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April 20, 2005

Define “Rich”

Bruce Bawer, “a freelance writer living in Oslo,” wrote recently in the NY Times that, despite conventional wisdom, Norway is not the world's richest country. On the contrary, Norway and its Scandinavian siblings just perpetuation lies like this “to keep people believing that their social welfare system, financed by lofty income taxes, provides far more in the way of economic protections and amenities than the American system.”

Hmm. Could be. I really don't know. But I do know that the evidence Bawer uses to support his claims does not seem very convincing. That evidence? Norwegians don't get brand new cars every year or two like Americans, they commonly pack their lunches rather than popping out to the local deli at midday like workers in New York or Paris might, they do not order pizza every night for dinner, and gas costs (gasp!) $6/gallon. Does this mean Norway is not a “rich” country, or does it mean that it's not a wasteful and gluttonous country?

What I love most is Bawer's claim that Spaniards “live far better than Scandinavians” because Spaniards can buy alcohol much more cheaply. Yessir. There's no better measure of “wealth” and quality of life than how cheap the gin and tonics are.

Bawer does cite figures showing that the GDP (gross domestic product) of Norway and its citizens' “spending power” is lower than that in the U.S. That's not surprising, really. Norway doesn't sacrifice the health and welfare of its citizens and environment in order to squeeze out one more point of GDP like we do here in the U.S. You have to ask yourself: What good is that vaunted American spending power to the millions of Americans who can't afford health care?

Posted April 20, 2005 07:25 AM | general politics

"What I love most is Bawer's claim that Spaniards “live far better than Scandinavians” because Spaniards can buy alcohol much more cheaply."

I'd say its the spanish climate and beaches. But if you've ever been to spanish beach, you'd find it full of swedes and norwegians.

Posted by: luminous at April 20, 2005 09:03 AM

Interesting points he raises... the ability to be an obese drunkard driving a gas hog SUV == rich... very interesting. America, f*ck yeah!

Posted by: -Dave! at April 20, 2005 11:43 AM

ONe thing never considered in these country-to-country comparisons of purchasing power and per capita GDP is the value of leisure time. One reason that the US economy manages to grow faster than in the EU countries is because we don't have the same amount of vacation time. How you can you vacation when that costs us nearly a full percentage point of annual GDP growth?

Posted by: Andrew at April 20, 2005 11:55 AM

Oh yes, I saw this article yesterday. Borderline insane. The plight of the Norwegian schoolteachers! Who must bring their lunch to work! And sit at their desk and eat it. Too bad the dumb Norwegians can't think to eat together in the teacher's lounge. Who will bring these Norwegians the glory of lunch at TGI Friday's! Who will liberate them from their four year old cars? Quick, someone call Lawrence Kudlow and Sally Struthers!

It sounds ambimb like you'd better renounce your inner Scandinavian, before you end up sad and pizzaless, with a bag lunch in your hand.

Posted by: washburn at April 21, 2005 11:21 AM

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