Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Norwegian election

When I began blogging in 2001, the world of political blogs was so small that we all lived together in the same, global blogosphere. Since then we've shifted towards national blog communities. There may be hundreds of Norwegians today who blog about politics, and they refer mostly to each other, not to Swedish, German or American bloggers. Blogging has turned inwards. That's a shame.

I just realized I've been covering the Norwegian election for four months without a single word in English. So here's a quick summary of the upcoming September 14 election, for any foreign readers I still have left:

This election has been about minor nuances within the Nordic model of a capitalist welfare state. Norwegians believe they choose between "socialists", "social democrats", "conservatives", "liberals" and "libertarians", but none of the relevant parties stray far from the status quo. There's a good reason for that - Norwegians have it good - but the insularity sometimes reaches absurd levels, such as when Norwegians identify with Barack Obama, whose politics are far to the right of anything that is acceptable in Norway.

My own vote goes to the Progress Party, because it's somewhat more pro-market, and because it's less burdened by the centrist consensus. They're reviled in Norway, despite getting a quarter of the vote, and the international press sometimes compare them to right-wing extremists. Don't believe it. They just want to limit immigration a bit. They're not Thatcherites either. But they could trigger genuine political change in the long run.

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At 13 September, 2009 17:14 , OpenID risingsun said...

I can partly agree with two of your statements: that there are minor nuances in the Norwegian election and that "right wing" parties could trigger genuine political change in the long run.

Minor nuances: yes, in an international perspective. But in a society where the state is as heavily represented as in Norway, minor nuances can make a big difference, thus, small differences can trigger change in the long run. The ideological differences that you dismiss are still there.

To take the Progress party, they define themselves as a "liberal people's party..." whose main purpose is to "sharply reduce taxes, fees and public intervention.' Concurrently, for instance in their health care and educational policies, they promise to create a market of private and public institutions, where every person entitled to care or education gets a pot of money and can "shop" from the different offerings. They will take the money needed from the petroleum income, since tax income will be less. While this sounds like a good idea, it is a scheme bound for disaster if we still want to keep the Nordic, social democratic welfare state.

Private schools will inevitably become a school for elites. The market will make sure of this, despite all the good intentions of a money pot (this cannot be realised if we want to keep inflation down). The same goes for other institutions, like hospitals. State financing of private institutions will force public institutions to generalise, and leave specialisation to expensive private clinics.

We will end up with some elite schools and other institutions in the private sector that only caters to those who can pay, and whoa!, we have a society principled on liberty that in fact will deprive whole classes of equal opportunity to education and health services, two of the most important features of social democracy.

Except for taking things in the wrong direction (for those who believe social democracy is the source to a good life for most people), going down the path to a minimalist welfare state can be costly. This is especially so if we some time in the future figure out that we want the social democratic state back. Social democracy is maybe expensive to maintain, but even more expensive to build.

While a conservative coalition may do limited harm in a four year term, it will have real ideological consequences and costs that cannot be dismissed.
In the most extreme case, we will move away from social democracy towards neoliberalism.

The Norwegian debate thus stretches beyond the Nordic model, it's just well camouflaged.

At 13 September, 2009 17:40 , Blogger Bjørn Stærk said...

I don't think it's wrong for someone to be able to use their own money for a welfare good that is better than what the state can deliver. So if somebody who has a lot of money wants to send their kids to an expensive private school, they should be free to do that.

But what this debate is really about is whether everybody else should be able to utilize private solutions as well. For instance, is it okay for the state to pay a private clinic for my operation, or should those of us who can't afford to pay for such things ourselves be limited strictly to health services that are publicly owned and staffed?

You seem to think that the moment private companies get involved, we lose all control of costs and quality. But it's not like that in any competitive business today. Wherever there is competition, wherever there is genuine choice, my power as a customer keeps suppliers in line, and motivates them to deliver something that I'm willing to pay for.

There's no reason to think that schools and hospitals are excluded from this effect. There is a difference between these and other services. We don't think it's acceptable that anyone goes without them. So that's why the state is involved. But the role played by competition and choice is essentially the same as in any other business.

And so also is the role played by creativity, entrepeneurship. It's arrogant to think that our public schools have stumbled across the one perfect way to run a school. Only competition can encourage the kind of experimentation that, through free choice, leads to better schools and better teaching methods.

At 14 September, 2009 14:03 , Blogger Angelsen uploader said...

Questions to risingsun

Absolutely all parties in Norway, including the Progress Party, agreee that financing of schools and health care is an absolute public responsibility. Is it then correct to say that private production of these public services will exclude anyone?

As a social democrat, and not a communist: can you see the difference between financing and judicial rights on one side, and practical production and delivery of services on the other side?

The social democratic party in Norway guarantee that they will build carehomes for absolutely all elderly people. Do you think it is OK that private companies do the building/production of these facilities? If yes, what is the problem with privat companies also delivering other services financed by the goverment, such as running the elderly homes after they are built?

Do you think that private kindergardens exclude any kids in Norway today?

No country in the world spend as much money per patient and per puple than Norway. Still we have very bad results in international school tests, and extremely low productivity in our heatlt care system, compared to any other relevant/comparable country. At the same time we have very high productivity and quality in the Norwegian privat sector, compared to any relevant compareble country. Do you think that a school and health system that also includes private contributors will be more costly and have lower quality than the public services we have today?

Both the social democrats and the Progress party agree that elderly should be taken better care of. The progress party will give a judicial right, based on the individual need, and will allow a pasient to "shop" as you call it, by choosing the elderly home by him/her self. The social party will only give a "dignity-guarantee". What do you think gives most dignity for older people - a "dignity-guarantee" or a judicial right to treatment and an individual choice?

At 15 September, 2009 05:29 , Blogger Eddieuny said...

Hello Bjørn ... hilsen fra Amerika,

As I write this, it looks as if rødt-grønt has 86 mandates, though my Father's fylker of Hordaland seems to have some sort of electoral challenge being mounted by Venstre (if my pidgin skills in Norwegian are rendering Aftenposten correctly). One question right off the bat is what happened to Venstre? Did people decide to vote Høgre because they wanted a only wanted a check on a possible Jensen government, as opposed to an absolute oppositon to Framstegs on the part of Venstre?

I'm guessing that Kristeleg Folkepartiet lost their seat in Hordaland due to the decreased influence of the pietistic movement in the rural areas.

I thought Raudt might have done better than they did.

At 15 September, 2009 05:30 , Blogger Eddieuny said...

OK, I admit the use of Nynorsk on my part is a little pretentious ...

At 15 September, 2009 16:36 , OpenID risingsun said...

I guess I should have kept my post short :) I will now.

Bjorn, freedom means different things to us. From my perspective, freedom is equality of opportunity positively enforced by the state in some way. A social-democratic state works to minimise the inequality created by the market, but does also see the role of the market in creating value. I believe people should have equal opportunities in entering such a market, and consequently that primary education in particular should not be subject to too much market forces.

Angelsen, I don't have any issues in regards to the construction of public infrastructure by private actors.. I agree that there's a problem of efficiency in the public sector, and Norway uses a lot of money per patients and pupil. I think one of the reasons why results look like this when we compare us selves to other countries is the relatively small institutions in Norway. We neither have a tradition nor maybe enough people to utilise the economy of scale (this relates to roads as well). This is only one reason of course: modernisation is needed, and this is on the agenda of the red-greens.

I'm sceptical to measure the Norwegian education system only by the PISA assessment. You mention yourself that Norway has a good private sector, which is becoming more competitive by the year if we are to believe other rankings. As in the US, I think the Norwegian system is able to produce creative students who can think outside the box, an increasingly important factor in knowledge-based industries.

I am however not arguing that the Norwegian school is perfect, and it should be improved. Maybe opening up for private schools would even improve the public school (but I doubt so). And it would come at the enormous social cost a more stratified society would mean.


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