Norway (and the Scandinavian countries) is said to be very closely to realize the democratic social ideal. It’s a country that is considerably more successful than most other countries in the world on virtually every social metric one can name. Why? Here’s our take on Norwegian politics for dummies.
Norwegian politics is a color game
There are nine political parties in Norway, and In Norwegian politics there is a color spectrum: green – red – blue. The more “green” a part is, the more at the left of the political spectrum they are, at least in theory. The more “blue”, the more on the right end of the political spectrum.
Some parties are only of one color. Høyre (the conservative party in Norway) is only blue and Arbeiderpartiet (The Labor Party) is only red. There are three parties in Norwegian politics that has only green as their color: The Green (of course), the Center party and the Liberal party.
If that was all, everything would have been so much simpler. But there are some other parties having a bit of every color; the Cristian Democratic Party (KrF) and the Socialist-Left party. I can’t really tell you what color they end up with.
The Norwegian welfare system
The governments of western democracies are alike in many ways. But they are also very different, most apparent in national election years when news and public awareness focuses on how the leaders of a country are chosen.
Related: Norway – World’s Best Democracy
Democratic socialism is a political tradition aiming broadly at democratic control of the economy, achieved through electoral processes. This leads to a complete cradle-to-grave welfare plus democratic state ownership of big swathes of the economy through mechanisms like the Norwegian social wealth fund and state-owned enterprises.
There are, however, terms that rule out authoritarian systems, like the state socialism seen in the Soviet Union.
A different social system
The Norwegian political system reflects differences in the relationship between the government and its people. The root of these differences lies in history and is today the most evident data about differences between other democracies.
Norwegian workers are heavily protected, with 70 percent of workers covered by union contracts, and over a third directly employed by the government. The state-owned enterprises in Norway are worth 87 percent of GDP. Of all the domestic wealth in Norway, the government owns 59 percent, and fully three-quarters of the non-home wealth (as most Norwegians own their home).
Confusing political party ideologies
I understand that it’s confusing for foreigners to understand what different Norwegian political parties’ ideologies are. The second biggest party in Norway, Høyre (meaning Right) is the main conservative party, while Venstre (meaning Left) is the main Socialist party. However, Venstre is not a left party at all while the Labor Party is the main left party. Norwegians are forced to have their own interpretation of political colors.
A land of farmers and fishermen
Norway is a tiny country. The area of the country is just 1/25 of e. g. USA. The population is only 1/62 of the population in USA. Across the country, there’s an average of 35 people per square mile, compared to USA with 90.6 people per square mile. Thus, Norway is less urbanized than most other western democratic countries.
However, the Norwegian ‘farmers and fishermen’ are wealthy people, with a GDP of over $70,000 per person. Even when you correct for the moderately large oil sector (which accounts for a bit less than a quarter of its exports), it still has a cutting-edge, ultra-productive economy — far from some states living off oil rents like Dubai.
For this reason, no political party in Norway want to abolish the welfare system, it’s in a way sacred.
The happiest people in the world
Socially, Norway ranks as one of the happiest countries in the word. No. 2 in 2018 and no. 1 in 2017.
Here are some stunning statistical facts about Norway;
Life expectancy: 81.7 years
Infant mortality rate: 2/1,000 live births.
Murder rate: 0.51/100,000
Incarceration rate: 74/100,000
Norway – a constitutional monarchy
Norway has a parliamentary system of government in which the king is the head of the state and the prime minister is the head of government.
The king, now Harald V, officially has executive power, but today his duties are essentially only representative and ceremonial. The prime minister now is Erna Solberg, the second woman PM after the first, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was PM in 1981 and 1986-89. The administrative divisions of the country comprise 19 counties. The legislature is the unicameral Storting (Parliament).
Norwegian socialism works
Norwegians are eager to point out that capitalism run wild can ruin a country. However, the citizens are not against capitalism – far from. But they are indeed interested in building a decent place to live.
The nine major Norwegian political parties, and some smaller ones, shape the ways in which the citizens view and choose their leaders. Politics loom large in Norwegian perception of government, and information provided by government agencies is prominent in everyday affairs.
While the United States has two major political parties and some smaller ones, Norway has nine major political parties and some aspiring fringe ones. These differences shape the ways in which the citizenry views and chooses its leaders. While Americans tend to vote for a single personality, Norwegians vote for the parties. So politics loom large in Norwegian perceptions of government. Likewise, information provided by government agencies is prominent in everyday affairs.
Norwegian Politics for Dummies, written by Tor Kjolberg