Indrek Neivelt: Empty threats in 2019

Indrek Neivelt
Indrek Neivelt Source: Kairit Leibold / ERR

Indrek Neivelt looks back at the year 2019 in Vikerraadio's daily comment and finds that the things people were warned against had little real impact.

Another year is ending and it's time to take stock. My first comment this year was published on January 15 and titled "This is not an economic crisis." In it, I explained that there were no grounds for scaring people with talk of an economic crisis. Warnings of a looming crisis were loudest toward the end of last year and the beginning of this one.

Luckily, we have seen neither a global nor a local economic crisis. On the contrary. We will see strong growth this year. Wages and, with them, pensions have grown faster than anticipated and, looking at the unemployment rate, salary advance will likely continue. In other words, the crisis we were promised a year ago did not happen.

March saw Riigikogu elections and a new coalition government. After the latter took office, we were told how our reputation would plummet, how we'd no longer see foreign investments and how our success story was nearing its end. A calm look at the situation today suggests our ratings are still very good and nothing has changed. Major foreign investments are still gracing the Estonian economy.

The pension reform has also been used to frighten people. Nothing is being torn down and there is no vandalism because no one will be forced to abandon the second pillar of pension. It is freedom to decide. Our pension funds' rates of return were for a long time among the poorest in the world, while management fees were among the highest.

We had one of the lousiest products in the world, and the least the state could do was say that it would not force its citizens to subscribe to that product in the future. More so as the pillar is useless for most people.

The finance ministry's forecast clearly shows that saving in the second pillar is pointless for people making less than the average salary. How else to describe a situation where a person sets aside 2 percent of salary every month for 40-50 years only to gain a few percent in terms of their pension upon retirement. Do we need to even discuss such sums at length?

We were told that rendering funded pension voluntary would collapse the economy and that we wouldn't have money to pay pensions in 30 years' time. And that is why everyone must save without choice in the matter.

The claim of the economy collapsing is especially cynical in light of how little pension funds have invested in Estonia.

When it comes to savings in general, ratings agency Standard & Poor's claims the opposite in its recent review of our rating, saying that "household savings are still high, reflecting general caution for the future." A ratings agency claims our people save a lot. But we want people to save even more.

Various economic analysts frighten us over our rapid salary advance. At the same time, Standard & Poor's concludes that a higher rating would require growth of average salary and it moving closer to the Eurozone average in the long term.

This would mean higher productivity in high-salary sectors, especially the service sector. In other words, continued rapid growth and greater productivity and salaries in the service sector would improve our rating.

We do not need to be made to fear rapid salary advance. On the contrary. Analysts should propose how to boost productivity and salary advance instead. And pension fund managers should apologize to the people and find new jobs instead of engaging in intimidation.

We have also been told how our fiscal deficit will soon liken us to Greece. What they forget to mention is that it would take over 100 years considering how small that deficit is. But still there is panic, with simple mathematics overlooked.

These are but a few examples of intimidation. Where am I going with this?

People come up with various assessments very superficially that then get picked up by the media. Intimidation is a great tool for pitting people against each another.

We need to keep in mind that the business model of media companies is based on amplifying odds these days. It is the latter practice that makes us feel society is split. Actual conflicts in society might not be any bigger than they have always been. It's simply that the business model of the media has changed.

We would do well to see it for what it is and not go along with intimidation-based confrontation. Turning to the media less often would probably be the best solution to this problem.

I urged people to go on a media fast in my March comment. I took a liking to a social media fast and started to seriously reduce my media intake. I urge others to join me. That is how we can make the world a better place. And it is especially good to start around Christmas.

Happy holidays, everyone!


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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