Michelle and I took a little side trip recently, to the Baltic countries, a region which neither one of us had ever visited. Our particular focus was on Estonia, though we spent a couple days each in Riga, Latvia and in Helsinki, Finland. Admittedly, these are odd places to go, especially in October. Not to mention the fact that most of the world may or may not be convinced that Estonia even exists.
Our plan through the end of the year is to live in the Netherlands, and that is where we flew back to in October. However, we rented a place in Utrecht that only allowed specific move-in dates, leaving us with about eleven days to play with. So off we went to the Baltics.
But why Estonia? Why not some place warm? A place where the beer flows like wine and beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano? All good questions.
Frankly, Estonia fascinates us. It is a good lesson on what happens when you quit government cold turkey. Post-Communism, Estonia decided to renounce statism and become a free society without much in the way of incrementalism or “think-of-the-children” type justifications for governmental sclerosis. They tossed the collectivists out on their ass and went instead toward transparent government, low taxes, broad freedoms, and low corruption. Rather than going through the chaos that statists always predict when government stops doing literally anything, Estonia has slashed corruption, streamlined all government services, kept its debt-to-GDP around 5 to 10% (as compared to nearly 100% for the U.S.), and moved as much as possible to online platforms.
What happened? Unemployment rates are as low as they were in Soviet times, even when counting all the make-work jobs the Soviets created to goose their statistics. Infant mortality went down, life expectancy from birth went up, literacy rates rose, trade increased, average incomes went up for the poor, the rich, and everyone in between, and GDP per capita has about tripled. Not bad.
Admittedly, this isn’t a perfect libertarian paradise. Estonia has some typically social-conservative laws. And it has the requisite problems left over from Communism, including corruption, aging demographics, and a lot of weak infrastructure built with materials and workmanship that were only good enough for government work. The U.S.S.R. also imported lots of ethnic Russians, and ethnic tensions and self-segregation can be high. But it’s impossible to ignore that the low-and-flat-tax, high-transparency, low-corruption, limited-government strategy absolutely, positively works.
Estonia went from a backwater basket case to a modern EU country, a NATO member, and a driver of digital innovation that punches well above its weight in the world economy in just twenty years. That’s remarkable.
Naturally we had to see whether it was as good on the ground as it looked on paper, and frankly, we came away pretty impressed. For digital nomads, it seems like a great place to be (if you don’t mind cold winters). The internet speeds are good, English is very widely spoken, and dealing with government is quick, painless, and transparent – oh, and it’s all done over the internet. Estonia is also pioneering e-residency, which currently does not allow for physical EU residency, but does allow things like starting a company and banking within the EU. All in a place that looks like this:
We really appreciate that this life gives us the easy opportunity to explore places like Estonia. I suppose that not very many people have a couple weeks “between homes,” nor would they be able to quickly jet off to the Baltics. But I can’t say I have any regrets choosing Estonia, and I would absolutely go back.
Next up, a lot of pictures of Tallinn, Estonia, the beautiful medieval old town, and some sites a bit further afield.