Tue Jun 14th, 2005 at 12:50:31 AM EST
This summer Norway celebrates the centennial of its peaceful break-up with Sweden, which UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan lauds as "an example to aspire to in... a world still riven by conflict.” It is not just its road to independence that is touted as a model. Seemingly able to combine equality with prosperity, the nation of 4,5 million is sometimes cited by US liberals as proof that Socialism can work. And the media loves to parrot this questionable line.
So it was refreshing when on April 17, The New York Times ran a revealing exposé entitled 'We're Rich, You're Not. End of Story.' Declared the paper on the myth of Norwegian affluence: "They believe it themselves. Yet the reality... is not quite what it appears."
As it proceeded to explain, the Norwegian population is systematically spoonfed anti-American propaganda by the Socialist nomenclature:
[T]he Scandinavian establishment... serves up a picture of the United States as a nation divided, inequitably, among robber barons and wage slaves, not to mention armies of the homeless and unemployed. It does this to keep people believing that their social welfare system, financed by lofty income taxes, provides far more in the way of economic protections and amenities than the American system.
Such slander against The American Way is why, in a new
World Bank study of good governance
based on citizens' evaluations of their respective governments, Norway ranks in the top ten in five of six categories. Foreigners too are easily deceived, for on the surface, things do appear fine. Norway's per capita GDP exceeds the USA's; its public debt is 22% of GDP as opposed to 66% in the US; and it runs handsome trade and budget surpluses due to being the third largest oil exporter.
There is just one little catch. The people can only dream about the oil revenue, most of which goes directly into a fund 'for future expenditures.' Managed by apparatchiks, this fund's investments are subject to anti-captitalist prejudice ('ethical guidelines') and no doubt, calculated to further World Socialism. At least the $7.8 trillion US debt is not controlled by politicians - not by US ones, anyway.
Unemployment is a modest 4,5 percent only because of a popular aversion to work: With a 37,5 hours week and at least five weeks paid vacation, there is always need for more hands. And while all this recreation allegedly makes these people the world's most 'productive' work force on a per hour basis, what are they busy doing? Answer: They waste each other's confiscated income on the exact kind of welfare programs that made them disdain real work in the first place. And so the cycle turns.
In 1999 Björn Rosengren, Sweden's Minister of Commerce, said on TV: "Norway is the last Soviet state." As a Socialist himself, he should know.
The 'welfare state' affords universal health care with free hospitalization and reimbursement of wage loss during sick leave; free college tuition with stipends for living expenses; 52 weeks paid parental leave followed by a choice of cash stipends or subsidized kindergartens; and on and on. No wonder the UN has crowned Norway the world's most livable country for the 4th year in a row: From a bureaucratic point of view, it surely is.
Alcohol is pricey due to taxation for 'public health' reasons. Junkies, however, roam free since there are no efficient corporate prisons to lock them up on minimum sentences and dietary regimes. The enlightened modern approach - a take-all-prisoners War on Drugs - is not even on the table.
Furthermore, as the NYT reported, Norwegians "drive around in wrecks." Cars are in many cases years old and less than huge. If queried, Norwegians might profess to value spanking new SUVs below, say, the mountain or seaside resorts quite a few of them have. Some even pay lipservice to 'non-materialistic' values, which is absurd; what could be more materialistic than to treat cars as mere utilities? A car, as Americans know, can be a potent symbol of the freedom to get rich and show it off.
The NYT's most shocking revelation of human indignity has to be this, however:
One image in particular sticks in my mind. In a Norwegian language class, my teacher illustrated the meaning of the word matpakke - "packed lunch" - by reaching into her backpack and pulling out a hero sandwich wrapped in wax paper. It was her lunch. She held it up for all to see.
As the paper of record notes, "the matpakke is ubiquitous, from classroom to boardroom." We have personally seen high-paid executives eat them with relish. Far from suggesting a cultural tradition at play, this shows that not even the rich can afford a salad! Worse, on the countryside, food shortages occur with chilling regularity. Every year before Christmas in the town of Voss, smoked sheep's head is consumed in desperation. Knute 'the Gipper' Rockne, who was born there, got out in time.
Will Norway throw off the Socialist yoke before going the way of Zimbabwe? Alas: A Left-Green coalition leads the polls for September's elections, threatening to repeal the modest tax cuts of the current so-called 'Center-Right' regime. The latter, of course, is nothing of the kind. The 'Conservative' Finance Minister brings his husband to government dinners. The former Minister of Commerce, from the same party, pushed through affirmative action for gender equity in corporate boardrooms.
If the future looks grim, the past is hardly inspiring either. It is clear why the union with Sweden was dissolved without bloodshed: With Socialism on the march in both countries, neither could afford a decent war. Nor, 98 years later, could either afford to help invade Iraq. Ironically then, on June 7 - as the Norwegian Parliament celebrated the centennial of its Declaration of Independence - the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Norway's petroleum capital, Stavanger.
In between official duties there was time for a tour of the nearby Lyse Fjord, whence majestic cliffs rise steeply to 3,600 feet. Given luck and good binoculars, Mr. Rumsfeld may well have witnessed a spectacular phenomen which occurs with increasing frequency in this dramatic landscape.
Unable to endure another day of homemade sandwiches, pricey beer, and five year old Toyotas, young Norwegians gather to fling themselves off the cliffs into the fjord below. After saying their goodbyes, they line up for the ultimate protest against Socialist oppression. Then they jump.
Yet Norwegian dissidents now eye a glimmer of hope. Could it be, they ask themselves, that Mr. Rumsfeld's Independence Day visit was a sign of things to come? May liberation of another oil-rich nation soon be in the offing?
Even in a worker's paradise like Norway, it is allowed to dream.