Chocolate and Gold Coins

Thursday, August 11, 2005

One Hundred Finns

One Hundred Finns came to my blog yesterday. They all came to read a post I made two months ago called “What Can Finland Teach Us.” Perhaps the Finns were curious to see what they could teach us. They left disappointed. Not one Finn clicked on my homepage. Two commented, only to say that my one word response to the question above, “Nothing,” was rude. Simo wrote:

A very good blog, although as a Finn I dont agree to the writer's rude one word answer to the headline.

I apologize if I seemed rude to the Finns. I never intended to this article to be read by the people of Finland. I never thought of such a possibility.

But this reminds me about why I blog. I blog not so I can be read by random people who might not care too much about what it is that I say, but for the people who read my blog regularly, and really want to know what I have to say. Blogging is conversation, and maybe I don’t have a lot to say to the Finns, but if Simo had a blog I could read, maybe that would change.

Charukesi, (who writes and excellent blog) wrote about the blogging conversation yesterday. Vikram (who writes and excellent blog also) has an excellent comment on it. I had a comment on it too, but it was eaten by Charu's spam filter, (please fix, Charu).

Update: Recently Saket Vaidya (who write the excellent blog vulturo) wrote that some obscure bollywood blog was the very top blog in the TTLB system. Well, oddly enough, TTLB put me at the very top of the most link blogs in a search for "finland". See for yourself.

Now, dozens of Finns are coming to my blog to see what Finland can teach the world only to be disappointed. But it is interesting the difference in the reactions of Finns to Indians. Simo (above) was clearly miffed but he was still polite and called this a "very good blog". Here is a quote from a blogger from India who didn't agree with this very same post:

"Micheal Higgins [sic] thinks he know[sic] why:"[socialism doesn't work in India]

I am suprised that he thinks,because his ideas dont[sic] reflect that he does.

Finns are polite because they only encounter other polite people. Indians are more like New Yorkers. Most are nice if you are nice but some are not nice at all and most are not very friendly if they think you are not agreeing with them. It is a natural result of dealing with lots of diversity.

Update: Read Kunal Sawardekar's post: Fun Finland Facts.

Also, check out this excellent libertarian blog by Phil in Finland: Finland for Thought.


  • apologies from Charu and her spam filter... haven't been able to fix it, Michael - my friend who hosts this blog says I should learn to live with it - better for legit comments to go into moderation q than have spam and obscene comments creep in (you will noyt believe how many I get)... so I keep fishing out poor lost comments on my blog periodically :)

    By Anonymous Charu, at 9:31 AM  

  • Charu
    I had no idea that you are getting obscene comments. I have gotten some strange ones before and I quickly delete them. But if people insist on spamming really rude things, then you need to block.

    Well, if you eventually find the comments and post them, I cannot complain. But there is that moment of "ARGGHH" when the comment disappears that makes me dispare.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 9:49 AM  

  • yes, definitely......
    more than half my "hits" are just passers by, or some one who has googled for something (totally unconnected to my post). But the visitors whom I care about are those that read what I write, and who often contribute to my own learning by adding their thougts.....conversations that I would otherwise never have had...

    By Blogger Sunil, at 11:38 AM  

  • Hi Sunil
    Exactly. I remember reading in a blog once that the only hit that count are the ones going straight to your URL, not to one of your posts. That means they came to read you, not just something a friend of a friend said was interesting.

    For many months, I have contributed posts to the Carnival of the Capitalists. My sitemeter would always go up on Mondays when the Carnival would be published. Of all those many carnivals, the only regular readers I got from that (that I am aware of) are Half Sigma and Ashish Hanwadikar, (and Ashish might have found my blog anyway).

    I wish that I could have found a link to one of the Finnish bloggers that read my post. I would love to learn more about Finland and make a blog buddy up there. And I'm curious about how their economy and society works. But Simo's link doesn't work for some reason.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:17 PM  

  • Michael, I do make it a point to dig out and post the comments which get held up. and yes, I know the arrgghh feeling :)
    and Michael, Sunil, how does one track visitors - as in say those who come from google keywords- people keep talking about this - been wondering for a long time

    By Anonymous Charu, at 1:03 PM  

  • Hi Charu
    The information is on your sitemeter. Since yours is unprotected I took the liberty of checking what were your opening URL's were and almost all were straight to your main page - that's good. That means that your visitors all came to read your blog.

    If you pay money to sitemeter, I think you can also get the refering URL. That would be valuable. I have been tempted to do that, but, ah, I have to ask my precious wife's permission. Read a few posts down to see the problem there.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 1:21 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    Blogger sends a lot of people to our blogs via the "next blog" button at the top of the Blogger pages. More than half of my visitors come to my blog that way, and they never return. That's why I focus more on the number of people who have BlogRolled me because I know these people are more likely to return to read my blog.


    By Blogger Vikram A., at 3:36 PM  

  • Michael and Charu,

    Sitemeter offers the referring URL feature for free.


    By Blogger Sujatha, at 8:29 PM  

  • Ah - the beauty of the bloggy world - you never know who'll bop by!

    By Blogger Musey_Me, at 9:07 PM  

  • Hi Vikram, Sujatha, and Musey_me
    Vikram: I don't understand the "next blog" button. It is really a "pig in a poke". Well, I'm glad a few people come to my blog to read what I have to say and not just to look around never to return.

    Sujatha: You're probably right. I think I got the simpler sitemeter that doesn't have the javascript and the refering URL is always unknown. That is what I really would like. If I had the refering URL I wouldn't bother with Technorati.

    Musey_me: Thanks for dropping by. Both of us wound up oddly enough on the TTLB Finland search page.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 10:29 PM  

  • Just wanted to let you know that I do read your blog,but have not taken the time to comment.

    By Anonymous rajeshwari, at 10:57 PM  

  • Michael, this is about your last sentence. I'd expect that having encountered a diversity of views should make you more polite, not less.

    If you have interacted only with like minded people, you'll have a hard time distinguishing between legitimate differences of opinion and outright evil thoughts.

    That said, there must be some other explanation why you have found Indians ruder than Finns. It may be because we get all hypernationalistic when it comes to dealing with foreigners. In general, it might be because we are culturally more inclined to stand on prestige than debate rationally.

    By Anonymous Ravikiran, at 1:53 AM  

  • Michael
    I would wish that my views and thoughts reach out as far and wise as possible, so that they all may come back and say that I am full of crap !!!
    No seriously, I read a few bloggers like yourself, Uma, Dilip, Charu, Sunil religiously and comment on something that piques my interest. But I also meander off sometimes to gawk at some other blogs like say Andrew Sullivan or Huffington or Amardeep. The reasons could be many which I wont delve into, but I will not close myself off to inputs to whosoever might care to stop by. Gathering perspectives, never hurt anybody, though I might disagree.

    You really thing most Indians are not friendly if you disagree? In my experice, they will be cautiously tolerant with dissenters. Maybe you have not interacted with enough ppl from Ukrania, Belarus to discern unfriendliness, IMHO.

    By Blogger chappan, at 4:54 AM  

  • Michael, check out to see that finns can also be not-so-nice when a quite naive and ignoratn american tries to tell them how the welfare state doesnt work and never will.

    And hopefully you have noticed the entire Finland diary at


    a finn

    By Anonymous Perkele, at 5:16 AM  

  • "I never intended to this article to be read by the people of Finland. I never thought of such a possibility."

    Nor did Conan O'Brian, and look what it got him into his "insult my homeland"...

    There is an old joke that explains this.

    "A Finn, a Russian, and an American go to the zoo, and see a huge elephant.
    The American thinks, 'I could sell this elephant for a lot of money.'

    The Russian thinks, 'This elephant could feed a lot of people.'

    But the Finn wonders, 'What does the elephant think about me?'"

    By Blogger BigHairyFinn, at 7:28 AM  

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    By Blogger BigHairyFinn, at 7:28 AM  

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    By Blogger BigHairyFinn, at 7:28 AM  

  • What Finland could teach to USA is how to run a government with prudent fiscal responsibility and how to develop good and efficient education and health care systems.

    USA is in serious trouble, chronic budget deficits everywhere, consumers maxed out, real estate mania running amok and manufacturing base basically gone:

    Port of Los Angeles, June 2005 statistics:
    IN loaded: 334,823
    IN empty: 5,758
    OUT loaded: 96,659
    OUT EMPTY: 196,807

    Every other country with similar statistics would have already suffered major depression but with world reserve currency status, USA can play this game a little while longer.

    What I see, it just one big has-been economy, still holding somehow together with ever-increasing amounts of credit and FED pumping money to the system like crazy.

    Last time I checked, the credit to reserve ratio was around 100:1, one dollar in and 100 dollars out. Faith of Argentine is just around the corner. Hyperinflation Weimar style is my bet.

    USA is like one big outdated space shuttle, in serious need of a complete overhaul and redesign.

    By Anonymous tim73, at 7:46 AM  

  • Congratulations Michael, you are a star in Finland!

    As a Finn I thoroughly enjoyed your article. The "nothing" was certainly not rude, it made you want to read the whole article, which you backed up well. Like any Finn I'd love to throw my two cents worth in, and I will because this is the blogosphere after all.

    Using Finland as an example of socialism is misguiding, because it is not a socialist state. Having a welfare state is not the same as being socialist. Currently the government is comprised mainly of the Centre Party (centre-right) and the SDP (left leaning). The Centre Party most definately is not socialist.

    The fact that the Finland has traits that can be seen as socialist does not make it so. It also has many traits that are clearly capitalistic, but no one goes about calling it capitalist.

    All the best

    By Blogger Jukka, at 10:50 AM  

  • Hi Rajeshwari, Ravikiran, and Sourin:
    Rajeshwari: Hi, I hope there is something here you like.

    Ravikiran: I personally have not encountered much in the way of "rude Indians" with the exception of the guy I quoted above. I was referring to the many cases where someone flames the author in the comments section. You have encountered this. Gaurav had to turn off the comments. Amit says he regularly receives rude mail. Typically it is ad hominem attacks.

    I would say that the U.S. is not any better. Political discussions can really bring out the beast in people. I was struck by how polite Simo sounded even though he thought I was rude. But I admit that I have not encountered many Finns. At first, none of them were commenting. Now some are commenting and that is cool. I found a really snarky comment directed towards me in the link Finland for Thought, so I cannot deny that maybe the "nice Finn" hypothesis might be flawed. Small sample selection issue...maybe.

    Sourin: Indeed, I learn a lot more by reading blogs of bloggers who write intelligently but not necessarily with the same point of view I have.

    Indeed, I have know way of knowing how Indians and Americans or others would rank on the list of polite people or the list of who is most civil in a debate. I would think Americans would rank very low, because Americans have "an attitude".

    My hypothesis was more that Finns, being homogeneous, would tend to treat each other with more respect. But that might not necessarily be true. They might really dislike anyone with a different opinion because they're truly odd. I really don't know to be honest, but I am open-minded and want to learn.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:48 PM  

  • Hi Perkele, BighairyFinn, tim73, and Jukka

    Perkele: Thanks so much for the links. Was the WaPo articles a big hit in Finland? I guess it was. I read them and found them interesting, although I didn't agree with them. Maybe The same reporters should go to India to see what works and what doesn't work. That might be interesting.

    Hi BighairyFinn: Hmm... :)

    Hi tim73: Does Finland have a more effective government sector because it has better designed institutions or more cooperative people? I wonder.

    Jukka: Thanks for the kind words. I doubt I will be famous in Finland next week, but if I get one regular reader, that would be cool. I finally have a blog by a Finn that I can read and I can comment on - Cool!

    I agree that Finland is best described as a welfare state or a mixed economy. But so is India. And India's mixed economy has really struggled until recently when the government liberalized. This is why I think the comparison between India and Finland is interesting. The economics seem similar but the results couldn't be more different.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:59 PM  

  • Finns treat each other with respect? Finns are known to loathe their neighbor, - or, more precisely, their neighbor's success. It's one of the qualities Finns themselves acknowledge, and see as a reason for the existence of the welfare state: forced equality through taxation and income redistribution is better than seeing other people succeed in life.

    Envy and jealousy are two of the main operatives in Finnish society.

    The other main operative is a deeply ingrained anti-American bigotry, which gets perpetuated by design by the government and media. America is seen as a model which threatens the elites of the welfare state: as such, it needs to be denigrated at every turn.

    Keep in mind that in a recent poll, Finland was rated as the most anti-American country in the world - more so than France or Germany. There are historical reasons for this (Soviet influence), but there are some other ones, too: envy and jealousy are major component of the Finnish psyche.

    By Blogger Finnpundit, at 1:06 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:36 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:57 PM  

  • I was the snarky one, but I never intended for you to read my comments! >;-)

    Your posts are well written, even if the first post about Finland was a bit simple and the other one strangely defensive. But never disregard the twisted sense of humor, defensiveness and fast internet roaming ability of us Finns.

    The real question is not diversity or lack thereof, but how such rude, jealous and introvert people manage to co-operate so well :)

    (I'm partly serious: for example failing to help in an emergency, like in the Indian example, is not uncommon at all in Finland. Instead of assuming you are the wrong ethnicity, people may assume it's a fight between drunks and not intervene.)

    By Anonymous Windy, at 2:05 PM  

  • Hi Finnpundit and Windy
    The jealously that you mention reminds me of something I heard about Russians. A story was that Ivan was jealous of his friend Boris because Boris had a goat and Ivan didn't. This bothered Ivan so much, he couldn't think about anything else, he even dreamt about it. And in his dream, a angel came to tell him that his dearest wish had been granted. "You mean," Ivan said, "Boris's goat is dead?"

    Here is an old post of mine on this subject: Is happiness a zero-sum game?.

    Windy: Well, this is a surprise. I'm glad you came.

    What you say is interesting, and I would like to know why Finns cooperate. Is it good institutions or a strong social ethic, or a bit of both?

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:33 PM  

  • Haa Michael. This is interesting! Coming in quite late here..Maybe you should have sent all Finnish readers to my post, where I said good things about Finland. All Finns, you are most welcome. I am Indian and I love you'll :-)
    (Michael, hope you pardon this self-promotion)

    By Blogger Suhail, at 7:50 PM  

  • PH UND Dee (Economics) and still not answering my Port Of Los Angeles...

    By Anonymous tim73, at 9:11 PM  

  • Hi Michael,
    Thanks for linking me. Now I can cash in on some of that lucrative Finnish readership!

    By Blogger Kunal, at 11:30 PM  

  • It is funny how you praise the Finns for being and they all rush to boast of how they've fought among themselves in the past and how they are not as nice as they seem.

    I can only hope that this urge to get over their boring image does not lead to the collapse of their welfare state :)

    By Anonymous Ravikiran, at 11:59 PM  

  • A Ravikran, as the Finns' say "the first step to success is confessing the facts".

    You guys should go to the Washington post and the articles and read the comments. The articles were so "syrupy" that we all agreed that it was perfect PR, but the reality of life is different.

    I am with a foreigners' association in Finland, the - we try to help people moving to Finland face the real life.

    Finns' tend to question every foreigner "when are you going to leave" as Finns' have a long history of emigration and they think anyone moving in must be a bit mad... grass being greener on the other side of the fence as always.

    One aspect of this is that the gap between the rich and poor is quite narrow compared to the US let alone India. A CEO maybe makes double the salary as the janitor - and their kids will be going to the same school...

    As we say - "it is a lottery win to be born in Finland" and someone adds "and you require another lottery win to be able to afford to live here."

    By Blogger BigHairyFinn, at 3:35 AM  

  • I'm from Finland and I'm damn glad that the US is what it is and is not trying to "learn" from Finland. Our welfare system is so heavily dependent on high taxes and American economy that it'd simply cease to exist if the US decided to adopt our system of high taxation.

    Our social welfare creates security only in theory but not in practice. People here are far more likely to be exposed to alcoholism and unemployment than in America.

    By Blogger Mikko Sandt, at 11:00 AM  

  • Hi Suhail, Ravikiran, and tim73
    Suhail: It is a fine post, I think it is intesting.

    Also, Twilight Fairy, a blog of an Indian staying in Helsinki.

    Ravikiran: I think many Finns have a lot invested in the status quo (which is fairly typical around the world) and so they want to believe that their system is inherently good and not just good in certain circumstances.

    Tim73: I don't worry too much about current account deficits (trade deficits) or the empending "peak oil" situation, not that these may present problems, but because I feel that the market will take care of it. The US ran trade surpluses for 60 years before the current period of trade deficits.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 6:16 PM  

  • Hi Kuanl, Bighairyfinn, and Mikko
    Kunal: You're welcome, thanks for producing that piece.

    Bighairyfinn: Thank you very much for these insights. I wonder what really motivates someone to work hard a be a CEO if you don't make very much money? I would think everyone would want a nice easy job, like a school teacher. AHA! That's why the Finnish public schools rank first.

    Mikko: It is interesting that some Finns dont really like the fact that the government gets to spend most of your money. But people get used to the services that government provides.

    Alcoholism seems to be an Arctic circle phenomenon, and I don't know why (lots of darkness?). Russians drink a lot, Swedes and Norweigens do too. Canadians like beer - which probably isn't quite so bad. But I wonder if there is a link from Alcoholism to welfare state. Lots of unemployment leads to alcoholism? I wonder.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 6:25 PM  

  • "because I feel that the market will take care of it. The US ran trade surpluses for 60 years before the current period of trade deficits."

    So having a couple of million or even a couple of billion dollar surpluses during period 1900-1960 is going to even out 600-700+ annual BILLION DOLLAR trade deficits?

    Savings rate is near zero percent, consumer credit to disposable income ratio is way over 100 percent (western world average is around 70-80 percent), 70 percent of Wal-Mart goods is produced abroad, 80-90 percent of new jobs is created in domestic services sector (like flipping hamburgers).

    Market will take care of this for sure but not without one big Great Depression in the US.

    By Anonymous tim73, at 8:38 PM  

  • To understand tim73's views you'll first have to realize that these are not concerns of his, but actually hopes of his.

    There is a kind of anti-American bigot in Finland that is convinced the US must fail, because that would validate the existence of the Finnish welfare state.

    Never mind the obvious fact that should a nation carrying so much of the world's debt suddenly keel over, so would so much of the world, too, including Finland, whose key industries are financed by American capital markets.

    By Blogger Finnpundit, at 9:23 AM  

  • Michael - look at the Alaska statistics on alcoholism.

    I think it has to do with the climate but also culture as well as a little genetics pitched in.

    Finns don't consume that much alcohol per capita if you compare to say France. But where the French swig down red wine 3-4 glasses daily with meals, Finns wait for Friday night, swig a bottle of vodka down in 3-4 minutes.

    Isn't anything new - Mrs Alex Tweedie in her 1897 travelogue "through Finland in Carts" objects to the same phenomenon.

    By Blogger BigHairyFinn, at 12:26 PM  

  • Michael,
    Please say you were kidding when you asserted, "I would think everyone would want a nice easy job, like a school teacher. AHA! That's why the Finnish public schools rank first." Have you spent a day with a teacher? Their jobs -- pretty much not easy!

    By Blogger Musey_Me, at 9:03 PM  

  • Michael the blog is Finn Times actually :p :) (not Twilight Fairy)...
    BTW now I am also experiencing the '100 finns' "phenomenon" :p

    By Blogger Twilight Fairy, at 3:30 AM  

  • Hello: Finnpundit, Bighairyfinn, Mussey_me, and Twilight Fairy

    Finnpundit: Interesting. I think the U.S. is in no danger of "keeling over" soon. Recently the U.S. dollar crashed 20% relative to the Euro...did anyone notice? No one here did.

    Bighairyfinn: That is interesting. I hadn't thought about it but, sure, France probably does lead in alcohol consumption. But we don't think of them as a nation of drunks. That's because the avoid the "hard stuff".

    Musey_me: I was an instructor at a major university (U of Mn) for six years. I designed my lesson plan and taught all of the classes. I thought it was a great experience, and I love to share knowledge with others. That's why I blog, and I don't get paid to blog.

    I don't doubt that being a teacher in a U.S. public school might be different. The politics there is probably very frustrating. But that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the status quo, is it?

    If you are a teacher, I hope you are one of the ones that really cares about the kids still. Half of my teachers seemed to think of us as a nuisance, after awhile.

    Twilight: That's cool. I would be interested in comparing the experience of living in a mixed economy in India to the mixed economy in Finland. I admit that a big difference is that Finland probably doesn't bother its business owners as much. I would never understand the "10 licenses to start a business" thing.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 5:15 AM  

  • Finnish welfare state... blech.

    A recent report from the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Welfare stated VERY clearly that Finland is no longer a welfare state in the classic Scandinavian sense of the term, but much nearer to its Central European EU-brethren like Germany, etc. in its welfare model. So exactly WHAT are you guys talking about here, pray tell???

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:44 AM  

  • "Finland probably doesn't bother its business owners as much"

    Well, no. They just tax you to death. And the social fees, insurances and 22% VAT take care of the rest...

    By Blogger BigHairyFinn, at 10:52 AM  

  • "To understand tim73's views you'll first have to realize that these are not concerns of his, but actually hopes of his. There is a kind of anti-American bigot in Finland"

    Well, you certainly are Polyanna all-American fan. You don't bother with actual facts, feel good is enough for you.

    America is number one, no matter where the facts are pointing. Debt is good because it is America, deficits are good because it is America. Always that stupid spinning game.

    And this absurd notion that America is financing the rest of world.... last time I looked, the rest of world is borrowing 2-2.5 BILLION dollars per day to the good old US of A.

    The same kind of crap happened during period 1919-1923 when EVERYBODY knew that the Germany never defaults and German Mark was God.

    I do not hate America but I do hate ignorant and arrogant people and currently most of the Americans, not all, are by far the most ignorant people on earth.

    That stupid attitude is hurting everything from global warming to economy to Iraq war. They will pay dearly for that in near future, my bet is all out hyperinflation and destruction of dollar.

    By Anonymous tim73, at 10:57 AM  

  • "Most are nice if you are nice but some are not nice at all and most are not very friendly if they think you are not agreeing with them. It is a natural result of dealing with lots of diversity."

    I must say Dr.Higgins that this is a very interesting observation. If this is a natural result of dealing with diversity I am sure you must have had similar experiences in the United States too.

    My first time here and I intend to come again. :)

    By Anonymous Truman, at 11:21 AM  

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