Norway’s fading socalism

public houing 2
This was my first home when we moved to Haugeund in the early 1970’s. The municipality closed it after a fire last year.

Socialism has been very effective in Scandinavia because they are not socialist countries. They are socalled constitutional monarchies with free markets and companies that are allowed to make as much profit as they can. Things may be changing. We seem to be moving towards a more capitalist system where the difference between rich and poor is more extreme. This has happened on the Labour Party’s watch.

There are two topics that occupy Norwegians more than anything else, the weather and money. The weather is very unpredictable west of the mountains, or maybe it’s just predictably bad. If we have one nice day, you can be sure there’s going to a period of low temperatures, as well as rain and wind whipping your face violently. I suppose that doesn’t bother the tourists that much. They don’t spend money on going to an expensive country like Norway expecting the same holiday as my sisters had when they went on a cruise to Florida, Jamaica and Mexico in March. There are occasionally an exception, though. Last summer was the warmest and most stable we’ve had in a very long time. We had many days with temperatures between 25 and 30 Celsius (77-86 F).

Tourists coming to Norway also complain about the high prices here. Norwegians don’t like the cost of living, but accept it most of the time because we do get quite a lot in return. I used to think that it was worth it, but it’s not if your income is low. Norway hasn’t really had poor people before. Being poor here isn’t the same as being poor in a capitalist country where they are used to extreme differences in the distribution of wealth. After having made about $ 60 000 a year as a teacher I have to manage on $ 25 000 now. The government takes a third for taxes, but that’s not the end of it. We pay road tax, toll roads, a very high tax on fuel, 25 % tax on all goods and services (15 % on food). Housing prices and an expensive dairy, gluten and yeast free diet makes the total cost of livng very high.

I would love to take my 25 000 and live in country with a more reasonable level of expenses, but I think it’s pretty obvious that Norway isn’t as socialist as most people think. There’s always been rich people here, and they have ways of reducing their tax to zero, but if everyone payed taxes, no one would have to pay more than 10-15 %. That would have been the fair system the socialists say they want. I think my mother has a point when she says that finding oil in the 1970’s was the worst thing that ever happened to us. She was born in 1940, was used to having nothing and saw the country develop. In 1948 there were only 48 cars per 1000 people in Norway. The government’s focus was on rebuilding the country after the Nazis aided by the Quislings had ruined it, so everything that was concidered a luxury was restricted, in some cases banned. That may seem like a violation of people’s rights today, but this policy allowed us to recover quickly and by the 60’s a car was no longer concidered to be a luxury.

public housing
These apartment were built in 1919-1921. They were renovated in 2012, but already 3 years later the municipality decided to give up these social client apartments.

This was a society based on one income. I was born in Bergen (population 260 000), but we moved to Haugesund (population 35 000) when I was just a couple of years old. We lived in public housing for low income families at first, but after a few years my parents bought an apartment in a newly built low-rise. These apartments cost between 25 000 – 30 000 NOK, which was possible for a low income family to manage. My mother worked at a factory, and it was a struggle because my father spent the money she made. She would have managed better alone, but she kept the ship somewhat afloat. The same apartments costs 1,3 million NOK ( + 3 000 NOK per month. This is a joint loan for all the apartments) today, which is impossible on one income. It’s not that low income-housing anymore.

You’d expect the petrol prices to be low in the biggest oilproducing country in Europe. I am paying over $ 2 per litre of 95 leadfree right now, but the station owner probably wouldn’t get to keep more than a quarter of a dollar. The rest is taxes to the government. We also pay a yearly road tax of more than 3000 NOK ($ 400). I’d be fine with this if the government used the road tax to build/maintan roads and the fuel tax to help the environment, but this is clearly not the motivation.What infuriates me the most is probably the state broacastng corporation (our BBC). It’s the law that we have to pay 3 000 NOK ($ 400) a year for this relic from the past.

During the 8 years Jens Stoltenberg from the Labour Party was Prime Minister of Norway he talked a lot about catching CO2. They were working on developing the technology at an oil refinery in Bergen. In his grandiose words this was going to be Norway’s moonlanding. It was going to be just as important to the world as the famous Apollo 11 mission in 1969, but it turned out that the thrusters never ignited. The last thing he did as Prime Minister was to shut down this project saying it was too expensive for it to be commercially realistic. While this happened they did it at a lower cost in Canada. Jens Stoltenberg is the present General Secretary of NATO and he’s still full of that nasty stuff hitting the fan.

Education is in theory more or less free. That is true if you can live with your parents or find a way to not pay for an apartment, but most people have to leave their home town. Big cities like Oslo and Bergen are very expensive. According to the University of Oslo it’ll cost you 10 000 NOK a month, and that’s a modest budget. So you are likely to have a lot of debt long before you get ready to buy your first house or apartment, which means that it’ll be hard to get that loan you need.

My friend Heather was curious about the difference in cost of living in her state compared to my hometown. I compared my hometown Haugesund to Little Rock, Arkansas, because we are concidering moving there within a couple of years. There are a handful of less important items that cost less in Norway according to this list, but most of it will be a lot cheaper in Little Rock. The biggest difference will be a house. You are not likely to get anything for less than $ 180 000 in Haugesund, while you can get a decent home in Little Rock for well under 100 000.

But of course there are other costs to add. In the US I would have to pay for health insuranse and medicine.

4 thoughts on “Norway’s fading socalism

  1. Great post. My maternal grandmother was also born in Bergen My grandfather was Swedish. They came to America, I believe, in about 1914, and settled in Superior Wisconsin. My mother was born in 1916 and they eventually ended up in the Seattle, Washington area. My grandfather traveled the West Coast as a chain maker for the shipping industry. My wife and I live on about half of your stated income, but not without Government assistance. It is very tight, but the bills are paid. Best of luck in your present and coming transitions.

    1. Thank you for your comment. An amazing 800 000 Norwegians emigrated to the USA over a period of 100 years, which ended around the end of World War 1. That is enormous for such a small country; the population was only 2,6 million in 1920. I think there’s still a few Norwegians and Americans in Seattle identifying as Norwegian-Americans, and on our Constitution Day, May 17th, they have a parade.

      We are of course far better off than the people that felt they had to leave their country, which was especially true in the 19th century, but we are concidering doing the same. But we are going to try a little longer in Norway, and I’m currently hunting for a cheaper apartment. We are keeping our heads above water, but I’m hoping for as easier swim soon.

  2. In a perfect world, I think a socialist economy could work. Everyone could contribute to the best of his ability and everyone would benefit from the fruits of the joint effort. There would be no extremes of wealth or poverty and we’d all have what we need.

    I don’t know what is the “best” way to run an economy, but do think it is interesting that the Mosaic law allowed for private property and yet required landowners to not harvest their crops all the way to the edges of their fields. The more wealthy Israelites where to allow the less fortunate among them to freely glean food as a means of self-preservation.
    When I consider other OT instructions regarding the compassionate care of widows, orphans and “strangers”, I can conclude that God doesn’t necessarily require His people to ensure that we all have equal incomes; but He does insist that we look after the needs of the most vulnerable in our ranks.

    But of course there are other costs to add. In the US I would have to pay for health insuranse and medicine.

    It does appear that your current income would tend to stretch farther on this side of the pond.
    I know the prospect of paying directly for medical expenses can seem a little intimidating, but it would be interesting to be able to compare the potential cost of coverage in the US with how much you actually pay now through taxation.
    With a lower overall cost of living, perhaps it wouldn’t be as difficult a financial transition as it first would seem?

  3. John, Please consider these questions as brainstorming. They don’t require answers now, nor especially here. Your lives aren’t our soap opera.

    q1. Do degrees, college hours, or teaching certifications transfer from Norway to the US?
    q2. How much does it cost to visit Arkansas?
    q3. How much does it cost to move?
    q4. Are social services in the US more or less bureaucratic than Norway?
    q5. How many months of winter in Little Rock? I lived in Harrison, in the Ozarks, a year and a half.
    q6. How much does it cost to maintain transportation in Little Rock?
    q7. Is there a wider base of family and friends in the US?
    q8. How has socialism or similar worked out in Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China?
    q9. What cultural storms are on the horizon in Europe? The US? As regards race relations, immigration, economies?
    q10. If money were not an issue, what would you do?

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