scandinaviaOf course, the Scandinavian countries are not perfect: crime and corruption still exist there. But, the question is not if bad things happen, but at what rate. We have to examine successful strategies already in use, and take what we can borrow to apply in our own nations and communities. Some parts of the Scandinavian approach (such as the criminalization of cannabis) are worthy of criticism, but in many areas they are ironing out effective progressive changes.

Education

Finland has arguably the best educational system in the world. And in fact, they do this while spending roughly 30% less per child than the United States, and with approximately 2/3 moving onto university (which is made affordable by the state). One of the primary lessons we can learn from these results, and this system, is that frequent standardized testing and endless evaluations do not help students to learn or succeed. These advances in Finland have not been universally accepted in Scandinavia, leading Finland to outperform both Norway and Sweden on the PISA tests.

CriminalityHalden Luxury Prison

Although their crime rates are not particularly different from their European neighbors, their recidivism rates are roughly 1/3 to 1/2 as high. This means that a prisoner, released from prison, is twice as likely to end up back behind bars in the United States than in Scandinavia.

The reasons for this situation are plentiful, with the primary cause being that Scandinavian countries actually pay attention to successful methods of rehabilitation. Instead of trying to “punish” inmates, and make them feel like worthless criminals, it works to help inmates achieve a more positive self-image and a greater understanding of responsibility.

Coherent Tax Policies

The Scandinavian nations have slightly above average corporate taxes, and their individual maximum tax rate is significantly higher than the United States (check here for a reference table). This alone does not account for their success (although it likely contributes), but instead functions together with more intelligent spending policies to improve the lives of the citizens.

They spend more on research and development as a percent of their budget, and almost none of this R&D is focused on designing military technology. As opposed to reducing conflict, high government spending in military technology tends to create a “pressure” for those in the military to prove the use of their funding by pushing for involvement (or at least logistical support) in conflicts and crises all over the world.

So, they may pocket a little more of the money their citizens earn, but they certainly spend it more wisely. They also do not give huge subsidies or tax cuts to mega-corporations, meaning that unlike in the United States: no companies are paying a 0% tax rate on their profit.

Prostitution

The Scandinavian model for dealing with prostitution is about 2 steps ahead of the US model. While the United States is still grasping to understand that legalizing prostitution (and therefore regulating it and giving prostitutes a chance to talk to police without fear) actually reduces rape and sexual assault, the Scandinavian countries have realized that the only criminals are those mistreating, exploiting, or taking advantage of prostitutes.

When Norway took to the “Scandinavian model,” which originated in Sweden,  many hypothesized that sexual assault, rape, and violence against women would rise. In fact, since the policy was adopted in 2009, it has only had the effect of reducing the number of predatory prostitution rings and reduced the demand for prostitution in general.

The key appears to be giving victims of sexual violence the chance to speak to authorities without fear. The Scandinavian model also serves to dissuade the formation of semi-legal operations still dedicated to exploitation, that tend to form under legalized prostitution (as in the Netherlands).

In the unlikely an event that a person truly wants to sell their body for money: the person paying has no legal leverage or right to expectations (and in fact, are themselves in more danger than the prostitute from a legal perspective). So in events where it is truly within the will of the person playing the prostitute: this system does not criminalize them and grants them more power over their interactions. This model simply serves to protect the victims of sexual exploitation, instead of demonizing them.

Renewable Energy

Scandinavian countries produce a far greater percent of their energy from renewable sources than, well, almost any other region. Norway produces at least 98% of its energy through renewable hydroelectric power generation. Iceland also generates approximately 100% of their power from renewable sources (hydroelectrical and geothermal).

Although these particular forms of power generation are not universally applicable: every area has natural sources of energy that can be used more sustainably than any type of fossil fuel based power generation. It would be possible to mimick this success (not necessarily using the exact same methods) in almost every country in the world.

They’re not perfect!

Although the Scandinavian nations have found many good solutions to many societal problems, they are not perfect. They tend to have highly restrictive drug policies. These zero-tollerance policies on narcotics have not been shown to effectively reduce drug use or drug trafficking. In many cases, prohibition has merely led to the rise of underground drug trafficking and violent turf-wars.

In the same way that we should not copy all the behavior of successful people (instead inspecting their habits and behavior for specific tips), we shouldn’t overtake all the policies of nations who have had great success in some areas.