Unfortunately, the graph, to which I am referring in the text below, is no longer supported by Timetric.com.
Although it stops at the happy and tranquil 2007, the graph gives a clear picture of who’s been gaining on fat and wealth in Latvia during the years of transition. While some 40% of Latvians cashed or at least didn’t lose on the transition, the overall majority of the nation saw their possessions, wellbeing and social status thinning, shaking and fading away despite the record two-digit national income growth. No doubt, the trend was everything but not more optimistic during the later years, less happy and less tranquil. Inequality is a major disaster in a western society, such as ourselves. And its alleviation should be on the top of the long-term political agenda whatever measures the state is contemplating in dealing with the crisis. Although this should be obvious, I don’t see the Latvian elite sharing this understanding, pronouncing it, debating it.
I think there is one serious understatement about the Nordic model. It is common knowledge that the Nordic societies are scoring highest in the standard of living, competitiveness, innovation and their people are happy and live long. What most of us are leaving out when trying to find a square explanation of the Nordic miracle is that it is not just about the social democratic governments, centuries of piece (well, not for Finland!) or high taxes. This is even not just about the enforcement of law or political models. With all of that being a tool invented by a Nordic mastermind, the core idea is in a deep and genuine understanding of sharing and respect, the idea of equality as a basis for a sustainable living, be it a small community or a nation.
The idea of equality is as liberal as you can get. And I wonder how such a gross misconception about liberal democracy and liberal capitalism being a Darwinistic zero-sum game has captured public opinion in Latvia. And the Nordic happiness? “Hah, what do you want, you can’t compare!” In one of the most recent comments here in my blog, the suggestion went as far as that I shouldn’t compare Latvia to Estonia. People really believe that money doesn’t smell or the winner takes it all, and while the strongest is always winning, the weakest must die, or at least suffer, be trampled upon and humiliated. So astonishingly many truly believe that this is the great wisdom of life in a modern society. Well, the graph only confirms this popular belief. The modern Latvia is about the strongest one winning at the expense of the weakest four. And this really is how Latvia is inferior even to so to say the “junior Nordics”.
I believe high taxes, the enforcement of law and political models are dead without the soul breathed in by the core idea of equality. This understanding needs to be shared in the society. It all starts in the mud. This is why I think today’s Latvia is a better place to rethink its attitudes than Latvia of any other day since the independence. The crisis and pain don’t make it easier, since so much in the Latvian politics needs to be cleaned and reinstalled. The crisis and pain help, however, free your mind of the demons of lawlessness that seemingly rules the world. The enforcement of law is nothing, if the law is not one for all and everybody is not equal before law. And high taxes are just a method of robbing taxpayers, if the taxpayers see themselves as those in pain, trampled upon and humiliated by the winners who publicly enjoy privileges of immunity before law. This is the mud. This is how the equality starts with the ethics, not necessarily models, high taxes or social democracy. Models will surely follow.
Once again, strongly recommend The Spirit Level. Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.