Norway was recently ranked number one in the following indices: democracy, freedom, economic freedom and gender equality. The United States was downgraded to a “flawed democracy” in a recent index that examined 167 countries.
The constitution of Norway, drafted in 1814 when Norway left the 434-year union with Denmark, was influenced by British political traditions, the Constitution of the United States, and French Revolutionary ideas. Amendments can be made by a two-thirds majority in the Storting (Parliament).
Norway was fortunate to have discovered oil off their coast some 20 or 30 years ago. Today, Norway ranks among the top 10 countries of the world in GNP per capita and has one of the world’s highest standards of living. Norway has been ranked the best democracy in the world for the sixth year running by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a London-based consultancy.
Many other countries have much greater oil reserves, but unlike other nations, Norway has put most of its oil profits into a Sovereign Fund, now the world ’s largest. Norway itself consists of only 5+ million people, so the country needs little oil and virtually all of its oil is sold elsewhere. Annual revenues from the sovereign fund now exceeds income from oil sales. By law only 4 percent of the funds net worth can be extracted for use by the Norwegian government.
Elections to the 169-member Storting are held every four years. All citizens, at least 18 years of age, are eligible to participate, and seats are filled by proportional representation. Norway’s political life functions through a multiparty system.
Norwegians are automatically registered to vote, and 78 percent of them did so in the last election, compared to 58 percent in the US. The city of Oslo constitutes one of the country’s 19 fylker (counties). The other counties are divided into rural and urban municipalities, with councils elected every fourth year (two years after the Storting elections).
The key to Norway’s success is the healthy relationship between its people and lawmakers. Unlike many parliamentary forms of legislature, the Storting cannot be dissolved during its four-year term of office (amendments to overturn this restriction have been defeated frequently since 1990). Instead of big personalities with even bigger war chests, the focus here is on how rival political parties can collaborate on policies.
Norwegians do feel like they’re part of the democracy. They recognize their politicians as not part of some kind of elite, just regular people. The politicians don’t earn that much money. It seems like they do their work because they care about the country and the future. The basic pay for U.S. senators and representatives is $174,000 — compared to $108,000 in Norway, which functions as a social democracy, the type of place Sen. Bernie Sanders dreams about.
Norway is also lucky to have more potential hydropower than the rest of Europe combined. Some 09 percent of Norway’s electricity is produced by nonpolluting hydropower. This is the highest percentage in the world.
And while worldwide fresh water supplies are seriously endangered Norway’s fresh water supply is more than ample. Norway is also aggressively tackling pollution from cars. It has put in place conditions that encourage the use of electric cars.
Norway has long been a leader in offshore oil rig technology. Recently, Norway deployed its first portable oil drilling rig. Science and research have limited means in a small country. Nevertheless, the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (SINTEF) was created in 1950 as an independent organization at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology to stimulate research and develop cooperation with other public and private research institutions and with private industry. SINTEF is financed by the state and by payments for its services. In the natural sciences, reflecting the country’s intimacy with an overpowering physical environment, the individual efforts of Norwegians have won particular acclaim.
Norway has won more Winter Olympic Gold medals and total winter medals than any other nation. This might lead many people to believe that Norway is a snow country only. However, the weather in Norway is fairly mild despite that fact that its latitude is the same as Anchorage, Alaska. This is because of the Gulf Stream that flows north along our East coast and on to Europe and up the Norwegian coast. In southern Norway, where the vast majority of the population resides, the winter temperatures are not markedly different than in New York City.
Located on the outskirts of Europe and with much of its inland population almost completely isolated until the 20th century, Norway has been able to preserve much of its old folk culture, including a large body of legends concerning haugfolket (pixies), underjordiske (subterraneans), and vetter(supernatural beings).
On the other hand, as seafarers and traders, the Norwegians have always received fresh cultural stimuli from abroad. A number of Norwegians have made important contributions in return, notably the playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) and the composer Edvard Grieg (1843–1907). The Norwegian recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature are Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903), Knut Hamsun (1920), and Sigrid Undset (1928).
It was, however, an attack on Norwegian democracy on July 22 , 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik exploded a car bomb near the government building in Oslo, killing eight people, then travelled to the nearby island of Utøya and gunned down 68 young people attending a Labor Party youth rally.
Breivik is now behind bars and the democracy he attacked endures. While the U.S. went to war after 9/11, Norway received plaudits for its calm response. Of course, not everyone in Norway agrees that Norwegian politics is all that great in the first place, but Norway is an amazing country, blessed with resources and doing its best to maintain a world leading egalitarian democracy.
Norway – World’s Best Democracy, compiled by Tor Kjolberg