Let’s look at Norway, a tiny nation of 5.1 million people. Norway has a medium-sized undersea petroleum reserve, some timber resource and proximity to the largest market in the world. It also once boasted a booming fishing industry, however, with fish stocks in decline only a fraction of that former fishery remains.
On the bright side, Norway has more scenic views per kilometre than anywhere on the planet.
But other than that, the long and narrow, mostly empty country that exists along the North Sea spends most of the year under a blanket of snow, ice, and bitter cold.
Norway makes the best of its opportunities
And yet, Norway has made the most of its opportunities, ranking regularly in the top 5 places to live in the world, personal income ranks in the top 5 in the world, in the top 5 education systems in the world, and in the top 10 health care systems in the world. In many other measures Norway ranks among the top 10 globally.
How did little Norway, with only 5 million people, few resources, and buried under a blanket of cold and snow for 6 months of the year, manage all of that and so much more?
As is so often the case, the answer is found within the question itself. Good management!
Many nations have more generous helpings of natural resources and opportunities available to them compared to tiny Norway, and yet for some strange reason they can’t claim anywhere near Norway’s economic success and resultant quality-of-life for residents.
Norway overcame many obstacles to get where it is today, and chief among them was bad advice!
At Norway’s entry into the petroleum market after discovery of undersea oil and gas reserves in the 1969, the Norwegians were told that oil companies would leave if they weren’t granted exemption from the country’s high taxation, stalling any future development.
The Norwegians were also told that high personal tax rates would cause a flight of capital from the country and that executives and professionals would flee to greener pastures, leaving only a blue collar economy behind which would require Norway to thenceforth hire expensive foreign consultants to conduct the government’s business, high finance and corporate law.
Norway was also warned over-investing in its health care system and education systems could wreck their overall economy.
And the Norwegians were told that their country was too cold, too forbidding, and too isolated to have any kind of serious tourism business.
Well, lets look at how it all turned out, shall we?
In 2000, healthcare in Norway was ranked by the WHO at 11th position in the world out of 191 countries, but in 2014 was ranked at 7th position by Commonwealth Fund Group in a comprehensive study of the top 11 healthcare systems in the world. See: The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries comparison charts here.
Tourism in Norway
Although the incredibly scenic fjords are unavailable for tourism six months of the year, the picturesque cities dotting Norway’s far-flung fjords welcome thousands of cruise ship travelers all summer and are a vital contributor to the country’s economy. Inland, various scenic driving and hiking tours are available and a surprising number of homeowners advertise bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
Skiing and snowboarding facilities exist country-wide and the Norwegian’s have capitalized on all six months of snow and cold temperatures, bringing a combined tourism industry from almost nil, to a multi-billion dollar level with four decades of dedicated effort.
The Lillehammer Winter Olympics officially known as the XVII Olympic Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. Norway’s capital city of Oslo held the 1952 Winter Olympics.
Norway’s Oil and Gas industry
Norway extracts 1.92 million barrels per day from its North Sea crude oil reserves and also extracts some 200,000 Million square metresᶟ (oil equivalent) of natural gas.
Petroleum profits are taxed at 78%, which nets Norway significant annual revenue. Even with the highest oil and gas taxation on the planet, Norway has no shortage of oil companies willing to exploit the medium sized offshore reserves.
One of the companies involved in Norway’s oil and gas industry is (67% government-owned) Statoil, Norway’s state oil company. It is the 11th largest petroleum company in the world, reporting gross revenues of $723 billion dollars in 2012.
Why does Norway have $700 billion dollars in the bank? And why did it pass legislation to never spend more than 4% of the total in any given year?
While there’s no question that Norway has done well from its oil and gas, unlike many resource-based nations, Norway has invested its petro dollars in such a way as to create and sustain other industries where it is also globally competitive. The second largest export of Norway is supplies for the petroleum industry, points out Ole Anders Lindseth, the director general of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Norway.
“So the oil and gas activities have rendered more than just revenue for the benefit of the future generations, but has also rendered employment, workplaces and highly skilled industries,” Mr. Lindseth says.
Maximizing the resource is also very important. Because the government is highly invested, (oil profits are taxed at 78 per cent, and in 2011 tax revenues were $36-billion), it is as interested as oil companies, which want to maximize their profits, in extracting the maximum amount of hydrocarbons from the reservoirs. This has inspired technological advances such as parallel drilling, Mr. Lindseth says.
“The extraction rate in Norway is around 50 per cent, which is extremely high in the world average.”
In 1990, the precursor of the Government Pension Fund – Global (GPFG), a sovereign wealth fund, was established for surplus oil revenues. Today the GPFG is worth more than $700-billion.
The GPFG wealth fund is largely invested outside Norway by legislation, and the annual maximum withdrawal is 4 per cent. Through these two measures, Norway has avoided hyper-inflation, and has been able to sustain its traditional industries. — The Globe and Mail
Norway fishing and seafood industry
The wild and farmed fishery and non-fish seafood industry in Norway accounts for billions of dollars of economic activity. Exports totaled $7.1 billion dollars in 2009, $3.8 billion of that from aquaculture. In 2011, aquaculture alone had grown to $4.9 billion.
Guided by the Norwegian government, the fishery has grown into a sustainable industry that meets the needs of Norwegian’s and continued growth is expected for fish and other seafood exports.
Summary of ‘the little country that could’
Rather than complain about the cold weather most of the year, Norway took a long look at its assets and location and decided to make the best of it. A telling refrain you will hear in the Nordic countries is, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” That, in a nutshell, is the Nordic mindset.
Indeed, this speaks volumes about who they are as a people. If you want to go out, you dress appropriately. This worldview seems to have assisted the Norwegians to make the most of their opportunities by taking stock of prevailing situations, and responding appropriately.
Norway: Where ‘what matters most’ — actually matters!
Their guiding principles dictate that the well-being of its citizens must be first and foremost in economic decisions, with care being taken to create a sustainable long-term model.
Ergo, a country of 5 million with limited arable land and harsh winter, simply adapted to their environment and their economic environment. Citizens and non-citizen residents are fairly rewarded for their productivity and loyalty to the country, which further engendered productivity and loyalty.
Norway wisely invested in the country’s future so that all Norwegians can receive a full university or vocational education funded by government taxation and receive free healthcare, and many other citizen benefits. Any resident of Norway — whether they’re a Norwegian citizen or not — can apply to Norway’s public universities and receive a full university education free of charge. The idea behind this is that an educated society brings its own economic benefits and increases the dissemination of knowledge to all corners of the Kingdom of Norway.
Likewise, all residents are covered by Norway’s healthcare service, although it can be challenging for the government to provide timely services to tiny population centres of 10-100 people in very remote parts of the country.
Norway proved it can be done
Putting the needs of citizens first, guaranteeing the safety and security of residents, environmentally-sound development of natural resources and sustainable long-term economic models have placed Norway near the top in all global indicators — and that is in spite of the negatives the country must contend with.
Results matter. Ideology does not
Norway is a model that every country must research carefully to contrast and compare with their own results. Which is what really matters. Results matter. Ideology does not matter.
Let’s hear it for pragmatism!
What matters to Norwegians is the well-being of residents and the strength of the economy, and what matters to the Norwegian government are the ratings of respected indices such as those from the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Economic Forum (WEF), credit rating agencies and others.
Norway should award itself a Nobel Peace Prize for Excellence in Governance and Society.
John Brian Shannon serves on the Editorial Board at kleef&co. John has contributed to the United Nations Development Program and to corporate blogs. Presently writing about Brexit at: LetterToBritain.com