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Welfare Status 23.9. – The government’s first budget

Welfare Status 23.9. – The government’s first budget


Good day, and welcome to yet another ep of
Welfare Status. I’m Tatu Ahponen. These two weeks, the government has faced
increasing criticism – some of it justified, some of it simply the symptom of a new government
testing its ropes, but much of it clearly caused by opposition eagerness and the willingness
of large sections of the press to take a hostile stance towards the new government from the
get-go. For instance, the media has went after PM Antti
Rinne for comments indicating that there should be a hard, take-our-offer-or-no-deal style
backline for United Kingdom at the end of this month for Brexit, which he then backtracked
after criticism from Emmanuel Macron, with the whole thing giving an indication of a
prime minister still learning his ropes – though one also got the feeling that the whole thing
might have gone differently if the same comments had been made by a center-right prime minister,
rather than Rinne who the media has treated in a hostile manner from the beginning. However, the most important news of the weeks
regarding the welfare state is still positive – the new budget starts the process of the
welfare state getting fixed. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this is the first
budget by the new government, thus setting the tone for the entire period, and many people
had expressed fears that this tone would be entirely set by the center-right finance minister
Mika Lintilä, the only member of the government who had also held a seat in the previous government
and is known to be a right-winger within the scale of the Center Party. However, the budget has ended up containing
a lot of improvements to the various services and other functions, thus showing that a new
page has indeed been turned in comparison to the pro-corporate austerity line of the
previous right-wing government. There is new spending on education, a vast
array of regional and rural subsidies, and perhaps one of the most important questions
from a left perspective is that there is finally a firm commitment to ending the previous government’s
so-called activation model, ostensibly meant to increase employment but in practice serving
as a cut on unemployment benefits, done in a way that people it has targeted have consistently
found cumbersome and degrading. All of this combines to promote a path to
growth that relies on the traditional benefits of the welfare state – the circle of good
and the bolstering of education, not cuts and race to the bottom as far as the wages
and benefits go, and indeed the budget was also accompanied with news of Google expanding
its data processing center in Southeastern Finland, citing Finland’s educated workforce
and commitment to clean energy as the main deciding factors in its investment. While questions on Google’s various connections
to the American security state and its general corporate policies concerning privacy and
other such matters remain, of course, it’s probably the best to consider this in the
sense of general success of the Finnish tech sector and, in general, its high-tech industries
and economy in continuing to offer work and wealth, and the new paths offered by ecological
welfare state policies in nurturing the tech sector. Of course, the opposition – both in the
parliament, the media and the supporting organizations – has thrown everything but the kitchen
sink at the new budget, as politics tend to go. One of the fiercest attacks, from Veronmaksajien
keskusliitto or the Taxpayer’s Central Union, a right-wing organization advocating for a
low income tax, was that the new budget is onerous on the taxpayers – even though it
includes income tax cuts for low earners, it also has some taxes on petrol and soft
drinks, and things like that, as well as an increase in social security fees, which, put
together, according to the organization, mean that it raises the tax levels of the working
people. Of course, that ignores several things – such
as that not all working people drink soft drinks or even drive a car – as well as
that the rise in social security fees actually goes back to the previous government’s so-called
competitiveness pact. However, most importantly, organizations like
this always talk about taxes as if all the taxed money just goes down a hole or something
– instead of being spent to cover budget costs for schools, health, welfare and other
such important welfare state services. The True Finns, meanwhile, have predictably
attached the increase to foreign aid in the budget – and while that is, indeed, predictable,
it goes against their often-stated plan to “help the refugees where they are”, ie.
end humanitarian immigration and use that money abroad, as a part of that foreign aid
increase is money used to help conflict victims. All of this, of course, just underscores that
the true cause was always getting rid of the refugees and the spiel about helping refugees
where they are mostly functioned as a fig-leaf. National Coalition has not gone for such crude
attacks, as it would belie their status as the more civilized and liberal party of the
opposition, but instead has gone for a confusing array of alternatingly saying that the government
goes too far with its environmental policies and spending and saying that it does not go
far enough with them – such as their politicians condemning a rise in the fuel costs even though
it was also in their own programs and saying that the government does not spend enough
on education while generally attacking the government for overspending and putting on
what the party calls the “Greek path” for Finland, the path of debt – but without clearly indicating
what, then, they would have preferred cutting, or remembering that this government’s levels
of new debt generally match those of many previous governments including the National
Coalition in an important role. All of this doesn’t mean there aren’t
genuine issues in the new budget – it is clear that many of the decisions concerning,
particularly, the environmental matters lack ambition, and the planned sale of government
properties to cover for spending on other causes continues to be as problematic as it was when it was first conceived in the government’s program. On the whole, though, we now have a good basis
to build on in constructing a just and equal society that allow working towards a solution
to the environmental crisis. That’s it for these weeks, good day, night or evening.

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