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Norwegian roads and swing voters February 24, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics, Political economy, Public Policy , trackback

navarseteIn recent weeks, there has been som controversy in Norwegian media over an article by Leif Helland and Rune J. Sørensen of the Norwegian School of Management (BI) about a systemic skew in Norwegian road building. Their research shows that there appears to be systematic self-serving rational choice behavior by Norwegian politicians, as districts with important swing voters tend to get more grants for road building, and that this affects the social efficiency of road building in general. Read the article (link at the bottom) for more on their findings.

This was picked up by Norwegian media when Norwegian parliamentarians met with Swedish counterparts and presented under the heading “Met by laughter in Sweden”. What the Swedes were laughing at was the level of micromanagement in road building that the Norwegian parliament is involved in. In Norway, every road builiding project is a parliament issue, and Helland and Sørensen have proved that this leads to non-optimal distributions of road construction money.

Norwegian Secretary of Transportation Liv Signe Navarsete doesn’t get the most important point:

– These are scientists that think the country can be planned with a calculator and that obviously find it profitable to close down local communities. There are numerous considerations to be made regarding housing distribution, industry and tourism. We need to develop business and work all over the country, not just in central areas. (Aftenposten, my translation)

The virtues of cost-benefit analysis can of course be debated, and there is a long standing Norwegian tradition of valuing distributed settlement of a lot higher than what is done in economic models. I think politicians might have been over-valuing it, but that isn’t the most important point here.

The most disturbing point isn’t that the distribution of money is non-optimal from a cost-benefit perspective. That’s the nature of politics. The big problem is that there is a skewed distribution as a result of election strategy concerns. That is the point that should be debated, and which Secretary Navarsete is drawing attention away from. Valuing decentralized communities highly is acceptable from a democratic point of view. Consistently bribing swing voters with public money isn’t.



1. Marius - February 25, 2009

The nature of the beast?
Isn’t the bribing of swing voters something we see alot of?
I do agree that when something is proved to be a problem, one should not try to change the focus or ignore the problem, but rather try to address it. But I cannot immideatly see a solution to the larger problem of buying swing votes – I don’t think its a beast politics would want to live without, as it serves a too great function.

2. sverrebm - February 26, 2009

The most important way to address the problem, is realizing it is there. If it is publicly known that this is a trend, it is easier to offer criticism when it happens.

There are also institutional ways to handle this kind of problem, it is possible to move the decisions out of the parliament, although removing power from the parliament might be seen as undemocratic and less desirable.

Another suggestion that has been put forward is to change the rotation of the National Transport Plan, so that it isn’t presented in election years as it is today. When the government presents this plan semi-annually a few months before elections, the temptation becomes bigger.

But the first step is awareness…