Elementary Finns

A few of my English-speaking friends have asked what is the fuss about this party "Perussuomalaiset" in Finland, and what it actually represents, and whether people should be afraid of this extreme right populist party - a particular concern for those who have a non-Aryan skin colour. And what even the name of the party actually means.

Well, no. No need to be afraid.

Basically, the party does not have much coherent ideology except anger towards the elite. It is not "far right" for any meaningful definition of political "right". If you look at their policy statements, they are mostly somewhat to the left of major political parties, quite close to the Greens and the Left League (Vasemmistoliitto) though with some exceptions. Their views on big corporations, taxation, redistributive policies, etc are definitely on the left. They just take distance from the more absurd forms of radical feminism, statism, political correctness and immigration frenzy that are prevalent in the red and watermelon parties, thus Greens and Left League plus the traditional "left" SDP like to brand them as far right.

And the name of the party, what does "Perussuomalaiset" mean? Their own translation to English (well, not their own, since they have none, but the one in Wikipedia) is True Finns, but don't be confused; it's not really about racial purity of the Ugric tribes. Another translation would be Basic Finns and that gets closer. I would perhaps call them Elementary Finns - just like "peruskoulu" is "elementary school". People perceive that they are low-income and unemployed people with poor education, but that's not quite right. The ethos is more about the "betrayed workers, pensioners and middle class". Ordinary people. A Tea Party that speaks for a welfare state.

And why Perussuomalaiset is not dangerous to anyone is because they are not going to gain much real power, whatever the number of seats in parliament. They lack proper internal organization and discipline, and they don't have support in the large and important public sector machinery. You cannot do serious politics in Finland unless you have a significant share of your own, devoted agents in ministries, quangos and other organizations that distribute our tax juice.

There surely are a few racists among Perussuomalaiset, but they're on the fringe, and generally, Finns are not easily attracted by extreme, violent political movements. Events around 1918 provided a fairly long-lasting vaccination, since the civil war and the bitter feud that followed taught us a lot. But the primary reason for Elementary Finns not being a danger is their lack of disciplined organisation. There's not much tradition of adhering to party line and shutting up - rather to the contrary. Defections in and out of the party are the norm. Timo Soini is very popular but he is certainly no Führer and his supporters are no stromtroopers.

The long-time established power party, Social Democrats (SDP), is naturally horrified, because they are staying permanently behind Kokoomus (the conservatives) and fell behind Keskusta (Center party) again, and they now risk becoming the fourth largest party, with Perussuommalaiset closing in. That effectively means an end to the era that lasted for 50 years where they could build a power base of political figures in government, high officials in ministries, and domination in the trade unions. Now, only trade unions are left to them, and worldwide economic changes have eroded even that power base (and even there, some big ones fall).

Yes, Perussuomalaiset is a populist party. They have hardly any actual policy, they have little new ideas about how to build the economy for the nation. "Tax the rich" and "stop the waste" does not carry very far. The requirement for better immigration control is a contribution to actual policy, but there the other parties have quickly come along the same lines. However, overall we could say that Perussuomalaiset is not really any worse off regarding having some vision for future than others - particularly SDP who is utterly lost after it achieved its historical goals (the targets of the SDP party program of 1903 were largely achieved by the 1960's, and since 1980's the party's been just a machinery to be exploited by opportunists) and cannot admit that it is now a conservative party that only reflects on its own past and does not even know what it wants to conserve.

Therefore SDP has to try some gambles. When a fire erupted at a Tampere pizza restaurant that was run by an Iraqi man, and three inhabitants in the house were killed by smoke, senior SDP frontbenchers Päivi Lipponen (wife of former chairman and PM Paavo Lipponen) and Kimmo Kiljunen (who had his very own expenses scandal a while ago) condemned racism and required everyone else to perform purity rituals and join a front against the xenophobic elements behind this attack.

This backfired. In about one day the police cracked the case. It turned out that the arson was not motivated by any racism. The restaurant keeper himself, and three of his friends and relatives, are now held for aggravated arson and involuntary manslaughter. It's not been handled in court yet and police is not releasing all details, so it's largely speculative, but the case looks like an attempt at insurance fraud that got severely out of hand. And SDP looks now even more discredited and ridiculous.

So, it is possible that Elementary Finns will overtake SDP in terms of number of members in Parliament, but since it does take decades to renew the machinery in ministries and other politically appointed posts, they will not be able to run policy in this country. No worry. And even if they could, no worry from that point of view. Their socialist policies would be the real concern if they were to get any real power.


What you measure is what you get

The Helsinki metropolitan mass transit authority says that rail traffic is more efficient than buses.

They're doing a clever sting here. The comparison is based on passenger kilometres. X passenger kilometres means that the vehicle moves for one kilometer with X passengers on board.

What passenger kilometres specifically does not measure is that people get from their places of departure to their places of destination quickly and comfortably.

It's a no-brainer that if you concentrate more of the public transport to fewer radial lines that make the trips longer, you get more efficient setup for producing passenger kilometres. At the same time, you are worsening the services for people, because people don't want to perform passenger kilometres. People want to get from their home to work, and from work to home, and from home to places of sports, culture, friends, whatever, and preferably as quickly and comfortably as possible.

Reducing direct bus connections, particularly the "lateral" buses that do not go to metropolitan centers but directly between regional cetres, would surely improve the efficiency of passenger kilometres, but will make people suffer.

Here you can see the management principle in action: what you measure is what you get. If you measure passenger kilometres, that's what your organization will deliver to you. Forget the end users, they're just a nuisance.

Grumpy politicians

When Jeremy Clarkson called the UK prime minister Gordon Brown a "one-eyed Scottish idiot", at least two and possibly three groups of people were offended.

The visually impaired had their feelings hurt - The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said: "Any suggestion that equates disability with incompetence is totally unacceptable. We would be happy to help Mr Clarkson understand the positive contribution people with sight loss make to society." I think this is a misunderstanding: Clarkson did not equate disability with incompetence. He just said that in this case, the two properties are present right there in one person. I am actually quite convinced that Jeremy Clarkson appreciates any positive contributions to society that blind people make, and that he would be happy to have a half-blind but competent Scot for a Prime Minister, because competence - and fairness, and other admirable properties - are what count.

The Scots were offended. Lord Foulkes, a former Labour Scottish minister, said he was "outraged" at Clarkson's comments. Well, he would be.

Representatives for idiots did not turn up to tell how inappropriate it is to associate them with Mr. Brown, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that somewhere, the League for the Mentally Impaired (LeftMI) expressed their outrage. They just couldn't write the address of Guardian correctly so that the letter would get through.

The British have a tradition for colourful parliamentary insults. In June, health minister Simon Burns called John Bercow, the speaker of parliament, a "stupid, sanctimonious dwarf" in the Commons. He had to apologise and say he was sorry for any offence he had caused after the insult was branded "derogatory and deeply offensive" by the Walking with Giants Foundation (WWGF). BASists (British Association of Sanctimonousts) has not yet come forward with a comment, nor has LeftMI which represents the stupid as well as the idiots.

In a more recent case, David Cameron said that Burns's driver had accidentally hit the Speaker's car while reversing. Bercow said he was "not happy" about the incident. Mr Burns retorted: "So which one are you?". And, again, Bercow was offended, as well as WWGF.

I think Bercow should just have said one word: "Grumpy". With that, he would have scored.

Some very surprised women

Green Women in Finland are "surprised about the amount of violence experienced by men" and require that this phenomenon is discussed in public.

How surprised they are. In 2004, the Green Women in Finland, along with many other women organizations, expressed their outrage for funding plan for research on violence against men (the money was to come from RAY, the Finnish state monopoly of slot machines.

Well, I suppose this could be called development.


Armistice Day

English and French papers make headlines like The nation falls silent for 'the glorious dead'.

I think it is time to agree that the World War I is over. Germany paid the final part of war reparations a few weeks ago.

But what buggers me is that the dead are "glorious". How is it glorious to be dead? Some of those who died lived glorious lives, and even performed gloriously when they were killed, but many were, well, just killed. Very ungloriously. The polished pictures about war remembrance are hiding the ugly fact that in war, people kill and get killed. Sometimes it is justified and worth it, sometimes not. Very often, it's something in between. Just like any human activity, it has good sides and bad sides, but the side impacts of war are usually of a different magnitude than most other things.

And my view to the whole business war is that of Patton's:

Don't be a fool and die for your country. Let the other sonofabitch die for his.

Now that's not very glorious.

The warlike Swiss

According to the Telegraph, Herman Van Rompuy says that Euroscepticism leads to war and a rising tide of nationalism is the European Union's "biggest enemy".

Somehow I don't see that the Swiss are attacking everyone around them, even though they are eurosceptic indeed and most male citizens even have a gun at home.

But I understand van Rompuy. He's concerned that the EU citizens aren't entirely happy with the way EU is being run, so it's time to shake up some controversy.

Hey, perhaps you could call the eurosceptics Nazis and declare they are enemy to the people? But this is a good start. Anyone who does not believe in a United States of Europe is a warmonger.


Lengthening work careers by shortening holidays

What utter rubbish!

The resigning chairman of board of Confederation of Finnish Industries, Sakari Tamminen, is saying that annual leaves of Finnish workers should be made shorter in order to "lengthen the work career".

Again, what utter rubbish!

Finnish holiday benefits are fairly good compared to the U.S. or Japan, for instance. People generally have 4 or 5 weeks of annual leave. Bank holidays and other public holidays are not very extensive.

Finnish holiday scheme is also fairly good when compared to any country in the Third World, where only the nomenclature has nice holidays, and everyone else works more or less all the time, because they cannot afford anything else.

But the Finnish scheme is not that excessively good. There is no significant competitive advantage to gain by shortening holidays. Any addition in nominal annual working time is likely to result in added sickness leaves and other things that effectively reduce productivity. In my opinion, we have reached a perfect balance here and the world is now ready. Let's not rock the boat.

Yes, there is some actual need to lengthen the average working career of people in this country. Far too many people are retiring from working life long before the actual nominal retirement age. Many of these go to "unemployment pension" which is basically a track for people are cannot or will not be employed, for various reasons. Many are also pensioned because of physical or psychological ilnesses that render them incapable of working. The burden of financing the pensions is carried by the working age groups, and that burden is increasing to a point where people don't feel it is feasible to pay high pension contributions and know that you're not getting any real pension yourself. It's a Ponzi scheme.

How does shortening annual leaves from current level help this? In no way whatsoever. To the contrary, even more people will feel that the compensation they get from working is not fair.

This feeling is not at all helped by the fact that many representatives of nomenclature - corporate leaders, staff of these think tanks saying how important it is to work to an older age - are themselves taking generous early retirement packages.

If I had a good share of ownership in some Finnish industries, and therefore had a vote, I'd tell my servants - these people working for employer organizations etc - that they should forget the early retirement packages, because they are making very, very bad PR work.

Entirely not credible.

The State loses tax income!

Pravda announces that the Finnish government loses approximately 18 000 million euros per year in various tax subsidies. That sounds like a lot, but... caveat emptor. Beware if you buy this.

The largest of these "subsidies" is the imputed net rent, which means that if you own the house or apartment where you live, you don't need to pay rent to someone else. You save money, thus you get an imaginary income. Since this imaginary income is currently not taxed, the state is losing money.

Economic theory is abused here to create an impression that the State would somehow be entitled to get more tax money if this imaginary income was calculated and taxed "correctly". The idea is popular among those who oppose the idea that people own their own homes. In a truly developed, progressive state, all housing belongs to government; this makes people less attached to their homes, and they can more easily be ordered to move from one kolkhoz to another. This increases productivity and makes it easier to achieve the targets of the next 5-year plan. Everyone benefits! If you don't believe in this, you deserve to be re-housed in Kolyma.

There have been attempts to impose this tax, at least in the U.K. and Finland in 1970's, but the trials weren't all too popular.

Why? Because the income is imaginary. It's absurd. It's arbitrary, and people who are taxed never see that money and never hold it in their hands. Why do people want to own their homes? First, because they like to be in control of their own lives, particularly the place where they spend most of their time, and secondly, to manage it well and save in the cost. But is saving (in the sense of not spending) some kind of income? No.

Or, if it is, then the State is losing much more money somewhere else.

Let's take another example of imputed income. This is much more significant.

Let's assume that instead of walking, or driving, or taking a bus to work, people would take a helicopter taxi to work. Sure, it is costly. Half an hour helicopter ride costs around 350 €, and there are the transitions for the chopper from the base to the place where you take off, so going to work with helicopter costs about 700 € one way, 1400 € a day. There are 2457000 people in a job in the country, 260 working days. This means that the imputed net income gained by people in Finland not riding helicopter to work is about 894 000 000 000 € per year. As the average income tax rate is 23,2 %, it means that the State loses 207 000 000 000 € per year! About a hundred times the amount of the imaginary imputed net rent income. (In fact, the amount should be larger, because of course also those who don't go to work but go to school etc also get a similar income).

Just think how much good the State could do with this money!

And that's not all. Add to that the amount of imputed net income that people get when they cook food at home, instead of going to dine every day at Chez Dominique! (With a helicopter taxi.) Not to mention the imputed net value of sexual services that are exchanged by married couples (or unmarried, for that matter, not to forget registered relationships of same-sex couples, nor activities in public swimming halls).

Yeah, it's rubbish. Just like that imputed net rent income idea. In reality, both the income tax rates and other tax rates in this country are adjusted to be as tight as possible. There's considerable argument about on which side of the peak of the Laffer curve we are in, but surely it is folly to imagine that you could just hike up the income tax rate (based on calculated imaginary income) and collect 20 % more without severe impact on economic activity.


Who do you really support in Afghanistan?

Some enthusiastic supporter of Julian Assange wrote elsewhere: "Do you think Afghans and Iraqis should sue the US government for launching an illegal war?"

Afghans definitely should not, because there's no war that would be more legal than the Western intervention in Afghanistan. It is a rare case in the category of wars, covered by UN resolutions and international law (like this one and many others since.)

Of course, the whole concept of "launching" a war in Afghanistan (in 2001) is a pretty moot point considering that the country has been in an constant state of (civil) war for the past 30 years. In the 80's, the Soviets occupied it and Americans supported the (largely Islamic) resistance. Now, US, UK and NATO/ISAF forces occupy it (with UN backing) and resistance is by an unholy alliance of militant Islamists and drug lords.

Calling the UN-backed intervention "illegal" is not a statement of juridical facts, it is a statement for your preference to support bronze-age barbarism that the Taleban represents, instead of the possibly well-meaning but bureaucratic and ineffective UN, or Western democracies.

It is equally folly to say that if Western armed forces withdraw from the country, it would somehow "end" the war. No, the war would not end. The combatants would just take some other targets (for instance, people whose names were exposed by Julian Assange). And the war might spread to neighbouring countries. But one thing is sure, the war would not end there.

The idea that a war in Afghanistan or Iraq would end when the US, UK and NATO/ISAF forces leave is in my opinion very, very wrong, and perhaps "colonialist" would be a good characterization. To believe this idea, you must assume that Afghans and Iraqis are not real people who would be leading their own lives; they are just targets, subjects, proxies in a cultural war against Americans; if left alone, they will be quite irrelevant and the focus moves on the the next cause where Western powers can be blamed. In this viewpoint, if the Americans have lost a war, that is a great victory, and what happens to the proxies - for instance, the people in Afghanistan - is not material at all. They're not people, they're just tools for proving what a nice SWPL you are when you "oppose the war".

It is another matter whether the intervention in Afghanistan will achieve its long-term goals; some short-term goals have been achieved (after all, there are now probably tens or hundreds of thousands of girls who have been allowed to go to school and learn to read, for instance) but the country is not stable and peaceful at all.

Iraq is then a completely different point regarding legality. There the invaders had no UN backing, and the WMD hype was made up when US and UK simply wanted attack and to get rid of Saddam Hussein. The American, British and other troops have committed atrocities in the course of war. However, when those who are fighting against the Americans and British commit atrocities, it is somehow "natural", it is an act of God, or in fact it is a fault of the Americans and needs to be added to the Iraq body count.

How come some people are not responsible for their own actions, and Americans are responsible for everything? Are they so much better and more important people that no one else needs to be accounted at all?

Finally, I'm slightly astonished to see well-educated Western people say Al-Qaida fighters are "defending" their country. First of all, much of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan is Arabs in a non-Arab country. They are defending an ideology, and that is an ideology that deserves to lose (much more so than the materialistic, reactionary but secular Western ideology).