Faraway: Get Out of Your World
Government Worthy of Your Trust
Now here’s a citizen’s statement that will seem far off from what we hear in America, “We trust the government. We believe our tax money will be spent wisely.”
That’s a quote from an article that the BBC published on August 27, 2014, “How Norway has avoided the curse of oil.”
Norway is in the midst of a huge oil and gas bonanza, but unlike some countries that have binged on such newfound wealth, Norway has stashed the proceeds away in a fund which is currently worth a little north of $8 billion dollars. The government could divide the whole thing up among its citizens and make everyone a millionaire, however, the people would rather live moderately than indulge in fancy cars and designer bags. They see the value in rejecting short-term gains for long-term security.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
"We had to invest a lot of money before we could spend anything," says Prof Alexander Cappelen, from the NHH Norwegian School of Economics, explaining why the country has apparently avoided the pitfalls of vast wealth. In other countries the oil is much easier to extract, so they got the money straight away. We were put in the right mindset by knowing it was a long-term plan," he told BBC World Service's Business Daily programme.
"For this kind of system to work, you need to have an enormous level of trust," says Prof Cappelen. "Trust that the money isn't going to be mismanaged - that it's not going to be spent in a way you don't like. As a result of social democracy and egalitarian policies it is a homogenous society and has built up an enormous level of trust."
"Norway is in a fortunate position," says Finance Minister Siv Jensen, "We trust the government. We believe our tax money will be spent wisely. Once you start trusting that others are contributing their share then you are happy to contribute yours."
So is Norway rich because of Norwegians high level of trust, or are its citizens trusting because they are rich?
"I think it is both," says Prof Cappelen. "High levels of trust make economic growth easier."
On an island half an hour from Bergen, is Coast Center Base (CCB), a huge support centre for the oil and gas industry.
"I remember the days when there were plenty of farmers and fish farmers in Norway. Life has changed for the average Norwegian," says CCB's chief executive, Kurt Andreassen. "This base was started up in 1974, and there has been a tremendous change in those decades. The welfare is now very high. It is quite different to 40 years ago, many people are educated - things have changed."
As for when the oil does eventually run out, "Norway will survive, but it will be a challenge for all of us," he says. "Our challenge will be to utilise our expertise and use it in other areas."
It's a point of view echoed by Dag Rune Olsen, rector of Bergen University: "I worry we do not invest to a sufficient extent in other ways to generate income in the next decades. We are very well aware that the oil and gas resources are limited, and at least for Norwegian oil it will cost us more year by year to extract the oil. It is evident we need to find other sources of income, and now we have the ability to invest - it is crucial that we do."
Perhaps this awareness that it won't last forever goes some way to explain the second-hand Volvos circling Bergen's winding streets, rather than the Porsches or Bentleys of wealthy parts of London.
Prudence and pragmatism rather than posing seems to be the attitude.