The Norway Advantage

June 17, 2010 | By | Reply More

norway_political-geoMy 19-year old Norwegian niece (“Katja”) just left town after visiting my family for four days. We had the opportunity to have several long conversations with her comparing Norway to the United States. I’m not going to suggest that Norway is perfect, but when you read the following list, it might make you wonder why the United States can’t get its act together to be at least somewhat more like Norway. Here’s what Norway offers to its citizens:

  • Single-payer healthcare (“The only requirement for receiving healthcare in Norway is that one be alive.”)
  • Free schooling at the grade school and high school level. In fact free schooling at the university level as well. Competition can be fierce for getting into particular schools at the University level (my niece is keeping her fingers crossed that she gets into law school this fall), but anyone who can do the school work is allowed to go to school.
  • The average Norwegian has five weeks of vacation every year.
  • Generous maternity and paternity leave, with pay. Further, many businesses offer high-quality child care for their workers. The government offers subsidized child care.
  • A generous social security system
  • A political campaign process that is not acrimonious. There are many political parties that participate. Politicians are not allowed to run any political ads on the television or radio. The campaign season is only a few months along.
  • Political corruption is minimal.
  • At least two newspapers in every city. The government subsidizes the second newspaper if necessary, in order to have a diversity of opinions.
  • My niece is extremely well versed about other cultures, and she is well-traveled. She is also multilingual. She claims that she is typical of young adults in Norway.
  • Environmentalism is taken extremely seriously.
  • Wage disparity is minimal in Norway.
  • Norway freely publishes financial information regarding its citizens. Any person in the world can look up the income of any Norwegian on the Internet, and check to see much money that person is paying in taxes. My niece commented that if your neighbor “buys a big boat,” you can check to see how much that neighbor is making and to double-check that the neighbor is paying his or her fair share of taxes.
  • A vibrant economy.
  • The standard workweek in Norway is 40 hours. Those who work overtime are allowed overtime pay or comp time.
  • Norway is a country that makes long-term plans (for instance, Norway is aggressively investing its oil money for use by future generations).
  • Norway does not clog its criminal justice system with people found to possess a street drugs. Warnings or minimal sentences are common. If someone is guilty of selling street drugs, that person is subject to prison time, but it is nowhere near as austere as it is in United States.
  • Norway takes financial fraud, including tax fraud extremely seriously. Many of the longest prison sentences given out in Norway are to white-collar criminals.
  • The largest city in Norway, Oslo, is extremely safe. My niece indicates it should feel safe walking anywhere in Oslo at any time.
  • Food is more expensive in Norway than many other places, many additives are outlawed. The food is healthier. Junk food is heavily taxed.
  • Norwegians are tend to be physically fit and Norway does not have much of a problem with obesity.
  • The citizens are discouraged from buying private automobiles. Cars are heavily taxed (my niece believes that the automobile tax is more than 100%), as is gasoline. Citizens are encouraged to use Norway’s excellent public transportation system, including buses and trains. Norway is also bicycle friendly.
  • Norway is extraordinarily beautiful country with many outstanding geographic features.
  • With regard to religiosity, Norway is one of the least religious countries in the world. Therefore, you won’t find yourself in the middle of religious squabbles in Norway. You won’t find many pompous strangers walking up and telling you that you are condemned to go to hell. Foreign and domestic policy are not based on supernatural claims (but see here).norway-flag
  • If the above items sound like a bunch of hype, consider that Norway is the top ranking country on the HDI index. This sophisticated system developed by the United Nations takes into account such things as life expectancy, education, adult literacy and GDP. See here for more about HDI.

As I learned more and more about Norway, I kept thinking that Norway treasures real family values, not the fake family values we so often claim here in the United States.

What are the downsides to Norway? Here’s one: it is extremely difficult to become a citizen of Norway. In order to have any chance, one is required to give up all citizenship in any other country. My niece mentions one other disadvantage. While in public, Norwegians tend to be notably reserved. They keep to themselves, unless they are part of a well-defined group, such as students in a class or those attending a party. She indicates that it has been quite a culture shock coming to the United States where people tend to be outwardly friendly, even to total strangers.

One other disadvantage of Norway, from the perspective of Americans, is that Norwegians speak Norwegian, which is different from German or Icelandic that Norwegians cannot naturally understand those language. Norwegians can somewhat understand people speaking Swedish.

I realize that the following is anecdotal, but I think there’s a basis in truth to it. From my niece’s eye’s Americans are proudly ignorant. While on the plane ride to St. Louis, a soldier insisted that he was going to be stationed in Norway, which he then insisted was part of Germany. A woman then told my niece in no uncertain terms that the official language of Norway is English. She heard yet other wild claims about Norway from Americans who had no clue about what they were claiming. My niece was puzzled by this behavior.

Oh and lest I forget . . . Norway is relatively cold and dark during the winter, though the climate of Norway is much more temperate than one might expect for such a high latitude due to the North Atlantic current.

There. I’ve made my pitch. I’m thinking about moving to Norway. I’ll probably get over it. Maybe I should visit Norway at least once before making up my mind . . .

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Category: History, World politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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