Commentary: The United States can't become Nordic overnight
Much of the world is laughing at the United States. Dictators smirk because the foremost liberal democracy has produced President Donald Trump. Adversaries rejoice because he is dismantling alliances that kept them in check for 50 years. Europe giggles uneasily as tweetstorms put into question the judgment of the man in charge of their military safety.
To Norwegians, the laughable moment came when the president wanted more Norwegian immigrants. Norway is one of the happiest and richest places in the world. Democrats, having realized that, want to turn the United States into a very big version of Norway. Let me explain why that cannot work.
Last month, a cruise ship with more than 1,300 people on board, including many American tourists, lost power and almost ran aground the Norwegian coast in a storm. After an exceptional rescue by modern-day Vikings in helicopters, the ship's owner arrived. He is Norway's second-richest person and immediately got lambasted. Not for his malfunctioning ship but for mostly avoiding paying taxes to Norway by moving to Switzerland. Despicably to Norwegians, the janitor of a school that became a makeshift heliport during the rescue pays more Norwegian taxes - taxes used to pay for the rescue - than the tax-refugee ship owner.
The sin of the ship owner, in Norwegian eyes, is his lack of solidarity. Norwegians share an understanding that we are in it together: rich and poor, liberals and conservatives, men and women, indigenous and immigrants. You might be rich in Norway, but believing that it relieves you of responsibility to the community is a capital vice to us.
More than 70 percent of Norwegians trust strangers, according to the World Values Survey. Thirty-five percent of Americans do. Because Norwegians trust one another, they are willing to take care of one another. There are safety nets, universal health care and free education all the way through university. Of our year of parental leave, almost one-third is reserved for the father, because he and the mother are in it together.
Norway is no less capitalist than the United States. Business taxes are low, and enterprise is free. But people trust one another's intentions, so business and government rely on consensus, not litigiousness and zero-sum thinking. As long as the United States remains as divided as it is today, where Democrats and Republicans have forgotten that working together makes the pie bigger, it can never replicate the Nordic countries.
You cannot become Nordic just by deciding on economic redistribution or free health care. The United States lacks the plurality of political parties where aspiring Norwegian politicians learn to negotiate their differences. Norway has its share of anti-establishment politicians, but rather than abruptly becoming president, they are assimilated into government coalitions where they learn on the job that the establishment might have some good ideas, too.
The Democrats' new proposals are the opposite of what makes Norway successful. A carbon tax is successful in Norway because consumers and producers, oil executives and labor unions understand that we all live on the same planet. The Green New Deal supported by many Democrats is the opposite. It is partisan, contentious and conceived as a foregone conclusion with little attempt to get buy-in from those who do not already agree with it. In Norway, politics is process. In the United States, it is trench warfare.
In the 1970s, Americans had about the same trust in one another as Norwegians do now. The Cold War showed the need to stick together. Today the government is invisible to most Americans. In Norway we can see it: Our free universal health care and education are visible to all. Those monies, channeled through a state led by people we trust, bind the country together. In the United States, the trust in Congress is so low and the spectacle of the White House so surreal that the idea of government as a tool of common purpose seems quaint.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., might get his revolution and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., her wealth tax. But they should stop using the Nordic countries as a justification for their divisive ideas. If Democrats and Republicans want to learn a lesson from Norway, it should be that we are all in this together. That might stop the laughing, too.
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This article was written by Ole Andreassen, Special to The Washington Post.
Andreassen is chief financial officer and vice president of Anadarko Minerals, an Oklahoma City oil company, and an associate professor of law and economics at the University of Tromso in Norway.