Alisa | October 29, 2014

Creative welfare society – utopia or reality of the near future?

A review of the "CHALLENGES OF THE GLOBAL INFORMATION SOCIETY" by Dr. Pekka Himanen and his concept of creative welfare society.

2019 update: This is a part of posts series I wrote back in 2014 for my IT college (now TalTech) curriculum subject “Social, Ethical and Professional Issues in IT”. Indeed, It was a hell of an interesting subject with a task to blog weekly on a number of predetermined topics. Years later I’ve decided to translate some of my posts to English and preserve those here. Just a little disclaimer: not all articulated opinions hold to date. Nevertheless, it is all part of history now :) – Alisa.

An objective of this report in 2004 was to give the Parliament of Finland an overview of the society development trends and underlying changes. Author outlines three key models, named by the geographical regions those are inherent to:

  • The American / Silicon Valley model (society of fear). Here balanced social development does not keep up with a rapid technological development. As a result a widening gap is created between social strata depending on income and education.
  • The Asian / Singapore model (society of control). In this case technological advances are ensured by tax incentives, while population’s access to information is kept under centralized control.
  • The European / Finnish model (society of envy). Here people hold on to own old achievements and envy the achievement of others. Such a society hinders reforms and does not deal with issues proactively.

While every model has its own benefits and flaws in the present, there seems to be no long-term sustainability in either of those.

Is there an ideal society?

Author offers creative welfare society as a model of social development. It is to create a high quality education system with equal access to it; allow free access to information; support individual’s mental and physical health. Time shows that the author has also correctly anticipated some challenges ahead. For example, the general aging of population and the lack of a qualified workforce.

In my opinion, if a stand-alone country (i.e. Finland, Estonia or Switzerland) makes a decision to embrace and implement a model of creative welfare society, then the proposed concept may be viable. Let’s consider as an example a Swiss initiative to pay each citizen a monthly allowance of CHF 2500 (~ USD 2800). This is expected to be sufficient for a modest lifestyle and to allow an individuals to channel their energy to genuinely interesting and creative projects.

A little “game theory”

Despite the likely success of one particular country, I am concerned, that the world as a whole is not ready to embrace this model. While certain positive trends are apparent, like

  • countries actively support qualified workforce immigration;
  • “brain drain” becomes “brain circulation”;
  • employers are paying more and more attention to the well-being of the employee, etc. in a larger scale every big economy protects its objectives. If an implementation of the creative welfare society model contradicts country’s own priorities (economical development, military security, technological supremacy), the model is unlikely to be embraced.

I dare to propose an oversimplified analogy here. The world can be roughly compared to the Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution game. There are four ways to win it: military, technological, economic or cultural victory. Only one at the time. Let’s compare Dr. Himanen’s creative welfare society model to cultural victory. It is hard to imagine a world where all countries would strive to develop culture only. Especially being aware that all four above-mentioned ways can equally lead to ultimate victory.

Despite the above, I am still in favour of the author’s model. Hope that the world will also reach a point of globalization where a direct link between the well-being of the population and the sustainability of the world is recognized and valued beyond theories.

October 2014

Cover image by Alex Knight