Call us Lars and Linda – we want the joys of pappapermisjon!

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.

Why Norway?

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.)

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6 comments

  1. “Norway has one of the highest tax rates in the world.”

    Thats actually a bit of a myth.

    Actual taxes are quite complex in most countries. You pay no taxes at all on the first 12 000 U$, then a little bit on the next etc. In theory it matters where you start paying 47 % from. In practice, no-one who hits the income bracket where you start paying 47 % still get their money from normal taxable wages. In addition, there are numerous deductions that can be applied to your wage slip before your taxes can be calculated.

    The average Norwegian pays 25 % tax according to the statistics (http://www.ssb.no/vis/emner/00/01/10/valgaktuelt/2001/art-2001-08-14-01.html ) The poorest 25 5 average 10 % tax, and the richest 0,1 % pay 24 %. The top rate actually paid tops out around 32 %. People who earn enough to hit the next bracket have other people working fout ways for them to pay less taxes.

    If you throw in VAT, you do hit about 47 %. About equal to the total tax level in a high-tax US state such as New York. But VAT is normally rolled into cost of living instead, every time you see a number that is PPP, or purchasing power adjusted, VAT has already been compensated for.

    1. Thank you for your comment…I am referring to total tax paid (including VAT), as opposed to income tax only and (perhaps simplistically) looking at tax as a percentage of GDP as the basis for my statement about Norway having one of the world’s highest tax rates.

      I agree with you that the higher your income tax bracket, the more likely you have an accounting firm working to keep more money in your pocket. That’s why I really like the idea of taxes on goods and services. That evens things out a bit as long as essentials like groceries are exempt: the more you consume, the more you pay.

      Your comment about PPP is also interesting. One of the articles I read when writing this post stated that the purchasing power of Norwegians is quite high, and in fact, higher than some other countries with lower tax rates.

      A thriving social democracy where the citizens have access to all kinds of progressive social policies and high purchasing power? Like I said, sign me up.

  2. CNP76 · · Reply

    Alas in countries with national healthcare, my career tends to not be present ie a nurse practitioner (and I am not going back to working as a registered nurse). And it’s really freakin’ cold there! Otherwise I am game, let’s go!

    1. miriam · · Reply

      Latitude way too high for this ex-californian… and I don’t think I’d be able to pick up the norweigian.
      Funny, I think about Canada the same way! Depending on what happens in november, maybe we move north a few hours?

      1. Canada is leaning more and more to the right all the time. It’s all about wage freezes and corporate tax cuts and every few weeks some politician is musing about how things would be better if we just “Americanized” our health care…sigh.

        1. Speaking as an expectant public health professional (I’m an epidemiologist) who was raised the child of a surgeon and a nurse, my parents passed on to me a deep disappointment in the way maternity/paternity leave is dictated here in the US. FMLA guarantees twelve weeks *unpaid* leave for the parents (combined, I think) — but only for companies over 50 people, and only if you’ve worked there full-time for the past year. I can’t complain since my husband and I both work for the government and I thusly will have his income while I take my meager three months with our firstborn later this year… but many single mothers can’t AFFORD FMLA; how would they pay the bills? They don’t get the luxury of time off for parent/infant bonding, nor do they get time off to rest (my best girl friend in Ireland made me quite jealous when she explained her employer was granting her 50 weeks off at partial pay to spend with her little one). For a country that’s supposed to be quite modern, the US seems behind Europe and Canada in women’s healthcare — and I do believe that postnatal time off is an important aspect of that. Canada doesn’t seem so bad sometimes, especially if a Republican wins this presidential election and starts slashing at Planned Parenthood and abortion laws.

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