Indrek Neivelt: Our high quality of life goes well beyond wages

Indrek Neivelt.
Indrek Neivelt. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Our wages can't continue to grow 7-8 percent per year for long. Our competitiveness won't be able to keep up, and so this growth has to slow in the future. But we're still not taking into account other advantages to living in Estonia, businessman Indrek Neivelt said in commentary on Vikerraadio on Tuesday.

Last week, Statistics Estonia announced that average wages in Estonia in the first quarter of 2019 were €1,341 already. This meant that the average wage had grown 8 percent on year. Yes — 8 percent. The median wage grew 8.5 percent, meaning that lower wages grew even faster.

This is very rapid growth. We are making long strides toward the wages of wealthy states. I believe that everyone who has traveled in recent years has noticed that Estonia is no longer a cheap country, and our wages have already reached a very good level.

These are all lovely statistics that we hear about on a regular basis. But these are just numbers. And there is a lot that these numbers do not reflect. Such as how much time we spend commuting to work, or how much our rent is or how clean our air is and so on.

We have a lot of room

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to give a tour of Tallinn to the executive director of a large Japanese bank. They were particularly surprised by how much room we have here — room to live, and room to be.

They asked about our average wages and compared them to real estate prices and decided that Estonia is a very, very good place to live. Their own commute is a little over an hour, 50 minutes of which is spent in a jam-packed subway. Cheek to jowl. It takes three hours to get to the airport. But Tokyo is a very big city, and you can get most of what you need done there, so you don't have to fly very often.

Living in Tallinn, Helsinki and Riga Airports are likewise three hours away. But the majority of flights can be made directly from Tallinn. But we're not satisfied with that. We want Tallinn to remain at its current size but for its air traffic to catch up to Helsinki or at least Riga levels. This isn't possible, though. But we still want the state to do something about it...

In major cities, a commute to work under an hour in length is considered very good already; that is pretty close by. But some live even further away. That isn't normal by our standards. We've grown accustomed to better.

A colleague of mine from Ukraine used to commute an hour to work every day on the subway in Kiev. And an hour back every night. The subway was always packed with people, and it would take them 15 minutes to recover after the trip. Now they spend some ten minutes on the tram, where there is plenty of room. This is quite the luxury. Add to that all the extra free time they have.

Several downsides to big cities

Our visitors are amazed by our clean air or the fact that you can drive just half an hour out of Tallinn and find yourself deep in the forest. Silence and clean air, speak nothing of clean water, are quite the luxuries nowadays. And we are incapable of properly appreciating it. We only begin to understand it when we visit major Asian cities or when we ourselves host visitors from abroad; we ourselves have stopped seeing it.

Big cities have higher wages and more events, but there are also several downsides to them. Ranging from high real estate prices to polluted air and time spent on transport.

As you travel around the world, you will begin to understand how well life in Tallinn ranks. We have a very good balance between wages and other indicators of quality of life.

Our wages can't continue to grow 7-8 percent per year for long. Our competitiveness won't be able to keep up, and so this growth has to slow in the future. But we're still not taking into account other advantages to living here.

Rail Baltica's cost-benefit analysis uses the term "socio-economic benefits." If someone were able to quantify our quality of life here, our incomes would likely be several times higher and among the highest worldwide. This is a very subjective indicator, however, and depends on our personal preferences and feelings.

In any case, other indicators should always be considered in addition to statistical figures such as GDP per capita or average wages. Our high quality of life has not gone unnoticed, and lots of people want to come work and live here. Believe me — our quality of life is at the very narrow top worldwide.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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