September 15, 1942

Exactly 73 years ago on this date, Lieutenant A. Kekkonen, the commanding officer of 8th Company, 3rd Brigade of Finnish Army, signed off my father's service record card:

Killed in action on 15.9.1942 at Krivi. Luutn. A. Kekkonen

This termination of service record was premature, of course. My father, 21 years of age at the time, was almost, but not quite entirely unalive, and eventually he survived to live 50 more years, despite horrific injuries suffered on this day, and returned to service and sustained another wounding in the great battle of summer 1944. I was born almost a quarter of a century after the date. But on September 15, it was a close shave.

1942 it was the Continuation War where Finns were co-belligerent with Nazi Germany against Soviet Union, wanting a payback after the injustice of Winter War. Finns had advanced to Russian territory and taken defensive positions on three isthmuses: Karelian isthmus outside Leningrad along the pre-1939 border, Olonets Isthmus between lakes Ladoga and Onega along river Svir (Syväri), and the Maselga isthmus between lakes Onega (Ääninen) and Segozero (Seesjärvi) along waterways partly belonging to Stalin's Canal. North of Segozero the hopelessly swampy terrain was not feasible for military operations outside the few roads, and in Lapland the Germans were involved in a futile attempt to get to Murmansk, so the strip of land at Maselga was the northern end of the continuous frontline of war. Finns just halted attack on the isthmuses, dug in and started to wait out how the war develops. Finns declined to actively participate in the Siege of Leningrad, or to attack to the Murmansk Railway that was essential for Russian war supplies, and the war got stuck in trenches.
A house in village of Krivi

In February 1942, Finnish 3rd Brigade straightened the frontline in the Maselga front in an attack that wiped out an entire Russian division (367.D) and conquered the very modest village of Kriv (Krivi) which contained a few picturesque Karelian houses and not much else. Russian death toll in this battle was 2417 soldiers; the Finnish was 121. This ratio was on the high side but not unique in the Russo-Finnish conflict, particularly in the early stages; Russians threw lots of living force to battle, regardless of losses. Finnish troops were better trained and effective. And Russians would not surrender.

This attack took 3rd Brigade slightly too far to an unfavourable defensive position, but the contemporary doctrine was to not give back any territorial achievements. On its left flank, the brigade had infantry regiment JR 5 ; to its right it had Er.P.22 which was a large-scale "Dirty dozen": an entire battalion composed of men serving prison terms for violent crime, commanded by Nikke Pärmi, himself both a professional soldier and ex-convict who had done time for manslaughter.

So here was 3rd Brigade, on a strip of land between two puny lakes far in Eastern Karelia. Trench warfare took its toll, with snipers, surprise barrages and nightly raids. My father was in the 8th Company (8K), which was the machine-gun company of II Battalion. He was operator for a Maxim M/32-33 machine gun which was the standard issue weapon for machine-gun companies in the Finnish army during the Second World War. He had an assistant to help feed ammunition, and the rest of the squad were equipped with ordinary rifles, with tasks assigned to carry various parts of the heavy machine gun when moving it. In stationary war, this was the easy part because you needn't carry it a lot.

At 8 AM on September 15, the Russians launched an attack that they had managed to prepare in secret. After a brief artillery barrage, they stormed the Finnish frontline positions with overwhelming manpower. The Finnish battalions had just changed from night shift, guarding against raids, to day guard, and were taken by surprise. The Russians got through the trenchline to the accommodation dugouts. In the section of my father's battalion, the machine-gun company men that were not in trenches were immediately ordered to join the counter-attack that was started by the reserve company (7K) to drive away the Russian battalion (I/IR46, as documents from fallen Russians would reveal). When attacking and counter-attacking, both parties of course reverted to the standard procedure of cleaning a trench: throw a hand grenade behind a corner, and then immediately after explosion, give a burst from sub-machine gun, run ahead while other give suppressive fire, and advance to next corner. The Finns would use Suomi-KP m/31, the Russians a PPSh-41. Bayonets, spades and knives would be used in face-to-face combat.

My father took cover as a hand grenade was thrown at him in the trench, and the grenade exploded next to his right leg, tearing away large pieces of flesh, breaking bones and cutting arteries. But he was lying low and his comrade come from behind the next corner to repel the attacking Russian gunman so he wasn't shot and the Russians were thrown back. Battle continued for about 4 hours and by noon, Finns had their old positions, and the Russians had been killed or driven off. My father's comrades started to take him to the first aid station which was handling numerous wounded by now.

For II P, where my father was, the Finnish losses were 14 dead - my father not included - and 31 wounded. The Russian losses were 61 killed that were cleaned from the positions, and 233 left lying in no-mans-land, totaling 294 killed. For I P which had its position next to the east, the battle raged back and forth for three days. I P  had to yield back about 500 meters, but this was actually no loss: the new front-line was a much better defensive position. It lost 49 men as killed in action; the Russian losses were estimated at 1500 - so many bodies were blasted to smitherens in the artillery fire that even a proper body count was not possible.

At the first aid station, the emergency procedure in war, when the wounded pour in, is called triage. It is similar to the procedure in relief work at natural disasters today. Incoming patients are sorted to four categories: can wait, has to wait, cannot wait and lost.

There were very many "cannot wait" wounded at the aid station. My father had lost so much blood that he was categorized as "lost". Hence, lieutenant A. Kekkonen was informed, and he closed the service record at the end of the day. The "cannot wait" load was lifted to a truck that was to be driven on crudely constructed roads to Karhumäki (Medvezhegorsk) which had a military hospital. But there was still room for one. "Hey, take this lad along". And my father was taken to hospital. Nobody told the lieutenant who started to draft a letter that he would send to my grandmother.

My father got a blood transfusion of O- type blood. This was good because his type was O-, as is mine. The severed arteries were sewn to not bleed any more. He was transferred to another hospital in Siilinjärvi; the infected wounds were burned with a bunsen lamp to contain the infection - there was no penicillin, of course. It is hard to imagine how painful that was, although there probably was some morphine. 

He was transferred to Vierumäki sports academy which also served as hospital, and he learned to walk again, first with the help of a walking stick. He was greeted by Marshall Mannerheim who toured the hospitals, giving walking sticks to men wounded in the legs. Then he got to have a time of vacation to go and greet the family, before reporting back to his unit on October 13, 1943. 

Meanwhile, after the battle, the XO of the Finnish brigade wrote: "The Russians have changed completely since the days of the first battle of Kriv in February.  They have changed tactics and rehearsed it. They are no longer sacrificing large amounts of men needlessly".

Despite these words, the numbers are crushing for Russians. Finnish casualties were 63 dead. Russians lost about 1800 men as killed in action; the number of wounded is difficult to know.

After returning to service in 1943, my father was with 3.Pr in Salla in Northern Finland until beginning of June 1944, when the Soviets launched their strategic offensive against Finland, intending to push through Karelian Isthmus and capture Helsinki. The brigade was rushed to battle: two days of train travel, night and day, and then directly from train carriage to front-line. 450 000 Russian troops were on attack, against initially 75 000 and finally 100 000 Finnish troops.

My father was wounded again in Summa on June 18th, this time more lightly. It was a desperate battle. The company went on for three days and nights without any food supplies. There were Russian tanks running rampant in front of their position, shelling at will, but as Finns stuck to their foxholes, the supporting Russian infantry couldn't get through, and the tanks were destroyed one by one using the new miracle weapons from Germany, Panzerfaust. These were rushed in from Germany after the Ryti-Ribbentrop deal, and given straight to front-line troops - the first training was "I know you don't read German, but here's this bazooka, and the instructions do have a few drawings, so go ahead now and destroy that tank 30 meters away before it kills us. Please hurry."

My father returned to service in just two weeks, because he could use his hand again and by now the army was really short of men, and the decisive battle of Tali-Ihantala was starting. And 3. Pr was again thrown against huge odds, and again it held its lines, although at high cost - at one point, all the officers in my father's company had been killed or wounded badly, so the company was commanded by a staff sergeant.

Then the storm was over. Russians realised they would need weeks and months to get through, and there was Berlin. They wanted to get to Berlin before Americans, so troops were pulled away from Karelian Isthmus and the Continuation War was nearing its end. On September 4th there was armistice, and on November 1st, 1944, my father was discharged from the army. I was to be born 22 years later. My father would would have caused a beep at every airport security check gate if he'd been here to walk there with me today - he had so much metal shrapnel in his leg. But he passed away in 1992, after having seen five of his grandchildren.


The horrible old men of the village council

Pic by Lee Pratt in Facebook Hoax
What space remains in my Facebook feed between pictures of drowned children has been filled up by outrage over a village council that ordered two girls to be raped. For instance, Amnesty collects clicks (and money) with this campaign.

People are angry in the comments: "dirty men of village council" order such inhuman punishments, we must stop them! Click to stop it! News outlets pour out more and more indignant comments over this "sentence decided and delivered by an all-male, unofficial council known as a khap panchayat"

This prejudiced comment about dirty old men made me try to inquire whether the council really did order such a rape.

And what I found out is:
Of course, this doesn't guarantee that the girls would be safe; there is plenty of sexual violence in India and the position of dalit people is poor particularly when clans from different castes are in conflict. There might actually be an order to rape someone, but more likely from an furious inebriated guy than a council. Such an order should be met by the fury of the official justice system. Overall, I think that the Western outrage is largely misguided, perhaps intentionally. I can think of a motive: collecting donations.

The one problem that I think is genuine is the slowness and inefficiency of the Indian official justice system. Cases drag on for years and years. That is an issue that would be fair game for a sane social justice warrior. But it's more simple to chant "Click to stop it!" than to say "Let's find a solution for how to make the Indian courts of law work better".

So, it seems to be quite all right to denigrate dirty old men with lies, if the underlying motive is good, getting money for multinational organisations who make a business of this kind of hoaxes. They say they work for human rights, so it must be true? Amnesty "stands by its claims". Of course, because it can.

There is a silver lining to the cloud, though: old-fashioned journalism wins. Thousands of papers, magazines and on-line news outlets have repeated the dubious claim, but Reuters actually sent a journalist on site. A journalist who found out who the people are. Journalist who asked questions. And provided a report.

In my mind, that report gives an outcome 6-0 for Reuters against social justice warriors.


Why is there a refugee crises right now?

We have a migration crisis because Africa and Asia have become richer and more developed.

This sounds counter-intuitive. Most people seem to think that we have a migration crisis because Asia and Africa are becoming poorer and more violent and because there is so much war. But they are wrong.  I'll explain.

None of us are spared from the pictures of drowned children in Turkey and furious crowds of migrants at European train stations demanding that they are let to Germany. We've heard the reasons for the great migration of our times - war, repression, economic inequality. But one question is not really handled in the discussion: why did this crisis come up now; why has it only appeared in the recent years and reached a new summit this year, not in the decades before?

Why did no crowds from Biafra apply asylum in Europe at the end of 1960's, though the famine and persecution of Igbo people were killing millions? Why did we not have thousands and millions of people trying to reach Europe, when there was civil war in Lebanon and a huge famine in Ethiopia in 1980's? Why not when there was a bloody civil war in Yugoslavia, war in Iraq, and conflict in Chechnya, and mass murder by machete in Rwanda in the 1990's?

And why are so many of the migrants not just persecuted Christian families from war-torn Syria, but young men from Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone? The iconic pictures, of course, throw dead and suffering children at us, because such pictures  make good material for business. There's no business like show business. And they also make great Internet memes that allow people to play Pharisee and feel better than those who are not as enthusiastic about uncontrolled migration.

But most migrants are not families with children. They are young men who have been sent by their families to seek out opportunities for themselves and for the extended family. Wouldn't I do what they do if I were in their position? Of course I would. But does this make the current European policy good? No, it doesn't.

These young men now come from far away: Eritrea, Bangladesh, and the parts of Nigeria that 50 years ago would be Biafra. Out of 4121 asylum applicants until end of July this year in Finland, only 119 came from Syria, even though the horrible mess with Assad, Daesh and various ethnic parties is prominently displayed as a reason for migration. So why is it that these men who are trying to get to Germany and Britain?

The huge migration that we have today crossing Mediterranean is only possible because the source countries of this migration have developed so rapidly in recent years. 

This development is due to globalization, free market and improved, liberalized communication, and the waning of the long conflicts caused by colonization and the Cold War. Syria and other current wars are merely a small artifact in the great pattern of migration. In fact, wars and violence are on the decline. To some extent, the rise of migration from some previously very poor countries  is also due to development aid, training and education provided by rich countries. But mostly it is because these countries are now better able to access world markets. They are no longer tied down to two camps of the Cold War. They are connected to the world, via Internet, via global banking, via globally reachable phone network. And one part of that is that now they supply migrants, as people seek out improvement into their lives - improvement of which they previously did not know, or could only dream of, not actually try to implement.

The countries in Asia and Africa are now richer and they have better communications facilities than ever. World hunger is now lowest since the time UN started following up  (in proportion to population, and the number of starving people has also been shrinking in absolute numbers for quite some time now). Many diseases that ravaged poor countries have been eliminated: smallpox is extinct, except for laboratory retention, and polio is almost eradicated. Internet connectivity is no longer a luxury.

A blog post describes the tendencies of emigration very well: we have entered an era where more people than ever are aware of what life is like in rich countries. Even in poor countries, people have Internet, they have smartphones, they even have credit cards.

In most countries, the wealthier the people, the less likely they are going to migrate in search of a better life. In Africa and Asia, the opposite is true: the likelihood of plans to emigrate are positively correlated with wealth. So, as wealth and availability of information regarding "pull factors" in Europe increases, more and more people want to migrate.

This means that the current crises is only a beginning. Something would need to change to a much, much more unpleasant direction in Europe before this changes.

When Biafrans or Ethiopians were starving, the furthest they could get was where they had the strength to walk. That strength did not enable them to get very far, particularly with the famine. They did not come to change our lives in Europe in any way, except by allowing Bono to arrange concerts to make everyone feel they've been up to something good.

So, shouldn't we be happy that formerly poor countries have now entered the world stage, even if that shows up as a migration of people that we see as a problem?

Yes, we should, but we now also see the other major impact of this development, i.e. deterioration of European welfare states. You cannot have both open borders for migration - unrestricted right of residence - and a welfare state where right to social security and monetary transfers is based on residence. Since European nations seem to have no intention to enforce border controls and stop the misuse of asylum process, only one outcome is possible. That is that the welfare states will need to change to a model where the government-supplied welfare is much, much more basic than it is today. Income equality will need to rise tremendously to make it possible for migrants to be employed. This means also African-like levels of income for so-called "original" inhabitants in Europe.

For the well-to-do, this will mean opportunities. For the currently unemployed Europeans, times will be hard, as Louis C. K. so eloquently tells us.

But in the developing world, things are not that bad. They are actually getting a little better all the time. This is very well presented by this Hans Rosling TED talk.

Of course, there are alternative models considered.  Egyptian billionaire Naguid Sawiris offers to buy a Greek island for the refugees to settle.  Admirable, but shall Europe  accept this proxy nation? Hardly not. So the migration will continue.


PS. It seems that while I was writing this, some journalists came up with the same ideas, e.g. in Telegraph.


Greek crisis: it's a logical outcome

A coup, terrorism, an attack by Germany -- all sorts of wild accusations are now thrown about when discussing the Greek financial crisis. Erkki Tuomioja says the Finnish government line is "repulsive" -- although it is essentially the same as it was when he was a minister: "yes, we here in Finland want to be a nice co-operative partner in the European core, but we do feel the heat from our voters who are asking where their tax money is going to".

But the Greek government, particularly Tsipras and the now resigned Varoufakis, have been reaping what they sowed. Of course, they are also sowing what weeds previous governments in Greece were planting, but their handling of the situation has been particularly arrogant and foolish. There is too much national Greek pride, too much touting the Greek democracy -- at the expense of belittling the democracy and will of voters of other euro nations. The Telegraph cartoon about various life-saving attempts in Greece reflects the European mood very well.

Syriza finds out the hard way that working in government is a very different thing from making a big noise in the opposition and gaining votes with populism. Sadly, they seem to have done great hurt to their nation in this process.

Of course, opposition parties are mostly, well, in opposition. In Finland, particularly the Social Democrats  -- but also Greens and the Left -- are doing a good job in both having their cake and eating it. They criticize the Finns party for giving new money to Greece -- a panic reaction when SDP lost perhaps half of their working-class voting base to The Finns popular party, and they haven't recovered, and apparently never will. At the same time they criticize the government for a too tough line that makes ordinary Greeks  suffer.

Paavo Arhinmäki, head of the Left League, was very good chums with Tsipras -- until now. Now he realized that oh, "I never was a Syriza fan." Hey, you were. You walked like a fan, you talked like a fan. Now you just have noticed that even your voters are finding out it was a bad idea.

The Greeks are suffering

Yes, the Greeks are having a very bad time. And there is no end in sight to the suffering as long as they want to hang on to euro. No amount of bail-out loan packages is going to help, because the structures are broken in Greece and the country does not want to fix them -- or even if it did want to, it takes time and they don't have the money to live while doing it. Forgiving all Greek loans while remaining in euro is not going to help, because then Greece will continue to run things the way it has been running so far.

To me, the crisis and its current climax seem quite logical, given the way Greek politicians talk, and the way German (and Finnish, and other EU countries') citizens think. Lots of opinion writers claim that the German politicians (unelected by the Greek) are exercising power that they are not entitled to: they are sending a control commission to mandate policy in Athens. Dictatorship! Junta!

But the dictating of policy only happens because the Greek politicians have driven their country to immense debt. They wouldn't have to take advice and control from outside if they weren't asking for loans.

And it is inconceivable for a German taxpayer to give away his or her hard-earned tax euro which has been extracted from him or her by the German state, when it is completely unclear what he or she would be getting in return.

This is particularly difficult, when one considers that the Greeks claim their economy is grinding to a halt because of excessive taxation - but the taxes in Greece have been much lower than in many of the euro creditor nations. Proportion of tax revenue to GDP has been around 30 % and has now risen to 33 %. This is bad according to the Greeks. In Finland, tax revenue is 44 % of GDP. Does it not hurt the economy here? Surely it does. You can see it in the price level of Finland, as much of the revenue is collected in VAT and employment taxes.

Blaming Germany for past grievances does not help. Jailing bankers does not help.

It is completely irrelevant that Germany stole the gold reserves of Greece during Second World War. That is past and gone. The very point of the European Community project is to put that kind of things behind, and "make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible" through economic integration. German tourists are no longer even facing the "occupation - no, holiday!" question-answer at the border.

It is completely irrelevant that some of German debt was written down after the War. Also much of Greek debt has already been forgiven:  private debtors wrote down 107 billion euros in the 2012 haircut -- and it only postponed the eventual crisis.

It is completely irrelevant that "75 % of previous bailout money has gone to German and French banks", which is one of the things favourite slogans in the political left (along with the Iceland solution myth) . Hey, those of us who were critical of the first bailout deals told everyone this is going to happen. Risks of these investors were transferred to the EU taxpayers. That was done over 5 years ago, and it is done. The risks are now with the taxpayers, and us taxpayers are not happy to pour more good money after bad.

(The Iceland solution is a myth because Iceland's problems were entirely different from those of Greece: Iceland never had much of public sector deficit; it allowed investment banks to go bust because those banks had not much to do with the Icelandic economy. The problem in Greece is public sector deficit.).

It is also not very relevant for Greeks that Germany and France were also breaking the rules of the monetary union when it was established in early 2000's. Germany and France were able to sort their things out. Well, Germany was, and France is able to get away as with most things in EU; the last time it had a non-deficit budget was in 1974. But the market still trusts France. It is too big to fail. Greece is not.

What is relevant is that the one who needs money cannot dictate policy to others. This is why the Greek national pride bordering on impudence is so infuriating to others, and Germans in particular.

It should also be noted that the much touted idea that Varoufakis is a master of game theory did not really help Greece. To the contrary. Hearing about masters of game theories  is likely to make a frugal taxpayer in other countries wary: are these guys trying some new elaborate theories to fool me?

You cannot democratically vote away your debt

I have been flabbergasted by statements that Tsipras, Varoufakis and other Syriza leaders have made about democracy. They seem to have no idea that there are 19 other democracies in the eurozone besides Greece.

A democratic vote cannot repeal the law of gravity. A democratic vote can change laws in your country, but not in another country. A democratic vote cannot make debts disappear (without consequences and side effects).

A Finnish proverb says "debt is a brother when you take it, it is a nephew when you have to pay it back". This means that the money-lender is nice and polite when he comes your way at good times, but when the debtor comes to collect the debt, he may not be as close and friendly, and the debt may be substantially harder to bear when paying it back. Or just paying the interests.  And that is what Greece is finding out the hard way.

Debt is also something that you can get easily when you are trusted. When you have lost trust, it is much, much harder. The speed at which trust can be lost is remarkably fast. In 2007, Greek government bonds were as solid as any euro government bonds. In 2009, situation was totally different. And no amount of tantrums is going to make money-lenders donate
Insulting Germans and mocking Finns is not a particularly efficient way in convincing them that they should do more to help the Greek government.

Yes, the Greeks are really, really suffering

It's not that the Greeks don't suffer. It's not that ordinary Greeks haven't taken a hit. Or that there has been no change at all. But any change has only happened after extreme coercion. Greece actually reached a situation last year where it did not have a primary deficit - its tax revenues were enough to pay its public expenditure, and even a bit of the interests for its debt. but then came Syriza, with promises of end to austerity that makes everyone suffer. That was a moment when the collapse of trust started, and that is why banks remain closed in Greece and life is becoming more and more impossible.

The Greek politicians, most recently Syriza, have completely destroyed any trust that people had in them. Calling Germans Nazi is stupid. Bringing up the war debt question was stupid; that issue was settled at the latest in 1981 when Greece applied to join an economic community with Germany (like France, another aggrieved neighbour, had done earlier). Calling other people names is generally not a good approach to convince them that they should borrow you more money. Expressing lots of national pride is not a good idea when you are totally broke. Demanding solidarity is not how solidarity works.

The Greek referendum stunt on July 5 was a final straw on the camel's back that made sure that any credibility that Syriza might have had as a new political force was eroded for once and all. Greeks: you guys strongly make your voice heard and reject austerity, and a couple of days after that, your government solemnly promises to do even much more austerity than what you rejected? Nobody is going to believe that.

So what's ahead for Greece? I can see no end to the suffering unless Greece defaults and quits the euro. That will be a hit on the creditors, including taxpayers, but defaulting is the standard way to do this thing. It doesn't happen without consequences. Greece will be a pariah on the international credit market also after this, because lack of trust. But at least the government can print money and pay its bills nationally, and banks can open, and the economy overall can get rolling. Now the Greek government is just holding its population as hostage.

This will of course be a huge embarrassment to federasts who have been trying to convince that integration to a political, fiscal and transfer union within Europe is a historic necessity,  a one-way streets where no movement can be reversed.

From #grexit to #fixit?

The Finnish government is going hugely to debt just like Greece did. The level of debt is not alarming yet, but the speed of accumulating new debt really is. The public finances in Finland are in shambles. And it's not a cyclic recession: all our export markets are in reasonably good shape. The Finnish disease is, like Greek, a structural one.

There is no way ahead until Greece admits the it has to do #grexit . It may well be that Finland is not able to do an internal devaluation so that it could avoid a #fixit . If we don't really change the direction, we'll be talking to our debtors just like Greece is now.


Finally, it feels appropriate to add a newpaper clip from Keski-Suomi, July 13, 1895 who reports the issues of Greece, a member of the Latin Monetary Union. Not much has changed:

- Of the Greek monetary issues. The cabinet of Deligiannis appears to be seriously pursuing an agreement with the debtors of Greece. The Times at least reports that the Greek government, as soon as discussions of financial legal issues have been completed, will be sending special envoys to Paris, London and Berlin to commence negotiations with debtors about "a reasonable and satisfactory agreement".

(Courtesy of Digital National Library in Finland)


Pardoning, or rehabilitating?

The news has it that Britain is pardoning people who were convicted of sexual crimes that are no longer crimes.

But somehow, pardoning - or actually "rehabilitating"  - people who were convicted long ago, suffered any punishment given at the time, and are already long dead, is reminiscent of Soviet policies. It does not fit my idea of what Britain is, or should be.

Yes, they suffered an injustice, but retroactive changes to convictions are not that meaningful when the convicted is no longer around.

But perhaps I'm too romantic, and Britain is much closer to Ingsoc, the English Socialism of 1984, than I'd like to know.

Anyway, now comes the difficult work of deciding which transgressors to pardon (right now, homosexuality is no longer bad) and which ones to condemn even further (right now, pedophilia is now much worse crime than it used to be).

Would it not be simpler just to admit that our standards change, and any formal legal rehabilitation should be reserved for cases where there was a miscarriage of justice (an innocent man or woman was convicted), not when the law was wrong by our current standards?


Those horrible housing costs in Finland

I often see people complaining how housing is exceptionally expensive in Finland. And of course, everyone has that feeling. Therefore I was slightly surprised when I started to look at the European statistics regarding housing. A research briefing "HOUSING AFFORDABILITY IN THE EU" by European Social Housing Observatory  puts things into context.

Most Finnish public discourse about housing is about how expensive housing is. For instance:
However, when we look at the research briefing and consider housing costs as percentage of disposable income, Finland is in the lower end of the EU27: 

I find this actually remarkable, because we have rather extreme climate conditions, which means comparatively higher construction costs.

And when we look at the impact of housing costs on the poor, Finland is even more towards the left-end of the statistics:

This means that only in Malta and Portugal there are fewer households overburdened by housing costs (meaning that a household uses more than 40 % of disposable income on housing). So we not only have lower housing costs compared to purchasing power than most EU countries, we also have more transfers of money to the poor households than e.g. Italy, Austria or Luxembourg.

Perhaps we should understand the European reality in more depth before complaining that much.

Economic perceptions vs. reality: things are much better than we think!

European and particularly Finnish economic news is full of doom and gloom. It just occurred to me to actually check up how bad things are. And while a few things are really going badly, very many measurable numbers show that were are actually quite well off when compared to past.

Just look at OECD report at http://www.oecd.org/els/emp/howdoesyourcountrycompare-finland.htm.

What it tells us about Finland is that when we compare year 2000 to 2012, we see that:
  • unemployment has gone down (9.8 % -> 7.8 %)
  • youth unemployment has gone down (20.3 % -> 17.3 %)
  • long-term unemployment has gone down (29.0 % -> 21.7 % of the unemployed)
  • the employment rate of working-age people has gone up (67.5 % -> 69.5 %)
  • women's employment rate has increased (64.5 % -> 68.2 %)
  • employment rate of older workers (55-64) has increased (42.3 % -> 58.5 %)
  • the percentage of temporarily employed has gone down (16.5 % -> 15.7 %)
  • annual working hours have decreased (1751 h -> 1672 h)
  • average wages have gone up by about fifth (31 904 $ -> 39 125 $ in 2012 currency)

Almost everything is better than in 2000! The current growth figures are abysmal, so a good development cannot continue unless we fix that, but on the average, we are not doing badly at all.

Of course, some are more lucky than others, but even the income differences after taxes and transfers, including capital gains, remain rather similar to 2000 (Statistics Finland).

So perhaps we should complain a bit less!