Thursday, April 13, 2006

On the Finnish local government “reform”

Talk about mundane subjects… But not really, not mundane: this is how structures change even in a nominally rational democracy, how little actual reason is involved in the process despite the claims of the participants. We have approximately the same chorus that few years back was so unanimously shouting about the “inevitability” and great importance of UMTS and how there was “no choice” but to heavily invest into it. In fact it is almost always the same bunch, the current consensus drivers EVA, Helsingin Sanomat, the Social Democrats and Kokoomus (with the Centre Party dragging its feet on this particular issue): interesting how the elite institutions often have such a group mind.

Anyway, the grand “solution” to the various local government problems is now fairly universally seen to be to drastically cut the number of the self-governing municipalities. And that’s it. In effect this continues the disastrous “cheese knife” approach during the deep recession in the early 90’s when all meaningful structural reform was prevented by the vested interests. So we’ll have the same heavy and unimaginitive structures, only in practice even more inefficient on the grass root level with the new larger units - though no doubt also leading to some nominal savings but with the underlying difficult problems left completely untouched. This proposed local government restructuring then in practice functions as a reform to prevent reform.

This particular case is of course a Social Democratic wet dream to a comical degree: they have such an extremely utilitarian approach to the local self-government that totally ignores the long traditions and mentalities that these lines and names on the map actually connotate for people. Probably the SDP would actually prefer numbers instead of names to the municipalities: Helsinki region would be “The Local Government Service Provider Area No 1”, in short LGSP1, Turku could be LGSP2 etc. Thirty such units would do for them nicely (also handily undermining the entrenched Centre positions in the existing structure, the real reason they are dragging their feet).

Strange how all this ineffective nonsense is then dressed as “deep” analytical political discussion about meaningful structural reform. Afterwards when it will be realized that nothing effective has been done along with much actual harm, everyone will be so innocently amazed – and if things get sufficiently bad there can even be a collective amnesia about this “grand discussion” such as there was with UMTS. Politics as tragicomedy.


helsinkian said...

I don't think the local government reform should a blanket solution that works equally in every region.

I think some of your points are correct. It's a centralist (but certainly not Centrist) scheme that doesn't necessarily take into account the specific characteristics of each municipality, not to speak of the long traditions and questions of identity.

I also think the notion that the reform in itself is evil is incorrect. In some post-merger municipalities it will work better than the previous model with very small units and not every municipality has such a history that some small municipalities have.

But certainly I think a reform should have the needs of the people as first priority and the needs of the bureaucracy as less important. But I also think that many small municipalities exist for the needs of the Centrist political apparatus more than they do for the inhabitants.

stockholm slender said...

Well, I would say that my argument was two pronged. I certainly value the traditional municipalities because of the "non-utilitarian" sense of roots and mentality that is inherent in these communities - even if every political party views and treats them as fiefs for appointments and power. But regardless of this I think that simply creating larger units is the most unimaginitive and ineffective solution possible. We have to make the structures lighter, not bigger... If we now spend the political capital to simply cut the number of municipalities, we will largely waste it as more meaningful reform will be - once again - postponed.