax dollars?  Consider Finland:

Finland's defense budget is an estimated 1.4–1.6% of the GDP.  Instead of giving billions of federal dollars to private weapon contractors, Finland provides enviable social programs from free high quality health care to free college and decent living conditions for all residents, Finns and non-citizens. 

Public healthcare is available to all residents in Finland, regardless of their financial situation. Public healthcare services comprise primary healthcare, provided by municipal health centers, and specialized hospital care. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health draws up social welfare and health care legislation and guides its implementation.

Education: Education is free and living expenses are to a large extent financed by the government through student benefits. There are 20 universities and 30 polytechnics in the country. Helsinki University is ranked 75th in the Top University Ranking of 2010.The World Economic Forum ranks Finland's tertiary education the best in the world. In tertiary education: the profession-oriented polytechnics and the research-oriented universities.

Of, By and For the People: American voters are forced to vote for candidates from two corrupt "corporate" Parties, both generally represent the top one percent.  By contrast, Finland's Parliament is represented by Finns via a diversity of eight Parties 2011: True Finns, Swedish People's Party, Social Democratic Party, National Coalition Party, Left Alliance, Green League, Christian Democrats, Centre Party.

Crime: Finland has never had the death penalty in its criminal law during the peace time. Finland supported the international proposal to abolish the capital punishment in the world.

Political corruption levels are extremely low and previously Finland was annually named the least corrupted country for years. Notably, the number of notices of corruption crimes were lower than the murder rate in 2007—there were about 15 reports of bribery or attempted bribery annually.

Prisoners: In 2007 there were on average 3577 prisoners serving a sentence (68 per 100,000 people). Average age was 35. Since 1999 the number of prisoners has risen 30 per cent. Average length of sentence until release was 7 to 8 months. The number of prison guards is approximately 1600 (total staff 2800).

By contrast, there are over two million people serving prison sentences in the U.S., mostly for non-violent drug crimes.

The political, economic, and social climate in Finland is stable and contributes to keeping crime statistics low in comparison to the U.S. and other developed countries.

Finland is not a perfect utopia, there are instances of residential crime, vandalism, and personal property theft does occur there.

Why does Finland’s socioeconomic system work? Simply put: they don’t have a bloated defense budget.  They don't spend taxes on global wars fought by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money at the expense of our social programs, public schools and health care. 

In short, the American Empire as it emerged after the Second World War with its shadowy underworld of political terror and surveillance (CIA, NSA, Homeland Security), its male warrior ethic of global dominance has left mass slaughter and poverty in its wake from Vietnam to Iraq to South America; it represents war profiteering and corporate control of resources, here and abroad. Read Naomi Kline's The Shock Doctrine and you'll get a clear picture of our history.

Finland could care less about global and military dominance.  They have the right priorities. Military spending is hardly a fraction of the U.S. defense budget. As a result, Finland's taxes have created a modern, progressive and healthy economy, taxes are spent on free education, health care and modernizing their infrastructure. Yes, there are problems in Finland, but the U.S. looks like a third world nation by comparison. 


Jacqueline Marcus taught ethics and political philosophy for twenty years at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California. Her book of poems, Close to the Shore, was published by Michigan State University Press. She is the editor of www.ForPoetry.com.