Tallinn, Eesti

Every year, a dozen or so Japanese tourists visiting Paris suffer from Pari shōkōgun (パリ症候群, or Paris Syndrome), a brief mental affliction attributed to the disparity between the Paris they expect and the Paris that is.

Perhaps there is also Esutonia shōkōgun (エストニア症候群 — thank you, Google Translate; sorry, Japanese language), the result of e-promises about an e-future made real by a tiny, flat county in northeast Europe. Entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe who heed the e-Estonia call may arrive only to find that there isn’t actually free public WiFi blanketing the country, that Estonia is normal almost in excess, and that the sidewalks are not shoveled when it snows (this last one really broke my spirit).

Fortunately, there is a remedy. Estonia has kept its Police and Border Guard soundly within the 20th century (or 19th plus computers?). Go to an office conveniently located near nothing, take a number, wait (sometime for five minutes, sometimes for six hours — who knows?), fill out paper forms, leave, wait two months (or maybe three or four), return to the office, take a number, wait, sign paper forms, get an ID card. Just like every other country. Just like home. Familiar. Safe. Miserable. Inefficiency in excess. Feel the e-Estonia hype flushed from your system. Esutonia shōkōgun avoided.

In early October, I picked up my Estonian ID card, which doubles as physical key access to the X-Road. Aside from free public transportation in Tallinn, it’s had no effect on my life. Perhaps that’s the point — the invisible government, the automation of civic processes, etc. Besides indirect benefits (i.e. the general functionality it helps create in Estonian society), the system is not meant for such as I.

E-Estonia is for Estonians. It’s part of “the preservation of the Estonian people, the Estonian language, and the Estonian culture through the ages” (from the Estonian Constitution). Even E-Residency is for the benefit of Estonians, in the form of taxes on distributed profits. But could it be for such as I?

Examining how Estonia became one of the most functional pieces of the former Soviet puzzle and its possible effect on trends in public administration isn’t as sexy as talking about how it’s the only country in the world with generalized e-voting. It is, however, more important.

I wrote 1400 words on e-Estonia for a class called Public Management & Administration. Aside from the required bits about theories of PM&A and numerous run-on sentences, it lays out a few thoughts on e-Estonia, including the question of scalability.

Scalability also came up during an online course on e-voting through University of Tartu. Occasionally I found myself thinking about possible applications in the US context. Then I would remember I grew up in North Carolina (a true standout in recent Supreme Court rulings on voting rights) and get distracted by how easy it is to hack (via policy) paper-ballot technology.

On the economics front, I took an excellent class with Jan Kregel (who authored much of the Stiglitz Report) called Financial Policies, Innovation & Economic Development. Yes, a finance class that was excellent, well-taught, and captivating. It transformed my journey in academic finance from rags to riches, from the abject poverty of a former course to the abundant wealth of Jan’s. And it was a real hodgepodge of development economics to boot: Smith, Keynes, Schumpeter, labor, capital, innovation, the Development Pioneers (cool), the Washington Consensus (lame), Latin America in the 70s & 80s, war bonds, currency (it’s always all been virtual), national accounting formulas, and balance sheets (yes, a course where even balance sheets are exciting). I will cherish my 50 pages of handwritten notes for life.

My current occupation is extraction. I give Estonia some amount of someone else’s money plus a period of my life, and Estonia provides a context for me to take knowledge, expertise, and perspective on public sector innovation, plus free public transportation. It’ll be interesting to see how this transforms into a future contribution because, in a sense, I am a part of how e-Estonia is figuring out how to scale.

Technology Governance & Digital Transformation Program, TTÜ

Diffusion and Impact of Internet Voting (University of Tartu), 2 ECTS

Financial Policies, Innovation & Economic Development, Jan Kregel, 4 ECTS

Entrepreneurship & Technology Management, Tarmo Kalvet, 4 ECTS

Public Management & Administration, Erkki Karo, 2 ECTS

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