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09.21.10

Clinton: America Should Be Like Finland

In his opening remarks at CGI, former President Bill Clinton said America should be more like the tiny, social democratic Finland—then promised that would be his lone political statement.

In his opening remarks Tuesday, former president Bill Clinton said America should be more like the tiny, social democratic Finland—then promised that would be his lone political statement.

America should be more like tiny, social democratic Finland, former President Bill Clinton said at the opening plenary of his Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York Tuesday.

“This is probably one of the only political things I’ll say all week,” Clinton noted as he introduced Finnish President Tarja Halonen. “I’m hoping that if we’re not living in a totally evidence-free world, some of the things she says will demonstrate that every successful country in the 21st century has both an excellent private sector and government.”

Clinton said some Americans want to cut government—a not so veiled reference to the Tea Party and GOP—but that an effective public sector is necessary to support nonprofits and businesses. “Our friends in Finland have done a pretty admirable job,” he continued.

Finland has universal low-cost or free government-provided health care, daycare, and nursery school. Universities are tuition-free, and the government provides college students with living stipends during their studies. Finland's education system is rated the best in the world by the OECD.

CGI opened with a focus on disaster regions, including post-flood Pakistan, post-earthquake Haiti, and the American Gulf coast. Clinton introduced corporate donors supporting recovery projects in each region.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson then introduced donors working to close down landfills in the developing world.

“This is probably one of the only political things I’ll say all week,” Clinton said.

“If you want to fight climate change, improve public health, find new sources of wealth for poor people…the closest thing to a silver bullet is closing all the landfills in the cities,” Clinton said, explaining that landfill glass and plastic can be recycled for money, while organic trash can become soil, fuel, or be compacted to make electricity.

“Almost every landfill is a goldmine, which is why so many poor people scavenge in them,” he said.

Dana Goldstein is a Spencer Education Journalism Fellow at Columbia University, and a former associate editor at The Daily Beast. Her writing on politics, women's issues, and education has also appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, The New Republic, BusinessWeek, and Slate. You can follow her work at www.danagoldstein.net.