Chocolate and Gold Coins

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Fun Finland Fact of the Day

This one comes from Suhail Kazi of Imaginathon (he also co-blogs at ChiensSansFrontiers). Recall that a few days ago I wrote what Finland can teach us. I wrote that the Finns were naturally more cooperative than Americans or Indians because of a lack of ethnic diversity.

Suhail recalled a survey (unfortunately, no link) that measured honesty among various people:

I read in an article somewhere about a "Honesty" survey done across several countries. The researchers placed a wallet stuffed with a decent amount, but not too much, of local currency, some officialese paper-chits, some smart cards, and a business card with their complete contact details in that city. These wallets were dropped off at several public places like train/bus stations, malls, cinema halls, park benches etc. Then they noted down how many people returned back the wallets, and what were the methods used. The results were mixed, as expected. In most countries the return percentage hovered around 60-75% (I recollect from memory). In some cases, the person directly landed up at the address given in the business card. Others just called up and asked the owner to come and collect it. Some points worth noting from the survey results.

So how did the Finns do? I would admit that it would be embarrassing if the Finns proved to be very dishonest. The Finns did not let me down:

Finland was the only country with 100% returns. 10/10 to their honesty.

That’s a small sample size. Considering that most nations’ citizens returned the wallet about 70% of the time, the p-value that the Finns are only as honest as everyone else is 3% which is significant but only barely. So probably the Finns are more honest, but we really need more data. Of course 10 for 10 is interesting because we cannot rule out that the Finns are pathologically honest either.

I remember a news reporter doing the same thing in the U.S. Perhaps 70% returned the wallet but I recall it was more like a little over 50%. It wasn’t anything close to 100%.

An interesting question is whether income inequality leads to a lack of cooperation. That would be the typical left-wing explanation for why Finland seems so cooperative. My observation from college was that the rich kids had less respect for private property than anyone else. They didn’t need to steal, but if they didn’t fear any consequences, they would take stuff that wasn’t theirs. Being poor doesn’t make you into a bad person, but the reverse could be true.


Suhail also has a humorous account of his experience misunderstanding the checkout guy at McDonald’s asking him if he would like to have his fillet-o-fish “fohyaatugo.”


  • I still think it is cultural, partly the result of extreme climate and most importantly historical reasons. Canadians are happy with 'socialist' public healthcare while Americans want 'choice'. Canada seems to have fewer financial scams than the US. Of course, the US is wealthier than Canada but still I think anecdotal evidence says that Canada is a more law-abiding place less prone to crime of any kind(I can use anecdotes as you used them. Right? Wrong?)

    If ethnic diversity is the reason that shows support for socialism then why are the Germans so good at capitalism? To counter the argument from the other side, were the English ethnically diverse when they were at the forefront of the industrial revolution and 'free markets'? Are Italians very cooperative?

    A more general question - are there any truly capitalist countries?

    PS: Does this blog accept counterarguments? Or will the comment section be closed as is the case with some others?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:36 PM  

  • The weather factor is something socialiologists have noticed. One interesting observation is that the murder rate declines the further north you go even within the U.S. Does good weather attrack the wrong kind of people or does bad weather force people to act more cooperatively?

    I'm not sure.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 11:55 PM  

  • errrr... Michael that "10/10" is supposed to be read as "10-on-10".. a la "full marks". In India schools, use this scheme to award marks in a test. 10/10, 84/100, 42/ it? Hence the usage. I know US colleges give away grades rather than absolute marks, but is there a similar notation used anywhere in US schools? (see, already so much of learnings from each other's posts)

    I do remember that the survey was spread across across towns and villages - not just cities. In each town or city, how many times they repeated the experiment, that I do not recollect. But the very fact that they repeated the tests with increased amounts in the second and third run, implies that these were not run of the mill researchers. IIRC, it was conducted by academia of some Univ.
    Sorry, for forgetting some details(& no link), but I read this some 5-6 years back, and the memories came rushing down, as I saw your post.

    As for the argument that bad weather (or bad times) makes people more cooperative -- there is a certain ring of truth to it. I witnessed Bombay riots, and like others was amazed that even amidst the blood and murder, perfect strangers who otherwise wouldn't have time even for their family members, stood up for each other. We see similar things after a war, or say natural calamity. For an incident closer to home, you might want to read Suketu Mehta's excellent essay on the recent NYC blackout. Ofcourse these are temporary events, but it might very well be that the same human psyche extends for a longer period as well.

    And btw, on a related note, ~2 years back Nigeria topped a survey for happiest people, followed by other L.American countries. I am feeling lazy to google. This can be easily found.

    By Blogger Suhail, at 12:33 AM  

  • @Michael. In case of Canada, I think it works both ways though I don't think that is the case for the US.

    'The Captain', whoever he is, has beat me to it but I was going to mention it before I close my discussion here that Finland is not a homogeneous country. There are large communities of Russians, Swedes and of course the Lapps. Moreover, America seems homogenous to an outsider. But is it? I am sure so will it be for Finland.

    I usually post in the comment sections of blogs rather than 'blog-reply' or whatever it is called. Hope you don't mind.

    Suhail, yes they do give marks out of 100. They call them 'points'. It is read in many ways. Yes people care about relative prosperity more than absolutes. Another argument for socialism. hehe!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:04 AM  

  • I think Robert Cialdini in his book Influence discusses this. I don't have it on me right right - but I can look it up and knowing him he probably will have all the journal listings too..


    By Anonymous lswswein, at 8:45 AM  

  • According to the CIA Worldbook Finland is:

    Finn 93.4%, Swede 5.7%, Russian 0.4%, Estonian 0.2%, Roma 0.2%, Sami 0.1%

    Not exactly as diverse as New York City or Chicago is it? If the US was 93.4% Anglo and 5.7% Irish, then the US would be as Diverse as Finland.

    By Blogger Superdestroyer, at 4:51 AM  

  • Those ethnic Swedes, Russians and Sami play an important role in Finnish society but you should be satisfied with figures. I wish I could see the wolrd in such simple terms as you. Building statistical analogies. Now go back to sleep.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:32 AM  

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