I thought for sure I was going to call this post “Call us Hedda and Olef” but Lars and Linda were pretty popular names for Norwegian girls and boys in the 70s.
My husband I and, deep down in our little social democratic hearts, want to be Norwegian citizens. Not only do we love the idea of kicking ass at ski jumping, biathlon and skijoring, we think that Norway, as a small, resource-rich social democracy, is a great model for where Canadian society should go. We’re also a small (population-wise), resource rich country with social democratic roots – even if our social democracy is eroding at a worrying rate. Using Norway as a model makes more sense to us than using the US. The US is in deep deep trouble. The free market/ rabid capitalism experiment should be declared a failure…it should now be clear to us all that in the real world neither the market is free nor capitalism is more efficient. In the real world, competition is not unbiased and the playing field is more crooked than my great aunt’s hemlines.
Norway has one of the highest tax rates in the world. Taxes are 41% of the GDP. Most of the taxes are gathered by something (amusingly to me) called the Skatteetaten. It brings a smile to my face to try to say it, however poorly I pronounce it, compared to the palpitations I get when I think of the CRA or IRS. Perhaps if I’d grown up in Norway I wouldn’t be quite so amused…then again, Norway has a large welfare state and (this is heresy) Norwegians may not have the same knee-jerk reaction to taxation that we have in North America. They might welcome it as a social good.
In North America, we seem to think that the fewer taxes the better. Taxes are to be avoided, or the payment of them should be delayed as long as possible. This is ingrained in us. We grow up thinking that no one knows how to spend our money better than we do…But maybe that isn’t true. Maybe if more money is spent for the greater good, rather than the individual good, we’d all be better off.
In Norway, taxes are used to pay for public health care, sickness and disability benefits, minimum guaranteed pensions, unemployed insurance and so on. Taxation policy is also used to flatten the economic hierarchy (redistribute wealth), decrease alcohol and tobacco use and otherwise influence social policy. Would I give up half of my earned income to in exchange for free universal health care, free university, the knowledge that my family would be okay if I got disabled and for the piece of mind that when I get old and infirm, and lose my mind (cos I just know that’s going to happen eventually), that my children won’t have to turn their pockets inside out in order to pay for my long-term care? What about 46-56 weeks of parental leave split between my hubby and I at 80-100% of our current pay? That’s right. Not only that but I’d have to take 3 weeks off prior to the due date and 6 weeks after as a minimum. Oh, and 10 of those 46-56 weeks belong to my husband and if he doesn’t take them they are lost forever. That’s right, the Norwegian government thinks dads should be at home with the new baby too!
In Norway this family revolution has a name: pappapermisjon. After every birth, the parents both benefit from a two-week leave and then divide up the 46-week parental leave paid at 100%, or alternatively, 56 weeks paid at 80%. In this way Norwegian babies spend their first year with both their parents. To encourage men to take care of their children, a special 10-week quota is reserved for them. If they are reluctant to take pappapermisjon, they lose the 10 weeks, since the time can’t be transferred to the mother and the whole family loses out. The results have been spectacular. In Norway, 90% of fathers take at least 12 weeks’ paternity leave.
Dads can also take the two weeks off before the due date (unpaid by the government but paid by many employers). It doesn’t end there though, folks, both parents can take a second year off (unpaid). Between the two of us, if we were Norwegian, my husband and I could be home with the kid until he hits preschool.
A preschool that is an enriched early childhood education program paid for by the government. See what happens when the government creates a ministry of Childhood, Equality and Social Cohesion and takes it seriously?
Yeah, I’d pay half my income. If I add up the amount we pay (or will shortly be paying) for insurance, childcare, and health expenses, my husband and I spend almost half our income now paying for those things privately. Add on the fact that we’ll have children going to university (can we say expensive?) before we know it and that the start of the tuition bills will neatly (and terrifyingly) coincide with the time that two or our 4 parents will likely run out of retirement savings, and I see my hubby and I spending close to what we earn and eating cold beans from a can well into our 70s.
I wouldn’t mind paying taxes if I got full value for my money. In Canada, our tax rate isn’t so far behind Norway but we just can’t seem to get it together.
In spite of our high tax rate we don’t enjoy the same level of social programs that they do in Norway. But we have a lot of nifty expensive fighter jets (on paper anyway, I’m not sure we actually physically have them) and now apparently it’s in our best interest to get “tough” on crime and spend all our money, not on social programs that will benefit good law-abiding peeps, but on locking up everyone ever convicted of anything in jail for a really really really really really really really really long and very expensive time, especially as there is about to be a lot of fighting about whether the federal or provincial government will be picking up the tab which inevitably means the legislation will be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Ah…but Norway, sweet Norway.
I love your fjords.
I love your fashion sense.
I love your dominance of winter sports.
I love your various cute pickled fishes (or at least, I will learn to.)