This is a story about Finland, and a tradition that has been occurring for over 75 years. My mom sent me a link to this inspiring story many years ago, and today as I was writing a short essay on welfare reform, my dear mom’s enthusiasm for the cardboard box of Finland emerged in my mind.
In the 1930’s, low-income expectant mothers were given either a cardboard box filled baby items like sheets, blankets, fabric to make clothing, toys, etc. or a cash grant. 95% of families chose the baby box. Throughout the past 75 years, the items have changed to reflect the times, like ready-made clothing, and removing the bottles to promote breastfeeding (This would be considered a promotional subsidy or grant, like our book discusses on page 406. They used the baby box to promote and encourage certain “private activities” like breastfeeding which would benefit the baby’s health, and most likely lessen healthcare expenses.) Here is a list of recent items from the BBC News article Why Finish Babies Sleep in Cardboard Boxes that mothers will find in their baby box:
- Mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, duvet cover, blanket, sleeping bag/quilt
- Box itself doubles as a crib
- Snowsuit, hat, insulated mittens and booties
- Light hooded suit and knitted overalls
- Socks and mittens, knitted hat and balaclava
- Bodysuits, romper suits and leggings in unisex colors and patterns
- Hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, nappy cream, washcloth
- Cloth nappy set and muslin squares
- Picture book and teething toy
- Bra pads, condoms
In 1949, the country decided to give the box to all mothers, no matter their income, removing any stigma from receiving a box. The country had a very high infant mortality rate in the 1930s, reaching 65 deaths per 1,000 births. By 1950, this number dropped to 32, and today Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world (1.7 deaths per 1000, compared to 5.8 in the United States) (https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/infant-mortality-u-s-compare-countries/#item-infant-mortality-higher-u-s-comparable-countries (Links to an external site.) In 1949 the government changed the perception of the box from a hand-out to an equalizing gift. This promotional subsidy was and is the “carrot” of the infant mortality and healthcare expense challenges. The box encouraged citizens to see a doctor before the mother-to-be was 4 months pregnant, or they would not receive the grant. The government also made changes to the healthcare system during those 75 years to National Health Care Insurance and a Central Hospital Network.
I do believe that human beings need those carrots and need for government to create responsible public policies that protect and serve the people. I want my representatives to follow more of the Trustee Model, by being informed and exercise their experience and good judgment on critical issues like healthcare. Even if their decisions go against what citizens may feel at a particular time, I want a government and representatives that our Founders envisioned; wise and able to see the bigger picture that the masses may not, like how giving out baby boxes to everyone could create a happier, healthier and more equitable place to live.
Here is a quote from an analysis written by Professor Daniel D. Huff, professor emeritus of social work at Boise State University: “In 1990 the federal government spent 4.7 billion dollars on all forms of international aid. Pollution control programs received 4.8 billion dollars of federal assistance while both secondary and elementary education were allotted only 8.4 billion dollars. More to the point, while more than 170 billion dollars is expended on assorted varieties of corporate welfare the federal government spends 11 billion dollars on Aid for Dependent Children. The most expensive means-tested welfare program, Medicaid, costs the federal government 30 billion dollars a year or about half of the amount corporations receive each year through assorted tax breaks. S.S.I., the federal program for the disabled, receives 13 billion dollars while American businesses are given 17 billion in direct federal aid.” An example of corporate welfare is the subsidies that are given to the fast-food industry every year. The University of Illinois and UC Berkeley did research to show that “taxpayers pay about 243 billion dollars each year into indirect subsidies to the fast food industry because they pay wages so low that taxpayers must put 243 billion dollars to pay for public benefits for their workers”. This is also an issue with big box stores like Walmart.
There are many negative and inaccurate perceptions about welfare, like most recipients are African American, or “they” don’t want to work, which creates the negative attitudes about welfare that keep Americans distracted and far from solving the poverty dilemma. If we could shift our perspective out of judgment and focus on the real sources of the problem like discrimination, inequality, racism, gender bias, etc. (which take time and a willingness to change attitudes) and target reductions in the corrupt corporate welfare system, real change could be possible.
So, my vote is for the cardboard box.