Another good video here with Tom Chitty from CNBC – outlines why the cost of living is so high in Scandinavia – Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These countries on average have some of the highest tax rates (see graph) in order to fund a large welfare state. Expenditure in social welfare is one of the highest as a % of GDP and eventhough it is very expensive to live in these countries they rank as some of the happiest.
Norway’s soveriegn-weatlh fund surpassed US$11trn in assets on September 19th this year. With its significant revenue from North Sea oil and gas getting invested overseas it is likely to get even bigger to the extent that Norway can start to shape ideas abroad. It is increasingly speaking out on ethical behaviour of companies and is an increasingly activist shareholder. The ethics watchdog for the fund recommends that it excludes several firms in oil, cement and steel industries for emitting too much greenhouse gas. This may seem hypocritical in that Norway produces significant amounts of oil but it operates under its own ethical guideline set by parliament.
Source: The Economist – 23-9-17
Missing out on billions of dollars
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has share in 9,000 companies, 1.3% of the entire world’s listed equity. It has lost out on billions of dollars of revenue by its government prohibiting any investment in tobacco companies and manufactures of certain weapons. The fund is forbidden by law from investing in firms that produce nuclear weapons or landmines, or are involved in serious and systematic human rights violations, among other criteria. These include Boeing, Airbus, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris. Last year the council looked into the construction industry in Qatar – host of the 2022 soccer World Cup – and neighboring countries, after reports of abuse by human rights groups. Since then new regulations have been implemented which protect the rights and living and working conditions of labour in the construction industry. This includes the right of immigrant workers to hold onto their passport. There is a broad consensus in Norway that the fund should not make money from companies that take people’s lives.
Norway and coase theorem
Another way Norway is trying to influence global warming is by using its sovereign wealth fund to change behaviors of other countries. Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. An example of this was the a deal between Liberia and Norway. Norway will give $150m in aid in return for Liberia stopping the destruction of its forests.
Stick and Carrot
The stick approach of trying to force Liberia to stop cutting down its trees might give way to a more effective carrot approach by paying Liberia to do so. This makes both sides better off. Liberia still gets the aid and Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change.
5 or 6 more China’s
The reality is that the planet can’t stand another 5 or 6 China’s but developing countries still need to grow and, like their developed country counterparts, it will involve greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to curb global emissions developing countries will have to leapfrog to new technologies as the burning of traditional fossil fuels will just exacerbate the problem. However developing countries have neither the resources nor the incentive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels on their own as their main focus is economic growth. Whilst developed countries have a lot to lose from developing-world emissions it is in their interest to pay the latter to curb emissions e.g. Norway paying Liberia not to chop down its trees. Although this looks a simple enough policy politicians will not be so enthused by it as money that is paid overseas to cut climate change is not very popular with the electorate and therefore the government.
The Economist produced a graph showing world GDP data and made the following points:
- India and China account for 65% of world growth
- Emerging markets contributions in 2016 were down to its lowest figure since 2008 – falling commodity prices would have been a factor
- Norway contributed less to global GDP with lower oil prices being prevalent.
- USA with increased government spending and greater export volumes improved its position
- Brazil has been in negative territory since mid 2014 – interesting point with significant government spending on hosting the Football World Cup and the Olympics.
Maybe a good starter for your classes asking the question who contributes most to world GDP?
Although Norway is a capitalist country, it is state-owned enterprises that seem to be most prevalent in business circles. Oil revenues have been at the forefront of Norway’s development and it is, behind Luxembourg, the richest country in Europe. Ultimately the economic welfare of the country is heavily influenced by the price of oil and the peak of $150 a barrel in 2008 had huge benefits for the government purse. Oil and gas now account for about 25% of Norway’s GDP and almost 50% of its exports. However with the recent fall in oil prices to below $50 a barrel, oil companies have had to lay off workers – estimated to be 30%. According to The Economist the falling oil price has exposed two weaknesses in the Norwegian economy.
- Bureaucracy is a problem in Norway with the government owning about 40% of the stockmarket. Furthermore, as the vast majority of the country’s top executives attend the Norwegian School of Economics there is an unhealthy cultural uniformity which is not a catalyst to change.
- The welfare state has been too generous. The public sector employs 33% of the workforce (compared to 19% for the OECD countries) and as people enjoy a 37 hour week and sometimes a 3 day weekend there is a concern that the state is undermining the work ethic. In 2011 Norway spent 3.9% of GDP on incapacity benefits and early retirement, compared with an OECD average of 2.2%.
However, the government has been very prudent with its saving in that it now has the biggest sovereign-wealth fund in the world at $873 billion. The country also has a fish industry which is worth $10 billion a year.
Where to from here?
Are we seeing a classic resource curse where an economy has become reliant on a particular resource? Does Norway have a real alternative to oil to generate revenue for its economy?
Norway needs to allow the entrepreneurial spirit more room to grow and also apply some free market reforms to the welfare state. Shrinking the role of the state will help as the private sector cold start to be more involved in the running of schools, hospitals, and surgeries. So far the country’s reaction to the oil price drop is to be become even more left wing especially in the cities of Bergen and Oslo.
Source: The Economist – Norwegian Blues – October 10th 2015