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At the Latitude59 in Tallinn

At the Latitude59 in Tallinn  © Mattias Tammet/presidendi kantselei

27.08.2020

There are fewer of us here, but I am very happy that the conference is going ahead.

It is crucial that things we consider important for one reason or another still take place in the situation in which we find ourselves. I was complaining to my younger children that people can keep friends and renew the contacts online easily online, but making new friends is difficult. They didn`t understand me, because for them it is as easy, maybe even easier. I still think that when they get older and wiser they realise that being in the same room has a special value.

But it proves my point that when everything goes more online, education etc., we need to put special attention in our school system to teach our children separately things which previously were taught in class rooms. Teaching human interaction, learning how to be a compassionate human being is more and more important.    

Of course – this COVID-19 pandemic is not unexpected. Poorer ecosystems, more crowded planet where towns are densely populated and populations of other species are living in suboptimal conditions or simply dying out, create necessary preconditions for what happened with us this year. Where exactly and how, is less important. It is here now.

The effects of climate change and general burden of pollution will start manifesting themselves more and more in the future. Our ability to counteract and withstand will depend on one crucial element:

Will we remain true to the principles of human rights and democracy – or will we separate our societies into groups, fighting bitterly for finite resources, opposing each other?

Remaining true to the principles of democracy means an honest analysis about the concentration of wealth in our developed societies, the slowing down of social mobility and the onset of intergenerational hopelessness demonstrated by Brexit, gilets jaunes or electoral behavior favoring simple, but impossible solutions.

We must face up to the general inability of the social market economies to keep its promises given to society in the quick industrial growth period of mid-20th century. And also to the inability of the states which are free and democratic, but do not act as the ultimate redistributor or insurer of last resort, to cope with the demand of the people for providing opportunities.

And then we must look for solutions. Egalitarian education system and universal healthcare are two main pillars for finding these solutions. Yes, even in societies like Estonia and Finland, which have these pillars in place, people complain that without belonging to the right social class by birth it is hard to achieve greatness or even comfort.

But there are societies who fare far worse than our Nordic models in providing hope. Hope that even if you yourself have not done so well, there is hope for your kids to become neurosurgeons or investment bankers.

These are not emerging or developing nations I am talking about. I am talking about perfectly normal, western rich democracies.

They are breaking because of too late recognition of the need to work permanently on equal opportunities for children born in town and in village, to parents educated or less so, rich or poor, and so on.

With societies facing responsibility to tackle climate change, they cannot do so if they remain as fragile as they are today. Because many people feel like the burden of fighting climate change gets equally distributed – for example, by higher fuel taxes or green taxes on electricity – while the gains were and still are not.

Therefore, I welcome discussions like this year`s Latitude is undertaking – the question of responsibility. Who should take responsibility for what? Who is responsible for providing general goods – state or enterprise? What is general good?

For example, this year governments all over the world have taken on additional financial and other obligations in volumes that just six months ago would have been unthinkable.

Many of us observe with surprise how easily companies manage to keep upside while downloading downsides and risks on the taxpayers` shoulders. Is this general good? Yes, some jobs are saved, but are they the jobs worth saving or should we accept restructuring of our economies (which is happening quicker in this crisis), adapting to new challenges and therefore liberating and preparing workforce for new opportunities?

If we talk about enterprises accepting bigger social responsibility – and those seeking state refinance claim they do, by using, for example, only local workforce. Or is it the fig leaf?

Is it just a bad example caused by current panic – or is there a risk that managers, unable to provide stakeholders with reasonable return, seek to sidetrack expectations by setting not economic, but social or environmental goals?

Or, in case of companies which have hefty profits, are the managers seeking self-glorification by proposing social and environmental responsibility principles, which cost shareholders still a fair amount?

Or is it truly and sincerely valuable, if entrepreneurs and managers come together with states and people to achieve the most pressing goals for humanity? If the answer is yes, then how should it be done – first question always, before or after taxes?

We already had these questions before the COVID crises, but as always, crises does not create, but enhance trends. I believe you here are surfing these trends and doing so in the best interest of humankind.

For me this is the most important – I may not always agree with what people do sometimes, but if I sense they are truly and sincerely acting for the greater good, I am grateful for what they are doing.