The “Norwegian Dream”?

< Back to all news

The “Norwegian Dream”?


Category: AmCham News

The national political terrain reflected this “Dream” – with the Labour Party becoming the largest party in 1927, so strong that for many years after the Second World War Norway was called a “one party state”.  During this time period the bureaucracy began to grow as the country was rebuilt – with the honorable goal to create jobs in a country laid poor from the ravages of the Great Depression and the war that followed.

Labour Party’s Einar Gerhardsen, the long-time Prime Minister and “Father of the Fatherland” was instrumental in building a social democracy that reduced poverty and unemployment, developing a strong national infrastructure, and uniting the people as the mid 20th century began to give way to the radical economic changes that were to come.

The “Old” Norwegian Dream Fulfilled
From the late 1960’s the economic dynamics of the country began to change with the discovery of oil in the North Sea. Since reaching the economic break-even point in the early 1980’s from investments made in the oil and gas sector, Norway has made an astounding surge from a commodity-based economy to one that is rich in cash.

The vision of the old “Norwegian Dream” has been fulfilled, with signs of materialism and affluence everywhere. People here have their homes, cars, cabins, many have their facelifts – and the country now has the largest per capita pension fund in the world with nearly $200,000 US per citizen.

As for the bureaucracy, it has continued its growth to a point where in 2011 over half of the working force in this country works either directly or indirectly for the government.

Who are you – Now?
Norway is a country that has changed so fundamentally in the past three decades that it is striving to find itself and its new identity in the global environment. Centuries of jobs related to raw material export industries have been replaced by a highly educated and proficient work force with a quiet confidence that is undermined by uncertainty as to how it wants to be perceived by the rest of the world that is quite busy going about its own business.

Compare this current reality with nearly 10,000 years of Spartan hard living that began once the northern glaciers of Earth melted away, leaving behind deep blue fjords, high mountain vistas, narrow lush valleys and raging rivers. Generation upon generation worked with the sea and the land in simple and effective ways, designing a lifestyle built on raw materials. 

Trolls & the Epcot Center
One example of how the world perceives Norway is found at the Epcot Center located at Disneyworld in Orlando in Florida, USA. Here is how Norway is described on the Disney website:

 “Welcome to the Age of the Vikings! Enjoy the simple picturesque landscape of this mini Scandinavian Village Square with its stone and wood elements and authentic Norwegian architectural style. Discover ancient Norse art. Dine on authentic Norwegian dishes and visit shops filled with wonderful Norwegian wares. But watch out for the trolls!”

A current debate here in Norway concerns whether or not to use money to update this exhibition opened in 1988 and since visited by hundreds of millions of tourists. The money necessary to make changes is small by Norwegian budgetary standards, but perhaps it is more of an identity question – what is the “new” Norway, and how does it want to be perceived by the 10+ million visitors annually to this Epcot Center?

Polar Bears in the Streets
Much of the world still sees Norway as the “Land of Trolls” and with “Polar Bears in the Streets of Oslo” despite the fundamental societal and economic changes in the past 30 years that include a tremendous influx of immigrants and refugees to this country – representing both challenges as well as tremendous opportunities. 

The changes of the past decades have been driven to a great extent by vibrant younger generations – true participants in the global society through their creative expressions within design, architecture, social media, the arts, business – and all the time gaining stronger voices within the governmental structure here. Their voices will eventually be heard – and with this may come changes in world perception of this country as a new “Norwegian Dream” begins to emerge.

Too Comfortable for Innovation?
What is the “New Norwegian Dream” now that literally all the materialistic needs of its population are fulfilled? This is a country that has used considerable time and resources to examine their reputation (“omdømme”) but a deeper discussion around the core internal meanings of a “New Norwegian Dream” still remains to be put on a national agenda. It is a country that preaches innovation – though it ranks below average in the Innovation Union Scoreboard together with countries such as Greece, Malta, and Portugal.

Is Norway is too comfortable to innovate? As we know, over half the working population in this country works directly or indirectly for the government on the national, country or municipal levels. What comes next for this country that finds itself delicately balancing – and trying to pay for – an ever-growing bureaucracy with the growing need to be innovative – when in fact bureaucracy and innovation do not mix well together. 

Bureaucracy Weakens the Competitive Spirit
For over half a century, the Norwegian bureaucracy has awarded jobs in a manner not totally unlike what is arguably a distant bureaucratic cousin that once existed in the East Bloc for over seventy years. We all know what happened once that system came down, with the Eastern Bloc ill-prepared to compete in a global environment that had moved far beyond its economic, innovative, and cultural horizons.

Then there is the long-term challenge of paying for the bureaucracy – combined with a high cost of living and the fact that Norwegians live as long as nearly anyone on earth. The government runs a respected social-democratic governmental model – but how long can this last with a population that has among the longest life spans in the world, something that represents a challenge as Norway struggles to find solutions – and money for the next decades. 

As Erna Solberg, the Conservative Party opposition leader said in the April 2011 debate about eHealth and the aging population in this country, “The challenges we have are well known. We still don’t have the solutions.” 

The “New” Norwegian Dream?
We know that the original “Norwegian Dream” was a simple one, aspiring to secure the basic necessities – a place to work, a place to live, food – the basic sustenance of material things necessary to have a good, basic, honest life. We know now that it is a dream fulfilled – but we do not know what comes next.

Every country has a history, whether it be long or short; sets of traditions, cultural pillars, the determination of its people, and the struggles through the hard times and the satisfaction with the good. Much of this dictates how the country will define its “Dream”.  Norway is no different.

Total Commitment – and Hard Work
The “New Norwegian Dream” will contain elements of tradition, history, family, community, spiritualism, health, finance, career, leisure, respect – and freedom.

With any paradigm shift – the “fog of radical change” – it is impossible to see the end result when one finds itself in the middle of these changes. Solutions can only be founded on true trust, clear perception, building of reputation – and only with this combined with total commitment – and hard work – can Norway’s destiny of a “New Norwegian Dream” be defined and achieved.

During the coming months Norway Communicates will be spearheading a “Perception Poll” process where the Norwegian business, education and public sectors will be asked to provide their perspectives of the Norwegian Dream. See the Norway Communicates website for more information in the near future.

About the Author
David John Smith is the founder of Norway Communicates, speaker, former Editor-in-Chief of Norway Exports, and the author of the book Americantation that examines the search for the American Dream. Contact:

Source: Norway Communicates

Published: November 5, 2011