Jacob Bomann-Larsen: Report from Norway - Fall 2013

During the last months, most of the public discussion in Norway has been concentrated on our national election of members of Parliament and the establishing of a new national government. I shall in this report analyze the election and the new government with my LEF lenses.

I am trying to promote the New Economy/Living Economies framework in the Scandinavian countries and with a main focus on Norway. The framework I am working for is in bullet points an economy that promotes:

  • High quality of life
  • Ecological balance
  • Equitable distribution
  • Money systems that are helpful to all people, not just a few
  • Real democracy (including economic democracy)
  • Decision making at the lowest meaningful level
  • Balanced trade
  • Networks of strong local living economies that work as subsystems of their local ecosystems
  • Replacing financial indicators with new indicators that measure the health of people and nature as  the basis for evaluating economic performance
  • New global rules and institutions that promote the bullet points above

In this regard, this is some of what I have been doing lately and plan to do:

  • Since the summer 2013 I have given three talks about the New Economy framework to Nordic meetings with participants from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. I have also given several talks at other meetings, and I have written some newspaper articles.
  • Erik Dammann was the founder of the largest sustainability organization in Norway, called the Future In Our Hands. Erik is now writing a book on paradigm shifts. In that connection I sent him David’s articles Defining the New Development Paradigm and Sacred Earth (draft). He was very pleased to receive them. I guess they will have an impact on his writing.
  • I had a conversation with Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (in a small country that may happen) about the need for starting a public debate on how to maintain or ensure a stabilized economy without being dependent on further material consumption growth for ensuring and maintaining that stability.
  • I have written a review of three new Danish books on sustainable development, including Ross Jackson’s book Occupy World Street. A Danish version of that book has just been published. Ross will give a talk in the region where I live next year.
  • David, I am so glad that Ross now is taking up again my earlier proposal to discuss whether the proposals for new international institutions proposed in Occupy World Street and in Alternatives to Economic Globalization can be developed into one common and improved proposal which the worldwide Sacred Earth Community can promote in concerted efforts. I just received a copy of the mail Ross sent you today.
  • I have written a paper where I compare the basic conditions for a market economy to function socially efficient with the socially inefficient way modern capitalism is functioning. The paper is in particular inspired by David’s book The Post-Corporate World, Chapter 2. I have tested the paper among very different people – with great response. To mention three examples: One very old lady who probably is voting for the Christian Democratic Party, one of the top executives in a big Nordic Private Equity company who I guess might vote Conservative at an election, and people from the radical left (something between the Red Party and the Socialist Left Party) who say they want to publish my paper on their web site and spread it through social media. The one from the Nordic Private Equity company has now for the second time invited me out for a meal and a conversation about the New Economy perspectives.
  • Some women have invited me for lunch together with their husbands - in Stavanger which is the ‘oil capital’ of Norway. The reason is that their husbands are some of the richest people in Norway, owners of big companies and central players in the ‘oil game’. The women think their husbands are too cynical and narrow-minded. They have asked me to come and challenge their husbands with the New Economy perspectives. This is at least the way I have understood their invitation. The lunch will take place later on this month.
  • Modern capitalism has monopolized the use and understanding of a number of economic words and concepts that give positive associations to people; like free trade, economic growth, value creation, capital, income, need satisfaction, development etc. These words are most often viewed and discussed in monetary terms. Many people have asked me to write articles where I discuss what such economic words may mean if we see them in the light of ecology, equitable distribution and high quality of life, where money and profit are not ends but just means to achieve non-monetary ends. My intention is to do that.
  • In September I was in Bergen to celebrate the 45 years anniversary for the students starting studying at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in 1968. When we graduated most students started their career making a lot of money. I started working for the movement The Future In Our Hands which wanted a development that put people and nature before money. At that time I got the impression that most of the other students thought that my choice of work was quite odd and hopeless. But now after 45 years I experienced at this year’s celebration that my New Economy perspectives were exactly what my fellow students now wanted to discuss. Among them were a former Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs and a former CEO of the Norwegian state oil company Statoil. Now I was not considered strange and odd, but treated with respect. The times they are a-changin’.
  • I held recently a talk about the New Economy framework in the local church where I am now living. Some of my main points were that Norway should take the initiative for a new path of development for a better world, that our local region could be in the lead in such a process, that the church based on its ethics and the teaching of Christ should be a driving force in such a process, and that we could start in our local church. The talk was very well received. So we shall see how much capacity we have locally to follow this up.
  • In a separate mail I forward a copy of an interview the biggest business newspaper in Norway recently had with Reynir Indahl. He is the CEO of the Norwegian branch of a big Nordic private equity company. In the interview he criticizes the finance sector for being too big and for getting far too much of the profit generated in the economy. The interview is in Norwegian, but you may guess to some extent what it is about from some of the terminology. As is mentioned in the interview he has a “Baker Scholar” MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor degree in finance from Wharton. Since he was so brave that he strongly criticized the finance sector publicly, I sent him a preliminary version of the article on the neoliberal project I am working on. He replied that he agreed 100 per cent with what I had written, and then he invited me to dinner to discuss it further. He already knew my eldest son Andreas, who is also in the finance business. So he invited him as well. During the dinner he told me that it was his impression that gradually but slowly more and more people in the finance business are waking up feeling something is wrong. I gave him a copy of David’s book Agenda for a New Economy with David’s original signature in it. I also gave him a copy of This Changes Everything. He was very pleased to receive the books. And then Reynir told me to my great surprise that he had already read all David’s books!

Now, with the New Economy/Living Economies framework lenses, I shall give my personal view of the political situation in Norway after the national election.

Former US ambassador to Norway, democrat Barry White from Boston, said this year to a Norwegian newspaper that all the political parties in Norway would easily fit into the US Democratic Party. The Norwegians don’t know what “extreme right wings” means, he said. Compared to American political debate he said he had difficulties in seeing any real difference between the political parties in Norway. A well known Norwegian politician is famous in Norway for having said: “We are all social democrats”.

There are 9 political parties in Norway with much or some influence on the public debate and decision making. In addition there are a number of very small parties with very little if any influence on the broad public debate. Mentioned from the very right to the very left these 9 parties are as follows (the percentage of total votes in the national election 2013 is given in brackets):

  • Progress Party (primarily a right-wing libertarian party) (16.3 %)
  • Conservative Party (26.8 %)
  • Christian Democratic Party (5.6 %)
  • Liberal Party (a centrist and social liberal party) (5.2 %)
  • Green Party (2.8 %)
  • Centre Party (strongly skeptic to the European Union, serves primarily the interests of farmers and people in rural areas) (5.5 %)
  • Labor Party(primarily a social democratic party) (30.8 %)
  • Socialist Left Party (a democratic socialist party) (4.1 %)
  • Red Party (a marxist political party of the radical left) (1.1 %)


The political parties and New Economy perspectives             

Traditionally those parties least interested in the New Economy perspectives have been the Progress Party and the Conservative Party, but also to a great degree the Labor Party. The Labor Party is split in this respect.

The following is an example which indicates which parties seem to be most interested in New Economy perspectives: In the early 1980s my colleagues and I worked to get the Parliament finance a big research project on the possibilities of starting a development in the Scandinavian countries where social and ecological values were given higher priority than financial values. We managed to get a majority in Parliament to support this. All the political parties on the list above - apart from the Progress Party and the Conservative Party - supported the project which was called the Alternative Future Project. (The Green Party did not exist at that time. It was established in 1988). The Parliament financed the project every year during the 1980s with the equivalent of ½ - 1 million USDollar per year. That was a lot for a humanistic research project in Norway at that time.

For the last eight years we have had a Red-green coalition government between the Labor Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party. Many “greens” are very disappointed with what they achieved on “sustainability and green issues” during those eight years. In particular their oil policy with an oil- and energy minister from the Centre Party was considered terrible. I was working inside the government bureaucracy most of those eight years and I can confirm this view. After the election this fall we have got a Blue-blue coalition government consisting of the Conservative Party and the Progress Party. Many “greens” are afraid that this will be even worse. Personally my attitude is that it does not help very much to be disappointed even if there is good reason for it. We must develop strategies in relation to the new situation. So I try to find ways of developing a dialogue with the new government. For example the new Minister of the Environment from the Conservative Party is an old colleague of mine from a project we worked on together in the 1990s. So I know that minister personally. That may help a little bit. The Blue-blue government says in its opening declaration that it will work for a policy that make it possible to deliver our planet to our children and grand children in an at least as good condition as we received it. That is something to regularly remind the government of.

Below is some more information and reflections on the various political parties. I start with the biggest parties and end with the smallest ones.

The Labor Party

Looking at the period from the end of the Second World War till today the Labor Party has always been the biggest party in Norway and still is. Altogether there has been a Labor Party government for about 35 years since 1945. In addition, for the last 8 years there has been a coalition government consisting of the Labor Party, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party. They called themselves the Red-green government. That coalition lost the election this fall to a new Blue-blue coalition government.

Even if the Labor Party still is the biggest party and their support has gone up and down, the long term trend is that they have steadily lost support. The support for the Labor Party peaked at the election in 1969 with 46.5 per cent of the votes, dropped to 24.3 per cent in 2001 and at this year’s election got 30.8 per cent of the votes. The Labor Party has traditionally been a pro-material growth party, concentrating on creating working places, workers’ rights, increasing the purchasing power and material standard of living for most Norwegians. The Labor party is pro-European Union and gradually more and more in favor of policies that benefit the corporate globalism and the finance world. The Labor Party has by most Norwegian environmentalists, despite its occasional rhetoric, been considered as not taking ‘sustainable development’ seriously in its practical policy – even if one of its prime ministers later became the leader of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Mrs. Gro Harlem Brundtland. It is telling for the Labor Party that it’s prime minister until October this year, Jens Stoltenberg, said earlier this year that Norway has during the period of his government set new world record in wealth growth. Never has any society in the history of mankind produced such a big cake of stuff per person as we have and with almost equal pieces of cake to each Norwegian. What he did not mention was that that was a reasonable equitable distribution of the cake between the richest people in the world. He did not mention the people in the rest of the world. And this terrible statement came from the same prime minister who acted in such an impressive fine way after the 22. July massacre in 2011. The Labor Party seems to be very good at satisfying peoples’ material need and greed. More and cheaper food, gasoline, bread and circus. But they are not so good at increasing peoples’ quality of life, and that is what we need now. They are good at heating up the room when it is too cold for the people in the room. But they are not good at knowing when it is warm enough to make it pleasant to be in the room. When it gets too warm, it becomes unpleasant. Then economic growth becomes uneconomic growth. The cost of growth outgrows the benefit of growth. To do something with this I think is a great challenge to the Labor Party for the next election in 2017.  The Labor Party’s Youth Organization seems more open for the New Economy perspectives. I have some contacts there, and before I started working as a civil servant for the national government in 1997 I was invited several times by this youth organization to talk about New Economy relevant issues. If the Red-green coalition plan to run for government at the next election in 2017 I would suggest that they change their name from Red-green to Green-red. There won’t be much riches to be distributed equitably if the bases for producing the riches are depleted.

I have been invited by the parliamentary leader of the Labor Party to come to his office in the Parliament to discuss the New Economy perspectives seriously. A similar invitation I have received from one of the most influential trade unionists in Norway. It is interesting, hopefully important and a bit surprising that such an influential trade unionist has shown such a positive attitude, because trade unions in Norway have traditionally been very purchasing power and materially oriented in what they focus on. There has traditionally been a strong relation between the trade unions and the Labor Party. I shall soon follow up these two invitations.

The Conservative Party

I started my “political” career as a member of the Conservative Party’s Youth Organization when I was a teenager. Since then I have never been a member of any party political organization. I decided instead to choose a cross-party approach so that I freely could develop good contacts with people in all the parties.

Traditionally the Conservative Party has generally not been in front when it comes to New Economy thinking and policies. There has traditionally been a certain difference between value conservatives and trade liberalists. During the last decades I think the trade liberalists have gained influence at the expense of the value conservatives.

The Conservative Party was the clear winner of the national election this fall. This party has the new female prime minister whose name is Mrs. Erna Solberg. As far as New Economy perspectives are concerned I cannot yet comment on her attitude.

But a former prime minister from the Conservative Party, Mr. Kåre Willoch, participated in the panel when David Korten made his talk in Oslo in 1998 where there were around 700 people in the audience. Willoch has expressed sympathy with David’s ideas and analyses, and most people think he has changed his thinking and attitude since his days as a prime minister.

The Centre for New Economy in Norway which I was running in the early 1990s did receive funding from a majority of the parties in Parliament – including the Conservative Party.

A White Paper to the Parliament of 2002-2003 which the Minister of Foreign Affairs from the Conservative Party was responsible for, refers to UNEP’s report Global Environmental Outlook 2000 which states that the resource consumption level in industrial countries must be reduced down to 10 per cent of the (then) present level if sufficient resources shall be made available to satisfy the needs of the poor countries in a sustainable way. The White Paper goes on stating that the people of the industrial countries must prepare for a situation where further growth in their quality of life must take place with a considerably lower resource consumption than today. It also says that this means that children and young people at an early age must be taught what a sustainable consumption pattern means, and this makes demands on what values society is spreading to people.

The above mentioned message in this White Paper is interesting as something to challenge the new Blue-blue government to follow up. Also now the Conservative Party has the (new) Minister of Foreign Affairs. He could be challenged on following up the above mentioned White Paper.

So there are certain starting points for developing a New Economy dialogue with the Conservative Party in the new government. I also know personally the new Minister of the Environment.

If we look at the long term trends for the Conservative Party we see that it got 21.1 per cent of the votes at the election in 1965, peaked at the election in 1981 with 31.7 per cent of the votes, fell down to 14.3 per cent in 1997 and rose to 26.8 per cent at this year’s election.

The Progress Party

Many people do not think this party lives up to its name. They think it is not progressive. On the contrary. The party has never been known for being much interested in the environment, the climate or New Economy issues. They have been for reduced taxes, privatization of public institutions, cheaper products, strict immigration policy etc. They have been strongly against big government and bureaucracy, but they have never been equally aware of the dangers of big business and private bureaucracy and private central planning. The party has been considered by most others as fairly wild and unpredictable. But after the national election this fall they have formed the new government together with the Conservative Party. And surprisingly quickly the ministers from the Progress Party have become cultivated and civilized in the way they are talking and acting compared to the impression they gave before the election.

The support of the Progress Party has steadily been growing from 5.0 per cent in 1965 to a peak in 2009 with 22.9 per cent. They got 16.3 per cent at this year’s election. The supporters of this party are about 65 per cent men and 35 per cent women. Relatively few of the supporters have higher education and relatively few work in government offices.

The Christian Democratic Party

This party is generally very positive to New Economy perspectives and it is easy to get into dialogue with them. When I worked as a bureaucrat for the government and tried to promote New Economy perspectives there I found it easiest to get good response from the Ministers coming from this party. The Youth organization of this party is generally also very positive to New Economy perspectives. I know personally many of the key politicians in this party.

The Christian Democratic Party has a strategic role in Parliament. It was invited to be part of the new government, but after some discussion it decided not to be part of the government, at least not now. But it promised to support the government (which consists of the Conservative Party and the Progress Party) – which does not have a majority in Parliament alone - provided the government does not go for a policy that the Christian Democratic Part cannot accept.

The support for this party has varied between 12 and 5 per cent of the voters. At the election this fall they got 5.6 per cent of the voters. This small party can press the government politically because the Christian Democratic Party (or the Liberal Party) is needed to give the government majority in Parliament for its policy.

The Centre Party

The Centre Party is traditionally the farmers’ party. It serves primarily the interests of farmers and people in rural areas. It is strongly opposed to Norwegian membership in the EU. It was one of the member parties of the Red-green government which lost the election this year. The party is generally quite open to and interested in New Economy perspectives. There are certain conflicts or tensions in the party. There is a tension between small farmers and big farmers, organic farming and chemical farming. The strongest tension the last few years has been between my close neighbor, Per Olaf Lundteigen, who is a member of Parliament and Ola Borten Moe who was the Centre Party’s oil and energy minister in the Red-green government. Lundteigen whom I often have long talks with either in his or my home is in my opinion one of the most knowledgeable members of Parliament and perhaps the one who understands the New Economy perspectives best. On the other hand oil minister Moe was considered by most “greens” in Norway to be totally crazy. They had the impression that he wanted to pump up as much oil as possible as soon as possible. That was the totally opposite of what Lundteigen from the same party wanted.

The Centre Party has traditionally been part of centre alliance in Norwegian politics together with the Christian Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. The support for the Centre Party has varied from about 5 per cent of the voters to about 10 percent, and with a rare peak in 1993 with 14.6 per cent support. That was just before we had a EU-membership referendum in 1994 when the Norwegian voted no to Norwegian EU-membership. At the election this year the Centre Party won 5.5 per cent of the votes.

The Liberal Party

The Liberal Party has traditionally been part of the centre alliance together with the Christian Democratic Party and the Centre Party. It has traditionally been more environmentally concerned than most of the other parties, and it seems to be relatively open to New Economy perspectives. It calls itself a social liberal party. It is not dogmatic, rather pragmatic. It is positive to a market economy but sees the need for regulating it. The Liberal Party was invited together with the Christian Democratic Party to be part of Erna Solberg’s new Blue-blue government. But the Liberal Party decided also not to be part of the government (just like the Christian Democratic Party), but to support in general the government provided it does not go for policies which the Liberal Party cannot accept.

Since 1973 the liberal Party’s support has varied from around 3 to around 5 per cent. In this year’s election the party won 5.2 of the votes. The Liberal Party is the party with relatively most academics as supporters.

The Socialist Left Party

This party was established early in the 1960s when a group of members of the Labor Party broke out of the Labor Party and formed a new party (called Socialist People Party) mainly because of disagreement with the Labor Party’s positive attitude to the Norwegian membership in NATO. In 1973 the party joined with others and the party name was changes to Socialist Left Party. The support of the party did first grow from 4.5 per cent in 1973 to its peak at 12.4 per cent in 2001. In that period the party was in opposition in Parliament. From 2001 to 2013 it systematically lost support from 12.4 per cent to 4.1 per cent in 2013. The last 8 of those years the party was part of the Red-green government. It is a general understanding that the party did not achieve very much as a part of the government. At least not much that most people are aware of. The party was clearly one of the losers in this year’s election.

The Socialist Left Party has quite many academics as supporters and contributors. Some are quite socialist and Marxist dogmatics but many are open-minded and positive to New Economy perspectives. I know many of them and have contact with some key people in the party. A clear majority of the supporters of this party is women.

The Green Party

The Green Party was established in 1988 and has for more than twenty years been supported by about 0.5 per cent of the voters. But in this year’s election the Green Party won as much as 2.8 per cent of the voters and got one member in Parliament for the very first time. If the party had won 3.5 – 4 per cent of the voters it could have ended up with as much as 10 members of Parliament (there are 169 members of Parliament all together). A clear majority of the supporters of the Green Party is women. This success for the Green Party was considered of such significance that it was talked about all over the country. Did it mean that some profound change is under development?

I was invited last year by the Green Party to send them some New Economy information because they were going to rewrite their party program. I sent over a lot of New Economy information and I can see that some of it has come into the program. During the last year I have also given a number of New Economy talks to various Green Party groups. An old friend and colleague of mine has written a very good ‘green economy’ book and we have agreed that we shall cooperate a bit more closely in the times ahead. He is openly supporting the Green Party while I work systematically with all the parties. But we find we are thinking along the same lines.

The Red Party

The Red Party was traditionally a dogmatic marxist-leninist party. In the 1970s it was quite negative to New Economy perspectives. But that has changed during the last few decades. Now they seem to be very interested in the New Economy perspectives.

The Red Party has traditionally had support from plus/minus 1 per cent of the voters. At the election this fall 1.1 per cent supported them. I know quite a few of their key people.

EU-membership

In the 1972 referendum the Norwegian people voted no to become a member of the European Economic Community, and in the 1994 referendum the Norwegian people voted no to become a member of the European Union (EU). It does not seem very likely that there will be a new EU-referendum soon, but it is my impression that the political parties attitude to Norwegian membership in the EU today is approximately as follows: The Progress Party seems to be split; the Conservative Party is in favor of membership; the Christian Democratic Party seems to be to some extent split, but the party as a whole seems to be against membership. The Liberal Party does not want a new EU debate in the coming years; the Centre Party is strongly against membership in the EU; the Green Party has so far no opinion about membership in the EU, The Labor Party is in favor of membership; the Socialist Left Party is against membership, and the Red Party is against membership.

Central to the EU economic system is the principle of free flow of goods and services, capital and labor across the national borders within the European Union.

Oil policy

The attitude to the Norwegian oil policy seems to be both a symbolic issue for all “greens” and also an issue with substantial consequences. Generally it seems that the Progress Party, the Conservative Party and the Labor Party and some in the Centre Party are willing to exploit all our oil reserves almost as quickly as possible to make money and help satisfy the world’s energy greed. With various degree of clarity the other parties seems to be against increased oil production and put a stop to new oil production off the coast of North-Norway. The Green Party wants to transform the Norwegian fossil fuel dependent society as soon as possible into a fossil fuel independent low-energy society based on renewable energy sources. Lundteigen in the Centre Party wants to transform our ‘black carbon’ based economy into a ‘green carbon’ based bioeconomy where a sustainable use of our forests plays an important role. To me the income we make from selling oil is not really income at all but depreciation of real capital; depreciation of limited oil capital, which is by definition a cost and not income.