Should we go socialist for the benefits? Or can we handle the frugality?
Bring on the 12-month paid maternity leaves, the all-access-pass to nationalized health care. Because while capitalism was showing America who's your daddy (in our country, he who has the least morals and the most hunger, laughs all the way to his weekend house in the Hamptons), Norway's socialist finance minister was smugly buying our companies' depressed stock.
The country has a cushy 11% budget surplus, zero national debt, and an economy that grew 3% last year while Uncle Sam was dancing a jig into a 12.9% deficit, $11 trillion in debt, and the recession we now all know and love.
Banks make up just 2% of the economy, and tight oversight means no excessive lending practices. Having recorded comfortable amounts of income from the North Sea oil, Norway saved the money in its sovereign wealth fund; the one that was buying U.S. stock as the markets crashed last fall. The U.K. spent its oil money during the market's upswing.
As a Time magazine writer said (about cash for clunkers programs, which is a completely different topic altogether): if this is socialism, call me "Comrade." Whether or not you'd like to argue about where Norway's wealth came from, to begin with, heck, they've done a good job keeping it. What's more, their people are known for the seemingly conflicting characteristics: they're both frugal and not-so-hard working, with one of the shortest average work weeks in the civilized world. And every strata of citizens benefit; even drug addicts are given government-funded fixes (with clean needles).
Here's the thing: one can be simultaneously frugal and not work oneself to the bone, if one is concerned more about the social and community value of his or her work than its monetary value. America's capitalism has a deserved reputation for being self-serving to the point of ethically devoid greed. And the further we go down that road -- the one where capitalism is unchecked and the market is free (to those privileged and savvy enough to take its advantage) -- the more we're turning to socialism to solve the problem.
Too bad we didn't get there sooner, when we still had unplundered national treasures and a relatively minor national debt. I only hope this can be the inspiration we need to embrace frugality and social welfare -- before we go broke.