Two Cultures that Seemingly Work But Wouldn’t Work Here

How does one measure happiness? I would say it can not be measured. Happiness is an emotion that people feel from time to time. But that doesn’t stop the UN from producing an index of happiest countries. One, I believe is called UNI. Hugo Chavez is always touting it because it shows the people of Venezuela and Cuba as being among the happiest people anywhere. The UN has another program which ranks Iceland at the top of its list: United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index rankings, meaning that as a society and as an economy – in terms of wealth, health and education – they are champions of the world.


Back in May of 2008, John Carlin wrote a lengthy report on Iceland for The Guardian. He starts his report with this rather alarming information about Iceland.

Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the world in which to live. There has to be something wrong with this equation. Put those three factors together – loads of children, broken homes, absent mothers – and what you have, surely, is a recipe for misery and social chaos…. are Icelanders happy? Actually, in so far as one can reliably measure such things, they are. According to a seemingly serious academic study reported in the Guardian in 2006, Icelanders are the happiest people on earth. (The study was lent some credibility by the finding that the Russians were the most unhappy.)

The report is quite long but also quite interesting. In spite of the very high divorce rate, Icelanders have a very keen sense of family. When a child has a birthday, all the parents and all the grandparents and all the aunts and uncles come to celebrate. The education of their children is an extremely high priority. It is interesting that the author noted the rapidly growing banking industry in Iceland. This report is dated  may 18, 2008. This is several months before the financial crisis that rocked the world. The  banks of Iceland were in deep trouble. But, apparently Iceland’s government has much more common sense than the governments of the US, Europe, and the UK. Iceland did not bailout their banks and as a result they have recovered from the crisis very well.

The author offers several opinions on why Iceland is such a successful culture. I will offer my own opinions. First, I think that Iceland is a very uniform culture. By that I mean it is not diverse. Probably 95% of the people in Iceland are Icelanders whose families can be traced back many generations. Secondly, their relative isolation from the rest of the world forces them to be very self-reliant. And, thirdly, their severe and unpredictable weather has also made caused them to be very imaginative in seeking out ways to prosper.


American progressive/socialist love to point to Norway as their ideal of a socialist state that America should strive to be like. A couple of weeks ago, Randel Hoven of American Thinker wrote The Norwegian ‘Miracle’:

Liberals  love Norway (for example, see this).  First, it is a European country.   Second, it is a liberal country; it gives out the Nobel Peace Prize.   Third, it is considered a welfare state, maybe even a socialist one.  In  2011 its tax revenues were 57% of its GDP, the highest of all advanced  economies.

And  fourth, and what liberals really love about it, it beats the U.S. in multiple  economic categories.  In fact, Norway is one of the richest countries  around.  Its GDP per capita was 10% more than the U.S.’s in 2011.  Its  net government debt was a negative 168% of GDP.  That is, it is  one of the few countries with no net debt  at all, but instead a huge surplus.

Hoven waste no time in attack the utopic  view American liberals have of Norway:

Let  me bring that down to earth.  First, Norway’s population is about 4.7  million, or about the same South Carolina’s, or a bit more than half of New York  City’s.  That population is at least 98% white, and almost all of that is  Norwegian.  It is also about 90% Christian.  About four out of five  Norwegians live in cities, with almost one in five living in Oslo  itself.

Norway  might be liberal, but it is not diverse.  (The U.S., for comparison, is 80%  white and 70% Christian.  So whites outnumber minorities 4-to-1 in the  U.S.  In Norway, the ratio is 50-to-1.)

Similar to the argument I was making about Iceland except Icelanders consider themselves a pagan country mot a Christian country.

Hoven goes on to point out that Norway’s success over recent decades coincides with an explosion of North Sea oil production and an explosion in oil prices. While Saudi Arabia produces about 125 barrels per year per person, Norway for the last ten years has been producing between 135 and 250 barrels per year per person. In 2011, Norway’s oil receipts were $13,500 per man, woman, and child. What our liberals don’t talk about is that Norway has a “Drill Baby Drill” philosophy. They are not interested in “green energy” and they have shown no interest in reducing their “carbon footprint”. And, guess what? Norway does not have a progressive tax policy:

One  more little tidbit: Norway’s tax system is regressive, not progressive.  The  top 10% make 28.9% of the income but pay only 27.4% of taxes!  The U.S. has  the most progressive tax structure of  advanced economies, in which the top 10% make 33.5% of the income but pay 45.1%  of the taxes.

And, here is Mr. Hoven’s summary of why Norway works::

  • A  tiny, non-diverse, predominantly white and Christian  population.
  • Drilling  in its ocean for oil to become one of the biggest oil exporters on the planet,  and the biggest by far on a per capita basis, all during a time when  oil prices quintupled.
  • Letting  its carbon footprint grow at one of the fastest paces in Europe, a pace almost  five times faster than the U.S.’s.
  • Shrinking  its government spending, the equivalent to the U.S. federal government cutting  its spending in half over 16 years.  Shrinking its government  spending to about the level of the U.S.’s, and smaller than most of  Europe’s.
  • A  tax system that is flatter than flat; it is regressive — the rich pay less than  the non-rich.

So, it does seem that semi-socialist policies can work in small non.diverse cultures. It is not working in Europe and it will not work in America. It is pathetic that the American left can not or will not see what should be obvious.

Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

26 thoughts on “Two Cultures that Seemingly Work But Wouldn’t Work Here

  1. Excellent post! Good job. Good read. Lots of important insights.

    My only quibble is with this: “So, it does seem that semi-socialist policies can work in small non.diverse cultures.”

    Socialism and interventionism, by definition, are economic systems in which the governors of society coerce traders in the marketplace to act in a way they would not act if that market were free. In a free trade both parties always benefit. Thus, any interventions into a free market economy — no matter how few — must result in traders who are not as satisfied as they would otherwise be.

    1. “Thus, any interventions into a free market economy — no matter how few — must result in traders who are not as satisfied as they would otherwise be.”

      I agree with you totally, Sherman, but one might be hard pressed to find an Icelander or Norwegian who would complain about their form of government. However, if the bottom ever falls out of the oil market, Norway is toast.

      1. Take a look at this:,_2011

        Conservatives represent a consistent 25%+ of Norwegian voters. In the latest elections of 2011: “Overall, the Conservative Party made the greatest gains, and the Labour Party also advanced and remained the largest party. On the other hand, the Progress Party and the Socialist Left Party suffered severe setbacks.[2]”

        In Norway, as in all welfare states, the plundering majority drowns out the complaints of those plundered.

  2. I once asked a Leftist — a 30 something — for his definition of a good standard of living. His response: “A two-month vacation every year.” Clearly, he thinks that happiness is a long paid vacation. A bit ironic in his case as he hasn’t held any kind of job in over 5 years — by his own choice! He’s “resisting the establishment.”

  3. They will be in the toilet when the oil dries up.

    Yes, diversity does bring problems, social agitation, etc. An overweening government like ours makes it worse when it tries to apply one-size-fits-all “solutions” to everything.

    Than Hoven is a smart guy.

  4. The comparison with Norway is a bit of a stretch. The US ethnic composition is much more disparate than stated.

    As of 2010 Census the “minority” composition of America is 36.4%, which leaves a non-Hispanic white population at 63.6%. But even this number hides further problems since the composition itself of that 63.6% is quite different than this group’s composition in the 19th Century – the portion of Anglo-Saxons is sorely diminished.

    We are estimated to pass the threshold of a non-Hispanic white population (even in its different format-content) becoming the minority by 2040.

    With those parameters in place no comparison to tiny ethnically-stable states like Norway or Iceland can hold true.

  5. Great post, Jim. The stats remind me of the much published mortality figures when the health care debate was in full swing. I did some research, and discovered much the same as you . In the World Health Organization’s mortality tables, they neglected to account for the fact that the UK was about 95% white in the 2000 census, while the US was about 70% white. There was hardly any diversity in the populations of Britain, France, Japan, etc.

    That’s very interesting about the Norwegian tax system. Liberals speak with forked tongue.

  6. Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world’s oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter century, 20% of the island’s population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US. Limited home rule from Denmark was granted in 1874 and complete independence attained in 1944. The second half of the 20th century saw substantial economic growth driven primarily by the fishing industry. The economy diversified greatly after the country joined the European Economic Area in 1994, but Iceland was especially hard hit by the global financial crisis in the years following 2008. Literacy, longevity, and social cohesion are first rate by world standards.

  7. I’ve had leftist friend point at Norway as proof that European socialism works and we should have it here. Funny how they always forget that North Sea crude… They think the government makes the country strong, always forgetting that its the wealth production, in this case, the most elemental wealth production (extracting natural resources or mining), that makes the big government programs possible. I’ll bet North Dakota could now provide health insurance to everyone… tons of revenue from oil production tend to cause flush coffers.

  8. The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Global Competitiveness and Performance through its Global Competitiveness Report and report series, aims to mirror the business operating environment and competitiveness of over 140 economies worldwide. The report series identify advantages as well as impediments to national growth thereby offering a unique benchmarking tool to the public and private sectors as well as academia and civil society.The Centre works with a network of Partner Institutes as well as leading academics worldwide to ensure the latest thinking and research on global competitiveness are incorporated into its reports.

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