Many a times I am asked by my friends to describe the Scandinavian countries. Recognising that the mind searches for simplicity, I try to express my opinion in a few words. For instance, I find Denmark surprisingly entrepreneurial of the lot despite it being the smallest in size. Fairness and simplicity come to mind when I think of Sweden. But I always struggle while describing Norway in a few words. Allow me to explain why.
Norway is by far the most beautiful country that I have ever visited. Its fjords and mountains carve out an unparalleled dreamscape. With the fourth-highest per-capita income in the world, it is also one of the richest countries in the world. And where does the money come from?
Till the 1960s, Norway was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Had it not been for the discovery of oil in the North Sea, it would have remained so. Today, oil and gas production account for roughly 20 per cent of the economy. The other sectors—hydropower, fish and forestry—don’t even come close.
Did I mention that Norwegians are quite prudent? Norway has managed its money well. All the revenues from oil go in a sovereign wealth fund, which was created to smoothen the effects of fluctuating oil prices. The aim of the fund, as is officially stated, is ‘to ensure responsible and long-term management of revenue from Norway’s oil and gas resources in the North Sea so that this wealth benefits both current and future generations’. Today, this fund, created in the 1990s, is the world’s largest, and is a significant investor in the likes of Apple and Facebook, and owns 1.5 per cent of all shares in the world’s listed companies.
Norwegian prudence is also visible in the landscape of the country. If I ask you for a minute to imagine how the cities of an oil-rich country look like, perhaps glass-panelled skyscrapers come to your mind. Norwegian cities, including the capital Oslo, ain’t like that. They are largely flat with a fair share of greenery punctuating the thoughtful construction.
What is quite noticeable, however, are the Teslas! Norway is Tesla’s second-largest market in the world. You would imagine an oil-producing nation to favour oil-guzzling cars. Not Norway. I called up my good friend Reider, a Norwegian, to understand the mind-boggling success of electric cars in this small country. “Well, we value cars that are environment friendly, for we want to preserve our nature,” he said, “and if you buy an electric car, the annual registration fee is waived, as are tolls, and you get access to less-congested traffic lanes.”
When I thought more deeply about the contrasting shades that Norway wears—for example subsidising electric cars with all the oil money—it didn’t appear that surprising after all. Norwegians love their fjords, mountains and waterfalls, and have used the good fortune of discovering oil in their backyard to protect the nature. However, one arguement that can be put forward is that all their efforts are limited to their own country, while the world outside is rapidly turning into a smokehouse. But well, as someone famous once said, “You must be the change that you want to see in the world.”