Monday, October 24, 2005

Egalitarian Society

Cafe Lilleborg
In addition to being rated the best country in the world to live in, Norway is rated as being the most prosperous country in the world according to the United Nations. The source of this prosperity is of course North Sea oil. Norway is the third largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Yet Norway has the worlds most expensive petrol. You would think that with all this prosperity Norwegians would be enjoying a low cost subsidised lifestyle instead of the highest cost of living in Europe. Why? Well apparently the prudent politicians are saving up for the day that North Sea oil runs out. The fund currently stands at £103 billion equal to £22,000 per Norwegian citizen. Sounds a lot but it amounts to less than 6 months salary for the average citizen. Mind you it is a damn sight more than the British Government has salted away on behalf of its citizens.

Another contributory factor to Norway’s high rating is its egalitarian society and generous welfare system. Following 5 years of Nazi occupation egalitarianism was considered by the people to be the way forward. It is the equality in society that makes Norway attractive to Norwegians not to mention the burgeoning numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers. In society where few people are desperately poor and overt wealth is frowned upon it may come as a surprise to discover that a bus driver earns a similar salary to a Doctor, around £2000 per month. Visitors to Oslo may find it a bit hard to believe that there are not rather fatter salaries around from the number of BMW’s, Mercs and Range Rovers to be seen on the streets.

Norwegians are frequently asked how they survive the high cost of living in a country where beer cost over a fiver a pint and petrol costs nearly as much as computer printer ink! The answer may have something to do with the fact that most do not have to pay out for private pensions, health insurance and choose to send their children to state schools. They don’t spend much on food if the absence of fat Norwegians is anything to go by. They seem to cycle everywhere despite the hilly terrain of much of Oslo and spend the weekends cross country skiing.. This may have something to do with why the population includes a large proportion of healthy octogenarians. At the other end of the scale mums enjoy 10 months maternity leave on full pay or 12 months on 80% pay. On a topical UK note, dads can share this leave on a pro rata basis. Incidentally you have to be 67 before you get your pension which is equivalent to two thirds of your highest salary.

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