Marten Kokk, a diplomat and jurist and former Estonian ambassador to the OECD, said in an opinion piece on Tuesday that the Foundation for State Reform’s claim that Estonia’s public sector spending is excessive has no real basis.
The new reformist think tank suggested earlier this week that to help Estonia develop and perform better economically, the number of members of parliament as well as the number of public servants needs to be drastically reduced, and what it sees as excessive public spending at 40.2 of Estonia’s GDP cut to a viable minimum.
Though Kokk commended the group for its initiative as well as its calls for a less vertically aligned state, he pointed out that Estonia isn’t among the highest spenders in terms of its public sector by far.
He also stressed that Estonia’s Nordic neighbours can easily be counted among the most successful states in the world in terms of their egalitarian societies as well as their health care, education, and social standards. High public sector spending hasn’t hampered their economic development in the slightest, Kokk said.
“I’m of course familiar with the study they are referring to, and the 40.2 percent is the correct number, but the context is that this spending is smaller than that of just ten other countries, and greater than that of more than 20. Among them, the 20 most developed industrial nations redistribute more money through their public sector than Estonia does,” he argued.
The OECD study the think tank refers to also points out that Finland’s public sector spending in 2015 amounted to 57.1 percent of GDP, that of Denmark to 54.8 percent, Sweden 49.6 percent, and Norway 48.8 percent.
In fact, the per capita spending of Estonia’s public sector counts among the lowest of the OECD’s European member states. Only Latvia, Lithuania and Poland spent less in that same year, Kokk pointed out.
“The Nordic countries with their spending have managed to arrange their societies in such a way that they have lead almost every ranking there is, from public health and subjective happiness to Internet connectivity and other things of the like,” Kokk said. “They are clearly among the most successful states in the world.”
He added that it isn’t clear to him what exactly the Foundation for State Reform thinks the Nordic countries have been doing wrong. “I don’t see how we are ever supposed to keep up with them in the long term without properly funding health care, higher education, science and infrastructure.”
“In the health care sector, we are among the states spending the least in terms of GDP in absolute numbers. And the last time a scientist of the University of Tartu won a Nobel Prize was back in the days of the Russian Empire,” Kokk said.