Why Norway Should Help the Rohingya Refugees

Written by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from LetterToNorway.com

Why Norway?

Of all the countries in the world that could get this right, Norway is surely number one.

In many areas of human endeavor, the tiny country of Norway (population 5.2 million) excels beyond all expectations — being one of the first to win the coveted top position on the UN Happiness Index, likewise on the Social Progress Imperative (SPI) an index that measures quality of life metrics, and in many other ways Norway is an ongoing success story.

Norway ranks very highly on per capita income, on the safety and security of its residents (it averages 1 murder annually) and it’s the go-to arbitrator for countries experiencing internal or external conflict. And almost unheard of anywhere, Norway donates 1% of its GDP to foreign aid.

Citizens enjoy a high standard of living, the country features a highly-ranked healthcare system and it also offers tuition-free university education for all residents whether they’re native Norwegians or not.

Norway seems to enjoy a permanently healthy economy with a 2.5% unemployment rate, while the country’s pension fund shows a +1 trillion dollar surplus which is sometimes used to fund government infrastructure or joint public/private projects in Norway.

Because Norway is so advanced and is such a safe and wholesome place to raise children, many European executives live in Norway and fly to and from their EU office daily. Others work the entire week in the EU, returning to their families on the weekends.

Even when compared to the EU which is one of the pinnacles of human civilization, Norway continues to stand out as an example of ongoing excellence in governance and environmental stewardship.


Lots of Global Talk About the Rohingya: Not Much Action

For all the political posturing that has been going on around the world over the past year, nothing has changed for the Rohingya people.

And a year from now most politicians and pundits will still be chuntering on about the terrible conditions in Myanmar where several hundred thousand Rohingya people have fled across the Bangladesh border only to become encamped in the mud, living in miserable ‘homes’ made out of whatever floated down the river that week.

Norway news - Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, August 2017.
Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, August 2017. Image courtesy of Australian Broadcast Corporation

The tragedy in Myanmar has been going on for decades and the genocide in the country will continue regardless of the endless talk among the world’s politicians. Nothing will be done. The Rohingya are finished in the absence of outside assistance.


What Could Norway Do for the Rohingya?

Because nobody knows what to do, Norway will have to set the example for other countries.

The country could build a community in small-town Norway to show countries how to help refugees — a working model that’s people-based — because the Rohingya are human beings. They’re not faceless numbers on a chart.

It’s time for some of that Norwegian excellence to shine through!


FOR EXAMPLE:

The town of Bodø in Norway is a thriving community of 51,000 people. (I’m using Bodø as an example because it was destroyed in WWII and was kindly rebuilt by the Swedes in the postwar era and that part of the town still remains an important part of Bodø, adding to the cultural richness of the region)

If the Norwegian government, acting with one or more investor groups, built an apartment complex near Bodø to hold 1000 Myanmar refugees complete with a recreation centre, an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor ice rink, a medical/dental clinic, some minor food and clothing stores tailored to the specific needs of the Rohingya, and an auditorium (which could also serve as a basic schoolroom during weekdays) Norway could admit 1000 Rohingya for a strictly time-limited 6 month period.

The Rohingya could have all their medical, psychological, and dental needs attended to — and the payoff for Norway is that the country’s future Doctors, Psychologists, Dentists, Nurses and more, could gain plenty of experience in the treatment of those patients during the required practicum portion of their education.

After 6-months, those 1000 refugees would return to Myanmar or Bangladesh in much better health, with more education, and a better understanding about how Western society works.

And after a three week cleanup and repaint interval (as required by facility administrators and maintenance staff) a completely different set of 1000 refugees would arrive in Bodø and the process of helping Rohingya would begin anew.

In effect, relatively small groups of Rohingya would spend 6 months away from (what is basically) Hell on Earth in Myanmar and southern Bangladesh — and also provide a minor boost to the Bodø economy.

Yes, Norway would need to divert some of its foreign aid budget to building such facilities (Bodø construction companies would love it!) and provide the Rohingya with some minimal income to spend in Bodø stores (for those Rohingya who want to venture into the town) and some strong and able Rohingya men might want to volunteer for clearing Bodø sidewalks of snow in the winter, etc. and such volunteerism should be strongly encouraged by the administrators of the 1000-person complex.

The Rohingya would arrive in Norway courtesy of the Norwegian government, be housed, receive medical care, learn basic Norwegian or English language, see how successful societies work, learn about and practice volunteerism, understand the Western mindset of ‘Can Do’ vs. ‘Can’t Do’ and return to their country brimming with new ideas and enthusiasm to make their country better.

Their default mindset will thenceforth veer towards the obvious success story they witnessed in Norway instead of being easily-led to disaster by the military strongmen and religious fanatics common in their home region.


More ‘Bang for the Buck’

Norway can spend 20 million dollars (for example) to help the Rohingya encamped in squalor in southern Bangladesh where it will get very little value for the money — or it can spend 20 million dollars in the Bodø economy and help 2000 Rohingya per year, and thereby provide a significant benefit to the refugees and to the businesses of Bodø.

One way (the typical way countries help refugees) is about ‘working hard’ to help refugees within their own conflict-ridden country, while the way I propose is about ‘working smart’ to help strictly-limited numbers of refugees that have been transferred to Norway.

See the difference?

Years from now when the Rohingya crisis is over, Norway may have helped 10,000 or even 30,000 Rohingya refugees doing it the ‘smart way’ — and that Bodø facility will remain and be available for other refugee groups in the future that the government of Norway may invite for short-term stays and once again boost the Norwegian economy.


A Simple Redirection of the Norwegian Foreign Aid Budget

By diverting $20 million from Norway’s annual foreign aid budget to help refugees (but helping them within Norway, instead of helping them in Myanmar or southern Bangladesh) 2000 Rohingya per year could receive excellent medical, psychological and dental care from Norwegian pre-med students, the refugees could have a rest from their deplorable living conditions, learn about the Western ‘Can Do’ mindset, experience an ultra-successful culture in Norway, learn about volunteerism and return to their own region knowing that Norwegians care about them and those Rohingya will thenceforth find extremist archetypes far less appealing for the rest of their lives.

And that’s a win for everyone!


 

The Secret of Norway’s Success

The Secret of Norway’s Success | Previously published at JohnBrianShannon.com by John Brian Shannon

Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark (collectively the Nordic countries) have a combination of high living standards and low income disparity that has captured the world’s attention. At a time when the growing gap between the rich and poor has become a political hot button in developed nations, the region known as Scandinavia has been cited by many scholars as a role model for economic opportunity and equality.” — Investopedia.

Norway flag
Norway has captured the world’s attention with its high living standards and its low income disparity. Norway flag. Image courtesy of www all-flags-world com

There isn’t a country in the world that shouldn’t be able to match the high living standards set by Norway

Norway provides us with an example that all nations should strive to meet or exceed within a few years’ time

In fact, if we’re doing it right, the stellar Norwegian example will come to be seen as the standard for successful economic policy, instead of the outlier.

But first, let us count the ways that Norway succeeds:

  • The highest accumulated revenue surplus in the world, worth $1 Trillion (held in a sovereign pension fund)
  • Strong and steady GDP growth (see chart below)
  • Very low Debt-to-GDP (see chart below)
  • A #1 to #4 ranking on the UN Happiness Index (varies by year)
  • A #1 ranking on the Social Progress Index (see chart below)
  • Typically a #1 or #2 ranking on the highest per capita income in the world
  • In the Top 5 worker productivity rankings in Europe (and by extension, the world)
  • One of the lowest crime rates in the world
  • One of the ‘least corrupt’ nations. Ranked #5 on the Corruption Perception Index
  • An average 2.5% unemployment rate (except during the global financial crisis where it shot up to 5.5%. Not to worry, it’s already fallen to 3.0%)
  • Free university tuition for all citizens and residents
  • Free universal healthcare ranked 7th in the world (It would rank higher, but maintaining full-service Hospitals in remote regions with tiny populations is uneconomical)
  • Virtually 100% of the country is powered by renewable energy except for some remote settlements where a microgrid (natural gas power) is the only choice
  • Unparalleled diplomatic credentials. Everyone knows Norwegians are among the best ‘honest brokers’ in the diplomatic world making Norway the ‘go-to’ arbitrators for nations in crisis
  • A favorite country of the Olympics committee having hosted successful games twice in recent years

Do you think Norway’s success happened by accident?
Do you think Norway’s success only happened since 1990 when oil and gas began to be extracted off the Norway coast?

Well, you’d be wrong on both counts.

The economy of Norway has grown at a rate better than that of any developed nation stock market, just as it was designed to do. And growth rates were steady prior to the large-scale extraction of petroleum in the country, and remain steady.

Say again?

Yes, you heard right. The growth rate of the Norwegian economy beats many stock market indices as measured over the decades.

Who wouldn’t want to invest in Norway’s public/private investments, in Norwegian business generally, and in the highly educated workforce with its high productivity rate and so much more?

Norway GDP from 1960 - 2015
Norway GDP growth from 1960 – 2015. Source: tradingeconomics.com

Successive Norwegian governments have limited deficit spending to a maximum of 4% of GDP during the ‘bad years’ — and used budgetary surpluses to paydown government debt during the ‘good years’

Here’s what that looks like.

Norway Debt-to-GDP
Norway Debt-to-GDP. Generally, Government debt as a percent of GDP is used by investors to measure a country’s ability to make future payments on its debt, thus affecting borrowing costs and government bond yields. Last updated on December of 2015. Source: tradingeconomics.com

Norway’s success didn’t happen by accident, nor did it occur after suddenly striking it rich in the undersea oil and gas fields

Other countries have struck it rich by discovering oil (or other massive resources) and haven’t experienced the positive outcomes seen in Norway. Where are their UN Happiness Index ratings, or productivity stats, or their per capita income stats? Nowhere near Norway’s, that’s for certain.

So why Norway?

Maybe the question should be, “Why only Norway and not every country?” — as every country could and should be seeing the same level of success as Norway.

Some people might question that their particular country, large or small, could excel like Norway.

But low ambition is the enemy of great accomplishments

If you aim low you’ll surely meet your goals. Conversely, if you aim high, you’re likely to excel. The Norwegians aimed high and succeeded — and good for them!

Aiming High

Many years ago, everyone believed that it was impossible for a human to run a 4-minute mile. And with each retelling of that erroneous belief it became that much more true.

After all, if it was that impossible, why bother trying to run a 4-minute mile?

Yet, one man, Roger Bannister from England, decided that he would aim high and run a mile in less than 4 minutes. And not long after making that decision, he did.

Since Sir Roger exceeded that expectation, many thousands of athletes have run the 4-minute mile. It’s almost commonplace nowadays for professional athletes to run a 4-minute mile as part of their overall training programme to prepare for competition.

Norway is the Roger Bannister of nations!

By getting the fundamental economics right, Norway set itself up to succeed every time an opportunity to succeed, appeared. And that in a nutshell, is the measure of successful governance.

Norway with its smallish, mostly ice-covered landmass and its tiny population of only 5.1 million residents has $1 Trillion dollars in the bank!

It’s true. The Norwegian government has carefully invested its revenues and sharply limited government spending to the point that the Norwegian government may not (by law) run a budget deficit of more than 4% in any given year.

By limiting spending in this way, it allowed government revenues to accrue ‘during the good years’ while the economy was booming, and it limited spending during the lean years.

“But Norway is rich because of their offshore oil and gas revenues.”
If oil and gas are the reason Norway is doing so well, then why was Norway wealthy and well-governed prior to the exploitation of their offshore oil and gas?

“Well then, Norway was rich because of its offshore fishing industry.”
But Norway was wealthy and well-governed even before large-scale commercial fishing fleets ruled the seas.

“Norway must be rich from its tourism industry.”
Yet the booming Norwegian tourism industry is only a recent development.

“But Norway must have been rich because of its strong timber industry.”
The same applies. Norway was a wealthy and well-governed country prior to large-scale mechanized forestry.

This conversation could go on for some time… so let me shorten it up for you.

The reason that Norway excels is because Norwegian politicians of all stripes agreed long ago that Norway should ‘live within its means’ and bank surplus government revenues for use in later years

And it has worked wonders for the Norwegian economy, for Norwegian citizens and non-citizen residents, and for global investors.

It isn’t all about the resources! It’s all about the good stewardship!

By strictly applying the Norwegian model of governance every country could see similar levels of success.

Some people might say, “Well fine. But our country has no resources.”

But every country has resources of some kind. There isn’t a country in the world that couldn’t maximize its resources to match or exceed Norway’s stellar example.

And Hey! Citizens are a ‘resource’ too. Just look at Taiwan’s success! And that high level of success occurred despite it being a land of very limited natural resources.

I challenge anyone to make the case that their country couldn’t excel given 10 years of strict application of the Norwegian economic model

You can’t win that argument. Even ice-covered Norway with only 5.1 million citizens, is an easy winner in the competition for the most successful nation as measured by per capita statistics.

They Began with the End Result in Mind

Including the most important statistics of all — a very high ranking on the UN Happiness Index and the Social Progress Index — the stats from which all other positive stats flow. (Say that three times, to let the profundity of that statement to sink in)

Social Progress Index 2015
It’s Norway (again) taking the Number One spot on the Social Progress Index.

Again, it isn’t about the resources it’s about advanced governance

In Norway, it’s about helping businesses to thrive — while putting the well-being of citizens and residents first!

It’s about ensuring a strong, stable, and vibrant society, and it’s about ensuring excellence in economics and governance.

And that, my friends, is the secret of Norway’s success.

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If Norway can succeed like this, why can’t every nation?

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Cruise ship navigates northern Norway coastline. Image courtesy of visitnorway com
Cruise ship navigates Norway coastline. Image courtesy of visitnorway.com

Let’s look at Norway, a tiny nation of 5.1 million people. Norway has a medium-sized undersea petroleum reserve, some timber resource and proximity to the largest market in the world. It also once boasted a booming fishing industry, however, with fish stocks in decline only a fraction of that former fishery remains.

On the bright side, Norway has more scenic views per kilometre than anywhere on the planet.

But other than that, the long and narrow, mostly empty country that exists along the North Sea spends most of the year under a blanket of snow, ice, and bitter cold.

Norway makes the best of its opportunities

And yet, Norway has made the most of its opportunities, ranking regularly in the top 5 places to live in the world, personal income ranks in the top 5 in the world, in the top 5 education systems in the world, and in the top 10 health care systems in the world. In many other measures Norway ranks among the top 10 globally.

How did little Norway, with only 5 million people, few resources, and buried under a blanket of cold and snow for 6 months of the year, manage all of that and so much more?

As is so often the case, the answer is found within the question itself. Good management!

Many nations have more generous helpings of natural resources and opportunities available to them compared to tiny Norway, and yet for some strange reason they can’t claim anywhere near Norway’s economic success and resultant quality-of-life for residents.

Norway overcame many obstacles to get where it is today, and chief among them was bad advice!

At Norway’s entry into the petroleum market after discovery of undersea oil and gas reserves in the 1969, the Norwegians were told that oil companies would leave if they weren’t granted exemption from the country’s high taxation, stalling any future development.

The Norwegians were also told that high personal tax rates would cause a flight of capital from the country and that executives and professionals would flee to greener pastures, leaving only a blue collar economy behind which would require Norway to thenceforth hire expensive foreign consultants to conduct the government’s business, high finance and corporate law.

Norway was also warned over-investing in its health care system and education systems could wreck their overall economy.

And the Norwegians were told that their country was too cold, too forbidding, and too isolated to have any kind of serious tourism business.

Well, lets look at how it all turned out, shall we?

  • With less than 1% of the world’s population, Norway’s economy has reached 22nd (nominal) / 46th (PPP) out of 191 countries, according to the CIA Factbook, with an average of 3.5% (2013) growth throughout the economy
  • Norwegian public debt is very low at 30.3% of GDP (2012)
  • Norway’s high productivity score, ranked #15 by the World Economic Forum in 2012 still puzzles economists worldwide
  • The WEF also scored Norway at #3 globally for its macroeconomic environment in 2012
  • Norway’s inflation rate is stable at 2.2% (2013)
  • Unemployment is stable at 3.3% (2013)
  • Norway maintains an AAA credit rating with the financial rating agencies (2012)
  • Norway’s entire economy produced $499.8 billion GDP with 3.1% growth in 2012
  • Out of that $500 billion dollar economy, Norway maintains one of the highest per capita incomes in the world at; 492,000 NOK / $79,104 (2013) (PPP) which places them at (3rd) position in the world
  • Monthly incomes for all employees, including male and female, full time and part time workers in the country rose 3.9% from 2012 to 2013, averaging 41,000 NOK / $6592, per month (2013)
  • Norway donates almost 1% of GDP each year to worthy causes around the world, amounting to slightly over $2 billion dollars of foreign aid annually.
Norway personal income chart 2013
Norway personal income chart 2013

Norway Healthcare

In 2000, healthcare in Norway was ranked by the WHO at 11th position in the world out of 191 countries, but in 2014 was ranked at 7th position by Commonwealth Fund Group in a comprehensive study of the top 11 healthcare systems in the world. See: The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries comparison charts here.

The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries
The Commonwealth Fund 2013 International Health Policy Survey in Eleven Countries

Tourism in Norway

The official emblem of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway is a stylized aurora borealis (northern lights) and snow crystals.
The official emblem of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Although the incredibly scenic fjords are unavailable for tourism six months of the year, the picturesque cities dotting Norway’s far-flung fjords welcome thousands of cruise ship travelers all summer and are a vital contributor to the country’s economy. Inland, various scenic driving and hiking tours are available and a surprising number of homeowners advertise bed-and-breakfast accommodations.

Skiing and snowboarding facilities exist country-wide and the Norwegian’s have capitalized on all six months of snow and cold temperatures, bringing a combined tourism industry from almost nil, to a multi-billion dollar level with four decades of dedicated effort.

The Lillehammer Winter Olympics officially known as the XVII Olympic Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. Norway’s capital city of Oslo held the 1952 Winter Olympics.

Total tourism revenues at the height of the global financial crisis in 2009 were in the neighbourhood of $6.6 billion dollars (direct and indirect) and $319 million dollars (direct) annually.

Norway’s Oil and Gas industry

Norway extracts 1.92 million barrels per day from its North Sea crude oil reserves and also extracts some 200,000 Million square metresᶟ (oil equivalent) of natural gas.

Petroleum profits are taxed at 78%, which nets Norway significant annual revenue. Even with the highest oil and gas taxation on the planet, Norway has no shortage of oil companies willing to exploit the medium sized offshore reserves.

One of the companies involved in Norway’s oil and gas industry is (67% government-owned) Statoil, Norway’s state oil company. It is the 11th largest petroleum company in the world, reporting gross revenues of $723 billion dollars in 2012.

Norway Petroleum Directorate
Norway Petroleum Directorate. History and forecast for oil and gas extraction graphic in millions of square metresᶟ oil equivalent, per year.

Why does Norway have $700 billion dollars in the bank? And why did it pass legislation to never spend more than 4% of the total in any given year?

While there’s no question that Norway has done well from its oil and gas, unlike many resource-based nations, Norway has invested its petro dollars in such a way as to create and sustain other industries where it is also globally competitive. The second largest export of Norway is supplies for the petroleum industry, points out Ole Anders Lindseth, the director general of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Norway.

“So the oil and gas activities have rendered more than just revenue for the benefit of the future generations, but has also rendered employment, workplaces and highly skilled industries,” Mr. Lindseth says.

Maximizing the resource is also very important. Because the government is highly invested, (oil profits are taxed at 78 per cent, and in 2011 tax revenues were $36-billion), it is as interested as oil companies, which want to maximize their profits, in extracting the maximum amount of hydrocarbons from the reservoirs. This has inspired technological advances such as parallel drilling, Mr. Lindseth says.

“The extraction rate in Norway is around 50 per cent, which is extremely high in the world average.”

In 1990, the precursor of the Government Pension Fund – Global (GPFG), a sovereign wealth fund, was established for surplus oil revenues. Today the GPFG is worth more than $700-billion.

The GPFG wealth fund is largely invested outside Norway by legislation, and the annual maximum withdrawal is 4 per cent. Through these two measures, Norway has avoided hyper-inflation, and has been able to sustain its traditional industries. — The Globe and Mail

Norway fishing and seafood industry

The wild and farmed fishery and non-fish seafood industry in Norway accounts for billions of dollars of economic activity. Exports totaled $7.1 billion dollars in 2009, $3.8 billion of that from aquaculture. In 2011, aquaculture alone had grown to $4.9 billion.

Guided by the Norwegian government, the fishery has grown into a sustainable industry that meets the needs of Norwegian’s and continued growth is expected for fish and other seafood exports.

Summary of ‘the little country that could’

Rather than complain about the cold weather most of the year, Norway took a long look at its assets and location and decided to make the best of it. A telling refrain you will hear in the Nordic countries is, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” That, in a nutshell, is the Nordic mindset.

Indeed, this speaks volumes about who they are as a people. If you want to go out, you dress appropriately. This worldview seems to have assisted the Norwegians to make the most of their opportunities by taking stock of prevailing situations, and responding appropriately.

Norway: Where ‘what matters most’ — actually matters!

Their guiding principles dictate that the well-being of its citizens must be first and foremost in economic decisions, with care being taken to create a sustainable long-term model.

Ergo, a country of 5 million with limited arable land and harsh winter, simply adapted to their environment and their economic environment. Citizens and non-citizen residents are fairly rewarded for their productivity and loyalty to the country, which further engendered productivity and loyalty.

Norway wisely invested in the country’s future so that all Norwegians can receive a full university or vocational education funded by government taxation and receive free healthcare, and many other citizen benefits. Any resident of Norway — whether they’re a Norwegian citizen or not — can apply to Norway’s public universities and receive a full university education free of charge. The idea behind this is that an educated society brings its own economic benefits and increases the dissemination of knowledge to all corners of the Kingdom of Norway.

Likewise, all residents are covered by Norway’s healthcare service, although it can be challenging for the government to provide timely services to tiny population centres of 10-100 people in very remote parts of the country.

Norway proved it can be done

Putting the needs of citizens first, guaranteeing the safety and security of residents, environmentally-sound development of natural resources and sustainable long-term economic models have placed Norway near the top in all global indicators — and that is in spite of the negatives the country must contend with.

Results matter. Ideology does not

Norway is a model that every country must research carefully to contrast and compare with their own results. Which is what really matters. Results matter. Ideology does not matter.

Let’s hear it for pragmatism!

What matters to Norwegians is the well-being of residents and the strength of the economy, and what matters to the Norwegian government are the ratings of respected indices such as those from the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Economic Forum (WEF), credit rating agencies and others.

Norway should award itself a Nobel Peace Prize for Excellence in Governance and Society.

Nobel Peace Prize medallion
And, the next Nobel Peace Prize should go to… Norway, for Excellence in Governance and Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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