“Gosh they’re rich,” my Finnish roomate said.
May 14, 2009
Norway’s relative frugality stands in stark contrast to Britain, which spent most of its North Sea oil revenue — and more — during the boom years. Government spending rose to 47 percent of G.D.P., from 42 percent in 2003. By comparison, public spending in Norway fell to 40 percent from 48 percent of G.D.P.
“The U.S. and the U.K. have no sense of guilt,” said Anders Aslund, an expert on Scandinavia at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “But in Norway, there is instead a sense of virtue. If you are given a lot, you have a responsibility.”
Eirik Wekre, an economist who writes thrillers in his spare time, describes Norwegians’ feelings about debt this way: “We cannot spend this money now; it would be stealing from future generations.”
I remain doubtful that this economic and cultural outlook could ever take off in the United States, at least so long as the coasts remain wedded to the interior. Still, to those who take seriously the idea that pessimism, localism, and patience should be the foundation of a conservative outlook, there’s something to be said for looking at smaller countries like Norway where culture enables a politics of restraint, even if that entails a larger government presence.