It's election season in Norway.
It's election time in Norway, and one way to get through the endless round of speeches and debates is to view it all as a refresher course in Scandinavian socialist thought. In a debate last Monday, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labor Party – whose “red-green” (socialist/environmentalist) coalition government, now in its eighth year, is expected to lose in the September 9 election to its “blue” (nominally non-socialist) opponents, led by the relatively business-friendly but chronically socialism-enabling Conservatives – seemed less exercised about his country's disastrous immigration policies, soaring crime rates (which are largely a result of those immigration policies), and long health-care waiting lists than about the “growing differences” in Norwegian society.
He didn't mean the kinds of differences that he and his fellow socialists hail as “diversity.” (See “disastrous immigration policies,” above.) No, he meant economic differences. You see, the real challenge is making sure people don't get too rich – and any amount of trampling on individual liberties is permissible when the goal is economic parity. This is socialist thinking in a nutshell, and it brought to mind Margaret Thatcher's famous reply to an opposition MP who lamented the widening gap between rich and poor: “He would rather the poor were poorer, provided the rich were less rich! That way you will never create the wealth for better social services!”
Thatcher's lesson has yet to be learned by Jens and his fellow Scandinavian socialist technocrats, who are preoccupied with leveling everything out even as they strive to expand the welfare state ad infinitum. Their dream society, one gathers, would resemble the picture cosmologists paint of the universe at the end of time: cold and dead, with all matter evenly distributed down to the last atom. Pure entropy! What they ignore is that heterogeneity – economic and otherwise – helps breed the imagination, energy, and ambition that fuel a society's economic growth.
Yes, thanks to oil wealth, and probably thanks also to Norwegians' native honesty and self-discipline, Norway has a strong economy at present; but mediocrity and conformity are all too often rewarded here, and entrepreneurship, innovation, and excellence punished. Only the Progress Party – long despised by the cultural elite (including its purported allies in the “blue” opposition) but now boasting the second-largest number of seats in Parliament – sings the praises of individual initiative, individual creativity, and individual rights. (Not to mention that it's the only party that faces the facts about Islamic immigration.)
During the current campaign, Jens engaged in a cheesy stunt: he drove a cab in Oslo for a few hours, picking up passengers and making conversation. A video of this escapade has just been released as a Labor Party ad. The chief aim, clearly, is to make Jens (a stiff technocrat whose parents were both Labor politicians) seem more down-to-earth – i.e., less different. The stunt was likely inspired by memories of the time, in 1973, when then King Olav rode an Oslo tram – thus winning the hearts of all Norway, where affection for the monarchy coexists with a distaste for explicit signs of class difference. (See Jante Law.) But instead of successfully selling the idea of Jens as Regular Guy, the cab stunt – hatched by an ad agency – only reinforced his utter lack of the common touch. It also seemed to reflect a total unawareness that for most Oslo residents, taxis bring to mind two things, neither of which leads to warm thoughts about the Labor Party: (1) exorbitant fares (probably the world's highest) and (2) Muslim drivers who rape passengers and spy on non-sharia-observant members of their community.
(Nor, surely, did the Labor folks realize their ad would prompt innumerable jokes to the effect that – for example – Jens is steering the nation in the wrong direction, that he's taken everybody for a ride for eight years, that it's time for him to hand over the wheel to his opponents, that it's good to see him preparing for a new career, and that he's finally acquired, at age 54, some private-sector experience.)
The point of the stunt, Jens claimed, was to hear voters' opinions. Why, then, is the ad disabled for comments and ratings on You Tube? Then there's the not insignificant fact that Jens – whose bureaucracy-loving, regulation-happy party led the way in requiring extensive (and expensive) training, tests, and paperwork for even the least demanding of occupations – doesn't have a license to drive a cab. And since (as he admitted) he hadn't been behind a wheel in years, his driver's license is no longer valid, either. His exemption from these rules only underscores his distance from ordinary citizens – and the hollowness of his ardent rhetoric about equality. As if all this weren't enough to sink Jens's stunt, it turned out that several of his passengers had been hired by a casting agency. The whole thing, in short, was a charade – and thus perfectly emblematic of the mendacity, and the consummate elite disconnection from most voters' real lives, concerns, and values, that underlie so much of the socialists' program, not least their immigration policy.
The Norwegian political system is so thoroughly based upon social-democratic premises that it always feels somewhat surprising – and is always refreshing – to hear Siv Jensen, head of the Progress Party and perhaps the closest thing in Europe today to Margaret Thatcher, speak out against those premises. On August 8, under the auspices of Litteraturhuset in Oslo, she gave a speech spelling out the commonsensical – but, in the Norwegian political arena, all but alien – ideas that form her party's ideological foundation. It was, essentially, a half-hour course in Libertarianism 101 – a course that many young (and not-so-young) Norwegians, marinated in socialist ideals since they were in day care, desperately need to be exposed to.
“Individuals are more important than the system,” Siv said, describing her party (truthfully) as the only one in Norway that actually criticizes the system. Liberalism, she explained (referring to traditional American-style liberal democracy, as opposed to Scandinavian-style social democracy), is about “respect for the individual's right to make decisions about his or her own life.” While other parties fight for power to make decisions on behalf of the people, she said, the Progress Party fights for the power of individuals to make decisions for themselves. Unleashing a blizzard of wildly un-PC references, she quoted Thatcher, Reagan, Hayek, Bastiat, Milton Friedman, and Atlas Shrugged (“my favorite book”); she spoke about returning power from the state to individuals and about encouraging competition, school choice, hospital choice, and lower taxes. What her party is about, she emphasized, is “respect for the fact that people are different.” Hearing such talk in a Norwegian political forum is as rare and beautiful as the sight of a blooming flower on an icy winter morning along the fjords.
At the other end of the Norwegian political spectrum is the Red Party, which calls for the nationalization of big, evil corporations and the fleecing of billionaires. Its leader's Facebook page proudly proclaims: “We care about what counts, not what can be counted.” (Perhaps he doesn't realize that Facebook is a big, evil corporation owned by a billionaire.) That leader, Bjørnar Moxnes, is young (born in 1981), attractive, well-spoken, charismatic – and a passionately committed Commie who, as part of his effort to stoke envy and hatred of the well-to-do, leads guided bus tours of the “super-rich” parts of west Oslo. (Last month Aftenposten revealed that he himself lives in a $3 million beachside villa owned by his parents.) On August 12, in a speech at Litteraturhuset spelling out his party's ideology, Moxnes articulated views that, while a smidge or two to the left of the political center here, are – unlike Siv Jensen's enthusiasm for liberty and the free market – considered thoroughly mainstream, and respectable, within the Norwegian cultural elite.
The ingenious thing about Moxnes's speech was the way he managed to turn the words freedom, democracy, and even individualism around to make them synonymous with socialist values. For example, he argued that “it is the individual who has the right to schools, to health care, to a pension....And no society has done more for the liberation of the individual...than...the welfare state.” He took the obligatory swipe at the U.S., sneering that “the land of the free” isn't really free, because it has no government-designated summer-vacation period and no right to paternity leave. Also, while acknowledging that the USSR and Mao's China were “frightening” in certain respects, he suggested that both systems “had their strengths.”
Moxnes's views would hardly be worth mentioning if the Red Party's influence were measured only by its overall level of voter support, which is in the low single digits. But in the corridors of power, that figure is far higher. Fully 70% of the staffers at Dagsavisen, one of the four top national dailies, vote Red. A recent poll of Norwegian journalists showed that if they alone picked the Parliament, the Progress Party, which currently has 41 out of 169 seats, would have none, and the Reds, who have none, would have seven. (And those surveyed included local sportswriters and the like; you can bet your bottom dollar that the big-name, Oslo-based political reporters and columnists, including those at NRK, the all-powerful state-owned TV and radio broadcaster, lean even further to the left.)
I've long felt that if Norwegians were provided with more objective news coverage – and, especially, if the relentless stream of savagely dishonest anti-Progress Party propaganda dried up – that party would take control of Parliament handily and Siv Jensen would become prime minister. A Progress Party official told friends the other day that when he talks to most Norwegians, their views line up very neatly with the Progress Party's – but they don't realize it, because the party's powerful opponents in the media and in all the other parties have so systematically misrepresented its positions, many of them going so far as to compare it routinely to the Nazi Party or to Mussolini's fascists. Lies, lies, and more lies: in such a way do the socialist elites retain their hold on power in a country where the ideological gulf between them and the decent, responsible-minded, and freedom-loving people they rule can seem as wide as the sea.
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