If you have ever been in a debate about socialism, you are bound to hear an argument somewhere along these lines: “Socialism works in Norway. So socialism can work here.” I’m sick of hearing it for a number of reasons.
Most of the American leftists who make the “look-at-Norway-see-socialism-works” argument have major problems with the statement: “The Constitution worked well as a political instrument when we followed it, so we should probably just stick to its original intent in our day.”
They think that’s ridiculous. “The circumstances are totally different,” they say. “Changing measures for changing times,” they say. Yet these people have no problem thinking that comparing Norway to the United States is comparing apples to apples. Let’s put that to rest.
Norway is a very socialistic country, that’s true. It has universal healthcare, “free” higher education, cushy prisons with no life sentences, a very high progressive tax rate, and nearly all of the other things you would expect from a socialist country.
But it has some significant points of departure from socialism as well. For instance, it has no minimum wage. And this little difference opens up some of the major reasons why socialism works very differently in Norway than it would here.
The reasoning for having no minimum wage in Norway is simple—most employees think that instituting a minimum wage would create a universally low standard that all businesses would latch on to. They believe this would actually and effectively turn the minimum wage into a maximum wage.
As it is, companies in Norway must compete to acquire workers in the relatively homogenous workforce. There has heretofore been comparatively little immigration to Norway, so the job opportunities have tended to be greater than the available workers. This means that companies have a great incentive to make their employment packages a little sweeter.
But now, an influx of immigration from neighboring countries in the faultering European Union has made Norwegian politicians seriously consider instituting a minimum wage. Apparently, many immigrant workers are willing to work for much lower wages than the entrenched citizens of Norway want to afford. And the rise in immigration has also soured Norway’s poverty line numbers, especially in the capital city of Oslo. What will Norway do? It’s hard to say. But this new “problem” indicates just how vastly different Norway’s current situation is from ours.
The United States has been dealing with huge legal and illegal immigration numbers for years. We’re not called a melting pot for nothing. Norway, on the other hand, has a hugely predominant ethnic Norwegian population. 86.2% of the population has at least one parent born in Norway, and of the 660,000 immigrants, 51% are from Western Europe. In other words, Norway is not diverse.1 At all. And as it grows in diversity, it will find, and is finding, that its system will be severely strained.
If you are a tiny country with 3.5% unemployment, almost no immigration, an extremely tiny population of people under the poverty line, little to no diversity of opinion and lifestyle, and a publicly-held oil trust that makes each of your citizens millionaires… Well, I think socialism might just be able to work for you. The system itself is not really working. Because systems are measured by the problems they can overcome, not by the favorable conditions over which they are able to preside. In Norway, there is almost no system that wouldn’t work.
But the United States is not in that situation. Our population is around 316 million. Our real unemployment hovers around thirteen and fourteen percent. That’s about 44 million people, or about nine times the entire population of Norway. We also have a huge immigrant population, millions of whom have come here illegally. In fact, we have almost twelve million illegal immigrants. That’s more than twice the entire population of Norway.
We are religiously, ethnically, politically, socially, and economically diverse. This should not be under-emphasized. There are many political parties in Norway, but they generally agree on the big things. There are not huge swings in policy from one administration to the next. We are talking about parties that self-designate themselves as “center-left” and “center-right.” There is not embattled bipartisan “debate” and socio-political rifts that ravage community solidarity and break out occasionally in riots. Have you ever heard of a race riot in Norway. No? That’s because they basically don’t have races there. As far as I can tell, their population is one of the most homogenous populations in the world. And that means that policy decisions are pretty simple. Norway is more of a single commonwealth with common interests rather than a conglomerate of states with multi-varied interests—like we have here.
And speaking of common wealth… They also have a steady stream of money pouring in from oil profits. These oil profits are held by the state and each citizen has a share in the public trust. As of now, each Norwegian citizen possesses over a million Crowns in his stake. That’s a lot. It means the country has almost no debt, and the budget has a surplus.
But would that work in the States? Something like that actually does happen in Alaska for Alaska state citizens. It’s called the Permanent Fund. And many states are very upset about it. They don’t think that the oil reserves of Alaska belong only to Alaskans. They think that, since Alaska is part of the Union, it should be sharing that wealth with all the rest of us.
Let’s look into that. The Permanent Fund Dividend in 2013 was $900, which was distributed to, at most, 670,865 applicants. Let’s say they all get it. That’s a maximum of $603,778,500 in total. Okay. Now let’s distribute that to all of America. Hmmmm. It comes out to less than two dollars per person. No thanks.
The fact is that the free market and federalism (not Federalism) are the very best ways to deal with economic and political diversity. The United States is beautifully diverse—unlike Norway. And that is the main reason socialism will not and does not work here.
If you try to force socialism onto a diverse community, you will of necessity resort to Procrustean measures. You will cut off the heads and feet of overachievers and stretch out and break the spines of the underachievers, filling them with crippling envy and debilitating entitlement. In your drive to unite all of your citizens, you will outlaw dissent and assassinate “trouble-makers.” You will destroy the rights of local populations and force central over-arching edicts onto all the people no matter how many individuals are harmed along the way. You will emphasize the collective good until the only people left in your country agree with the collective will or have been cowed into resigning to it.
And you may finally achieve the monolithic solidarity that is necessary to make socialism work, but at what cost? Look at China or North Korea. Do they have a more homogenous population now? Perhaps in some ways. But was it worth it? Norway happened to be an already more homogenous, very “local” population. And good for them, I guess. That means that the individual will and the collective will are generally not at odds there, so the socialistic means and methods need not be so drastic.
Homogenous Norwegians themselves are generally the ones who benefit from the services their taxes pay for. They might be paying a little bit for someone else, but not at all to the same degree as we do here. Norwegians pay. But most of them feel that they receive services for the taxes they spend. They aren’t paying for a huge international military force or to bail out multi-national banks and corporations or for a huge population of criminals or for people who are paid to not work. Here in the States, a few people pay a lot for a bunch of people who don’t pay at all. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Am I simplifying things? Probably. But this is certainly a more nuanced look at it than you will get from left-leaning liberals here at home. The bottom line is that people need to stop looking longingly to Norway as a model for socialist transformation. It won’t work the same way here. In fact, it just won’t work here at all. If you need any more evidence of this, you haven’t been paying attention much lately.