“As a socialist, I have always said that the market can’t regulate itself,” she said. “But even I was surprised how strong the failure was.”
These are the words of Norway’s Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen from the political party Socialist Left (SV), which is part of the current centre-left government coalition in Norway. The words come from an article in the Global Business section of The New York Times, which praises the economic management of the Norwegian state, among other things how it has stuck with its social democratic welfare model through boom and bust.
The global financial crisis has brought low the economies of just about every country on earth. But not Norway.
With a quirky contrariness as deeply etched in the national character as the fjords carved into its rugged landscape, Norway has thrived by going its own way. When others splurged, it saved. When others sought to limit the role of government, Norway strengthened its cradle-to-grave welfare state.
And in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. The government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent and its ledger is entirely free of debt.
The debt free government is of course something the current centre-left coalition can’t take the credit for alone. The Norwegian government has passed between Labour, centre-right and centre-left governments for the last decade. Since 1990, there has been a broad consensus in the Norwegian parliament for a programme of national savings in a government pension fund, to preserve value for future generations and avoid “Dutch disease“. I mentioned this policy in an earlier post on this blog.
The description of Norway as always sticking with its welfare model is another issue, though. Norway did go through a phase of privatization of welfare, for example the schooling system, during the last government, but this was abruptly stopped by the centre-left Stoltenberg administration when it came into power four years ago. Of course this didn’t necessarily affect government expenditure.
If the right wing were to come into power in the upcoming parliament elections, we might see another shift in this policy. Although supportive of the need for government stimuli to the economy, their preferred stimuli come in the form of tax cuts rather than the countercyclic government expenditures the current government favours. Last week’s conservative party congress heavily emphasized this.
(Hat tip to Tromp for bringing this to my attention).