How the Scandinavians got it right and How we can too.
By George Lakey
When I first heard of Bernie Sanders and his campaign promise to socialize the economics of the United States, I thought he was nuts. Cannot by done! Impossible! And undesirable. We are too independent to even want that, and too screwed up politically to bring it off.
Now I have read George Lakey on Viking Economics, and watched Bernie build a movement that gave Hillary quite a scare. I think she only won the primary by moving to the left almost as far as Bernie might have wanted.
George Lakey claims, and gives evidence, that we could become socialists like the Scandinavians. Thirty some years ago they were neither socialist, nor wealthy nations. Their one percent claimed the money, the goods, the property, the tax breaks and their political system was if not corrupt at least tied in self defeating knots. Just as we are now. From that mess they built economies that are the envy of the rest of the world.
The four Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland are pictures of health and these countries compete for the top rank in almost every measure of satisfaction and success. Even their one percent is happy. They have even more money as socialists than they had as capitalists.
These countries of course have their poor, but to be poor in Viking land does not mean not to have a home, not to have health care, not to have education, not to have food. All these are provided as a citizen’s right. It does mean not to have the means to travel, not to be able to entertain yourself as you would like, not to buy a car (prohibitive for most anyway, taxed heavily for ecological reasons). Scandinavia does not want even this level of poverty for the feeling is everyone should be able to live with some luxury, no one should be limited to necessities. That, however they are not willing to subsidize.
They are capable of being tough. When their banks were in trouble, as were ours, they let their banks fail. Lots of people lost lots of money. Lots of good people. The philosphy is that if you risk your money, the people have no obligation to cover your losses. End of story! And the end of high risk bankers.
George Lakey was introduced to this absurd situation when he moved to Norway as a young man intent on marriage. While there he decided to finish his last year of college. As he was applying he was surprised when the registrar told him he would have to pay his matriculation fee before he began classes. Some of the pain went away when he found out that the fee was fourteen dollars. All of the pain went away when he realized that that was all he would pay. His senior year was free! As it was later explained, if the greatest resource of a country is brain power, why limit the growth in brain power to those who can afford it?
Lose your job and the government will care for you while you get retrained to a new job on their dollar. People are passionate about working. It is not a burden, it is a privilege. George tells the story, undoubtedly apocryphal, of the official from the bureau of labor leaning on a social worker to get someone a job. The social worker’s response was that he tries but this guy is a confirmed drunk and after the first week he takes his salary and gets ploughed, unable to function on the next Monday. The system has tried to cure him and he seems incurable. The person from labor begged, “Can’t you get him a job from Tuesday to Friday?”
Where does the money come from to run this beneficent machine? Taxes of course. They are astronomical. When asked why the populace does not demand that taxes be lower, one Viking said, “Unlike you, we get what we pay for.” One party remained in power in one election by promising not to lower taxes.
How did they obtain this state of the State? Their politics were screwed up just like ours. They did it by the populace rising up in mass movements. (Unions being one source that we may have eviscerated to thoroughly for recovery.)
Which brings me back to Bernie. Maybe he wasn’t nuts after all. I still don’t want him for my president, but he demonstrated that a lot of folk out there are ready for a change, and the Vikings have shown that it is possible to turn that anger into working policy. Our government is even chopping away at the problem in small ways. Witness Minneapolis and St. Paul insisting that employers provide sick leave.
Makes a guy think.
When I was a business consultant I never was under contract for work six months out. A couple of times I had three days of work in the inbasket and then nothing. I would have loved to have had the Viking safety net under my feet.
Thirty years from now my grandchildren will be in their thirties. Like I said. Makes a guy think. Wouldn’t that be a present to leave them?
Read the book. See what you think. Its pretty painless reading. George tells lots of stories. Viking Economics Melville House Publishing, 2016, Brooklyn NY.