Category Archives: Norway

Socialism Working Pretty Well For Norway, Thank You Very Much

Norway was named the world’s most prosperous country by the London-based Legatum Institute:

For the sixth time in a row, Norway is named the most prosperous country in an annual ranking by Legatum Institute. The institute has evaluated 142 countries based on their economic performance, as well as other important areas such as education, health, personal freedom, security and safety. Norway takes third place for economy, fifth for health and education, seventh in government and second in personal freedom.

[…]

Senior advisor James Barty at the Legatum Institute thinks that Norway scores high because of both the country’s economy as well as strong social values and progress within education and health.

Heh. It’s almost as if investing in your own people pays off. Who knew? By the way, in case you wondered: the U.S. ranked 10th.

This struck me as funny because yesterday I heard that awful Joni Ernst, in her Sarah Palin voice, say that “America is the greatest nation in the history of mankind.” That just made me laugh. It’s like they’ve descended into self-parody. Really? In the history of mankind? It’s something she says a lot, in fact she even has it on her website.

I just think, you know, really? Maybe you need to get out more often. Yeah America is great but we’re not the only country in the world. Other countries do things pretty well, too. But this is the kind of stupid rah-rah amygdala-tweaking that gets you elected in Dumbfuckistan.

Anyway, I’ve written a lot about Norway. I’ve called it, jokingly (but kinda seriously), “the promised land.” Seems I’m not alone in my estimation of that country.

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Filed under Norway, socialism

Another Wingnut Myth Debunked: Entrepreneurship Thrives Under Socialism

I’ve had a love affair with Norway forever, since I first visited there back in the ‘80s, which has prompted more than a few mash notes on this blog.

And now I get to write another one, thanks to Inc.’s story on entrepreneurship in Norway. It appears that, right-wing talking points notwithstanding, entrepreneurship and innovation aren’t stagnant in places like Norway, where taxes are brutally high and socialism is embraced whole-heartedly:

Norway is also full of entrepreneurs like Wiggo Dalmo. Rates of start-up creation here are among the highest in the developed world, and Norway has more entrepreneurs per capita than the United States, according to the latest report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a Boston-based research consortium. A 2010 study released by the U.S. Small Business Administration reported a similar result: Although America remains near the top of the world in terms of entrepreneurial aspirations — that is, the percentage of people who want to start new things—in terms of actual start-up activity, our country has fallen behind not just Norway but also Canada, Denmark, and Switzerland.

That’s gotta hurt. This flies in the face of every Republican talking point we’ve been given since, well, forever. I’m sure we won’t be hearing about the “Norwegian miracle” in the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, I actually know people who live and work in Norway. One American friend recently told me about how his Norwegian partners laughed in his face when he asked about liability insurance for the hotel they were opening. Not necessary, he was told. What about lawsuits? “Silly Americans, always with the lawsuits!” they laughed. “Why would anyone sue? If you’re hurt you go to the hospital!” Apparently Norway’s strong social safety net and socialized medicine is a better defense against frivolous lawsuits than the “tort reform” conservatives are always pushing.

Imagine that. Indeed, that appears to be what Inc.’s reporter found. It’s a fascinating read, I hope you will hop over there and give the article your time. (And that goes for my wingnut friends–*cough*cough*JIM*cough*cough*–who I’m sure are dying to post Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation links here. Read the damn article first, please. Thanks.)

I found really interesting the article’s discussion of taxes. Tax rates in the U.S. have basically been slashed in half over the past 30 years but what did we get for it? Zip:

But there is precious little evidence to suggest that our low taxes have done much for entrepreneurs—or even for the economy as a whole. “It’s actually quite hard to say how tax policy affects the economy,” says Joel Slemrod, a University of Michigan professor who served on the Council of Economic Advisers under Ronald Reagan. Slemrod says there is no statistical evidence to prove that low taxes result in economic prosperity. Some of the most prosperous countries—for instance, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and, yes, Norway—also have some of the highest taxes. Norway, which in 2009 had the world’s highest per-capita income, avoided the brunt of the financial crisis: From 2006 to 2009, its economy grew nearly 3 percent. The American economy grew less than one-tenth of a percent during the same period. Meanwhile, countries with some of the lowest taxes in Europe, like Ireland, Iceland, and Estonia, have suffered profoundly. The first two nearly went bankrupt; Estonia, the darling of antitax groups like the Cato Institute, currently has an unemployment rate of 16 percent. Its economy shrank 14 percent in 2009.

Moreover, the typical arguments peddled by business groups and in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal— the idea, for instance, that George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 created economic growth—are problematic. The unemployment rate rose following the passage of both tax-cut packages, and economic growth during Bush’s eight years in office badly lagged growth during the Clinton presidency, before the tax cuts were passed.

And so the case of Norway—one of the most entrepreneurial, most heavily taxed countries in the world—should give us pause. What if we have been wrong about taxes? What if tax cuts are nothing like weapons or textbooks? What if they don’t matter as much as we think they do?

Ah yes, what if? What if “we” have been wrong, lo these many years?

It’s almost laughable. Of course “we” haven’t been wrong, but conventional Villager wisdom has been. Folks like Paul Krugman have been writing about this for years. Nobody but a bunch of Dirty Fucking Hippies have bothered to notice what a bunch of voodoo nonsense “trickle down economics” and “the Laffer Curve” are. But, ya know, don’t listen to us!

Conservative economics doesn’t work, never has, we all know it yet people keep repeating the same tired old canards about high taxes crushing entrepreneurship and killing jobs because they’re fucking children, little itty bitty babies who want their cake and candy and not their nutrition. We’re children who prefer to believe fairy tales because they feel oh so good even though they aren’t real.

No wonder the empire crumbled.

But don’t worry, America. You will never, ever have to suffer the slings and arrows of affordable healthcare, a clean environment, low unemployment, and a high standard of living like our Norwegian friends. That’s because we in America have been brainwashed for an entire generation into thinking certain things like taxes are a soul-crushing evil. Who needs taxes when we have our beloved Puritan work ethic, and “rags to riches” mythology, ammiright? The idea that America is the land of opportunity is as central to our national identity as the Stars and Stripes and National Anthem. Continually these national talismans prove to be worthless fairy tales, yet we cling to them because the idea that America is not the land of opportunity is just too painful to bear.

Norwegians have a completely different attitude toward taxes which I just can’t imagine flourishing in the United States. They don’t see it as a “punishment” the way some people, especially conservatives, do. Norwegians see taxes as an investment in their families and their country. Because they receive such high level of tangible services — healthcare, pensions, free education (from preschool to college), robust family leave, etc. — there’s an actual value. America never invested in itself in such a fashion; instead, what we get for our tax dollar is war. Buyers’ remorse, anyone?

This may help explain why entrepreneurship in Norway has thrived, even as it stagnates in the U.S. “The three things we as Americans worry about—education, retirement, and medical expenses—are things that Norwegians don’t worry about,” says Zoltan J. Acs, a professor at George Mason University and the chief economist for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. Acs thinks the recession in the U.S. has intensified this disparity and is part of the reason America has slipped in the past few years. When the U.S. economy is booming, the absence of guaranteed health care isn’t a big concern for aspiring founders, but with unemployment near double digits, would-be entrepreneurs are more cautious. “When the middle class is shrinking, the pool of entrepreneurs is shrinking,” says Acs.

I guess one could say Norway has never had to worry about being overrun by Russian tanks in the past 60 years — I mean, since the end of World War II America has basically decided to be the world’s police force. I’m not smart enough on foreign affairs to ascertain how credible such a threat has been, anyway. But when comparing our two countries, it does seem like we got a raw deal.

Ultimately, the problem America faces is psychological. We’re just completely unable to have a serious conversation about anything right now, and I don’t see that changing:

Holte was fascinated by this last topic, particularly the angry opposition to President Obama’s health care reform package. “It makes me laugh,” he says. “Americans don’t understand that you can’t have a functioning economy if people aren’t healthy.”

Holte’s American subsidiary pays annual health care premiums that make his head spin—more than $23,000 per employee for a family plan—and that make the cost of employing a software developer in the United States substantially higher than it is in Norway, even after taxes. (For a full breakdown, see “Making Payroll.”) Holte is no pinko—he finds many aspects of Norwegian socialism problematic, particularly regulations about hiring and firing—but when he looks at the costs and benefits of taxes in each country, he sees no contest. Norway is worth the cost.

This makes so much sense — in fact, it is the logic behind such things as liberals’ desire for single-payer healthcare — yet we just can’t seem to have a rational conversation about these things anymore (if we ever did). Because as soon as someone tries to point out the economic impact of our lack of any reasonable social policy, America’s Vuvuzela Chorus strikes up and it’s all “job killing healthcare reform” and “death panels” and “Socialsim-Fascism-Nazi-baby-killer” bullshit. We never get to have a grown-up conversation! Everything immediately disintegrates into lies and bullshit.

It’s killing this country and it’s leaving us in the dust behind more progressive countries like Norway.

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Filed under economy, Norway, taxes

>Shiny, Happy, Taxed People

>Can paying taxes make you happy? This columnist seems to think so. He looked at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s global happiness survey and noticed that the world’s top 10 happiest people also pay some of the world’s highest taxes. He observes:

Northern Europeans pay some of the highest taxes in the world. Danes pay about two-thirds of their income in taxes. Why be so happy about that? It all comes down to what you get in return.

The Encyclopedia of the Nations notes that Denmark was one of the first countries in the world to establish efficient social services with the introduction of relief for the sick, unemployed and aged.

It says social welfare programs include health insurance, health and hospital services, insurance for occupational injuries, unemployment insurance and employment exchange services. There’s also old age and disability pensions, rehabilitation and nursing homes, family welfare subsidies, general public welfare and payments for military accidents. Moreover, maternity benefits are payable up to 52 weeks.

Simply, you pay for what you get. Taxes in the U.S. have taken on a pejorative association because, well, we are never really quite sure of what we get in return for paying them, other than the world’s biggest military.

Healthcare and other such social services aren’t built into our system. That means we have to worry more about paying for things ourselves. Worrying doesn’t equate to happiness.

Well, that’s certainly interesting. I can already hear the howls of protest from the folks over at Tennessee Free: “I’m quite certain taxes won’t make me happier, you Socialist! You go ahead and pay them if you want!” I love that argument. Taxes only work if everyone pays them, you dufuses.

As the article observes, America is the world’s richest nation, yet we don’t even rank in the top 10 of happiness. So apparently money can’t buy happiness, after all.

I still jokingly refer to Norway as “the promised land,” after seeing their healthcare system first-hand last year and learning about how they handle resources like oil. It certainly would be nice to not have to worry about things like paying for healthcare, childcare, and education.

I do think the author is correct in that because so much is not built into our system, people ramp up the whine factor where taxes are concerned. The anti-tax crowd acts like a bunch of spoiled children, selectively decrying where “their” money goes. Social services like welfare, food stamps and public housing–things that take “their” money and give it to “those people” (read: poor, usually brown) are always a waste, in their view. They don’t benefit from it directly, or if they do (see Joe The Plumber, Welfare Queen), they pretend they haven’t because this flies in the face of the iconic “rugged individualist” we so admire.

Military spending is never a waste, and the more the better, which I never understood. But what about the gazillion other things our taxes pay for: public schools, roads, dams, inspecting and protecting the food supply, national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, disaster relief after hurricanes and earthquakes, mail delivery, keeping shipping channels and harbors open, the interstate highway system that keeps us connected … all of these things work so seamlessly most of the time that they are easily ignored. You forget who built and maintained that road you drove to work on, unless you drove over a pothole, in which case you probably cursed it..

Heh. Try driving down some of the roads in Costa Rica then, buddy.

Anyway, if people in countries like Norway and Denmark see how they benefit personally from taxation when they go to the doctor, take their kids to school, get a free college education, care for their aging parents, etc., I wonder if Americans would, too. And I wonder if this isn’t what scares the crap out of Republicans fighting “socialized medicine” tooth and nail: they aren’t afraid it would fail, but rather that it would work, too well.

Something to think about.

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Public Land, Public Resources

A conversation over at Eschaton yesterday prompted me to do a little research into Norway’s State Petroleum Fund.

Norway is the world’s third-largest oil producer, pumping crude out of the North Sea since the 1960s. Instead of allowing just a privileged few to profit from this national resource, Norway takes the approach that the oil belongs to all Norwegians. So, oil profits are placed in a state fund, and the proceeds benefit every citizen:

Parliament created the oil fund in 1990, but the state had its first budget surplus only in 1995. Until then, oil income was used to pay down Norway’s staggering foreign debt from the tough years before North Sea riches could be exploited. A substantial amount of the profits from the exploitation of a resource that is viewed as belonging to all Norwegians, not just the current generation, is invested in foreign stocks and bonds. The state-owned fund guards against spending too freely on public sector services in boom years so as not to lay off droves of state workers when the economy goes bust.

The Petroleum Fund is an instrument designed to prevent Norway’s substantial oil profits from being taken too rapidly into the economy. State bank officials and government leaders believe that dispersing oil revenues directly would overheat the Norwegian economy and suppress private sector growth. Their view is that the resource rent collected from the sale of their natural wealth of oil should be conserved.

From the perspective of some, Norway focuses more on how to administer and distribute the assets already acquired than on how new value is to be created. There are generous benefits for both men and women of eight weeks’ vacation, liberal sick leave and day care that is reliable and inexpensive. Three-year maternity leaves, broad part-time opportunities and creative application of telecommuting help keep women in the work force. State assistance to single mothers is so generous that there is no need for a father’s income.

According to the U.S. State Department, Norway’s State Petroleum Fund exceeded $388 billion by the end of December 2007.

This approach contrasts sharply with the American model, in which corporations like ExxonMobil and Chevron bear the investment burden, then post record profits with little benefit to anyone else. In the case where resources like oil and natural gas are pulled out of public land which belongs to everyone, this strikes me as rather unfair.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that America nationalize its oil companies. I don’t think it would ever fly here, the American public is far too allergic to the notion of “nationalized” anything to even consider it.

But it certainly brings up an issue seldom raised in debates over resources on public lands, where so much mining and drilling takes place. This stuff is supposed to belong to all of us, but when oil and gas leases are given to private corporations, they’re the only ones who profit. Heck, half the time these leases are given out virtually royalty-free.

Let’s take ANWR as an example. Pretend for a moment that ANWR doesn’t contain a mere six month supply of oil. Let’s pretend the resources are so vast that it would keep America awash in oil for years and years. This is public land–it’s a National Wildlife Refuge that belongs to every American, not just ExxonMobil. If we allow the destruction of this wilderness to extract oil and gas, shouldn’t we get something more out of it besides $4/gallon at the Mapco?

The Norwegian way would be to have the government sell the oil and use the profits first to pay off the national debt, then pay for such benefits as healthcare, low-cost childcare, and a free college education, and finally the rest is invested to hedge against some future day when the economy turns south, the oil runs out, etc. That way a citizenry accustomed to free education and healthcare won’t suddenly find itself in dire straits, and an economy which contains a large number of government employees won’t suddenly be laying off thousands of workers.

The American way is far different. Sell the leases (or, if you’re the Bush Administration, give your industry buddies a $10 billion break then lie to Congress about it.) The CEO of ExxonMobil gets $22 million a year and regular Americans, whose oil they are stealing pumping, get nothing.

No free healthcare. No affordable child care. No free education. But CEO Rex Tillerson and his family can now afford to buy these things.

I’m so happy for them.

I realize that the Norwegian way would never work in America. We’re just too different, psychologically and constitutionally. But I do think the current system is inequitable. Raising the royalty rate to 16.7 percent from 12.5 percent of oil and gas sales isn’t enough, not when net profits are in the tens of billions of dollars each quarter.

I don’t like the idea of a “windfall profits tax,” that strikes me as rather silly when all we need to do is get the oil companies to pay us what these leases are worth.

And then I’d like to know where this money is going. It’s certainly not going to the Interior Dept.

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Filed under Norway, oil, oil industry, State Petroleum Fund

Get The Message?

Interesting display at the airport Duty Free in Bergen, Norway. And you thought those Surgeon General’s warnings on U.S. cigarette packages were annoying!

(As always, click on the pic for a larger view.)

Interstingly, there are no such warnings on alcohol packaging. Hmmm…

Of course, Europeans love their cigarettes. Just about everyone here smokes. With the government offering such gold-standard healthcare over here, I had expected to find a little more aggressive anti-smoking legislation. No smoking in restaurants and other public places is a rather recent phenomenon here, but it does exist–unlike places like France, where I expect a smoking ban would spark another revolution.

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Filed under Norway, Smoking, travel

Socialized Medicine Saved My Vacation

I didn’t plan on getting a first-hand look at Norway’s healthcare system my first day on vacation, but that’s what happened after my traveling companion tripped on a circular stairway and pulled a ligament on our first night in Oslo. (And no, alcohol was not involved — but shopping and jet lag definitely were factors).

My friend was naturally upset, not only from pain but also at the prospect of having ruined our vacation. I was naturally concerned as I watched her ankle first turn a shade of green, then purple, that I didn’t know possible for human flesh this side of gangrene. This was a serious injury, I knew, and it required professional medical care.

We taxied to a “legevakta” — an accident-emergency clinic. Start to finish, door-to-door, the entire process took two hours. That included getting checked in, waiting for the doctor, X-rays, treatment, getting a prescription filled, and the taxi back to our hotel. The doctor was very professional and patient; she gave us thorough instructions on followup care, gave my friend a set of crutches and a prescription for pain and inflammation, the clinic called us a cab, and we were on our way. The fee for all of this wonderful service?

Nothing.

This was stunning, since in every other regard, Norway is extremely expensive. Outrageously expensive. My salad at lunch was $30. You could easily drop $50 on a 15-minute cab ride. Heck, it costs $1 to use the public toilet at the warf. But for X-rays, medical treatment, a set of crutches, and an ace bandage, we were charged nothing. In fact, the doctor casually told us we could drop the crutches off at another clinic in Bergen (our next vacation stop), if we happen to be near one.

As for the prescription, it cost just $6 for 21 tablets.

This is amazing to me, since the entire experience would have been so much more expensive and traumatic in the U.S. I’ve been to ER’s and the doc-in-a-box in Nashville, and I’ve never been in and out in two hours. I’m also charged for every single thing: crutches, ace bandage, even the freaking bag of ice –plus another $30 for medication.

While it may be a factor, I don’t think this awesome free healthcare is the main reason everything else here is so expensive. I blame our sucky U.S. dollar for most of that, and also the fact that so much of what one buys in Norway must be imported from elsewhere. Scandinavia has always been extremely expensive (the rule of thumb that the further south in Europe one travels, the less expensive it gets, is still true). Locals I’ve talked to say they pay into the system with their taxes and that makes healthcare more equitable and affordable for everyone, not just the wealthy. This just makes sense. Whether you have cancer or just a sprained ankle, no one should have to forego healthcare because they can’t afford it.

America, get with the program. Figure it out, already. The system we have is just insane, and it’s entirely unworkable. It’s never made sense to me that the profit motive is institutionally part of our healthcare system. No one should profit off of someone else’s need for medical treatment. That’s just wrong. And more importantly: it isn’t working!

It’s time to change what isn’t working for something that does work. Socialized medicine has been proven to work, and in so many other places around the world, too. Plus, it saved my vacation.

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Filed under healthcare, Norway, socialized medicine