Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right—and How We Can, Too by George Lakey
Reviewed by Jeffrey Hirsch
In a brief look at America currently, we might ask, “Why do we have a president as incompetent, vicious and unqualified as Donald Trump?” But to look at Donald Trump in isolation is a big mistake. CBS gave him almost two billion dollars in free air time running up to the 2016 election because Donald Trump’s histrionics increased viewership, and thus advertising profits, enormously. We are getting close to the answer—it’s about money and power for the mega-rich and the institutions and business arrangements that support them.
In addition to the influence of the decadence of our corporate media, a man like Donald Trump being president is only possible because of the mass ignorance of our population, partially due to the defunding and privatizing of public education. It serves the corporate state and the mega-rich in general to have an ignorant populace. An educated public could have seen through Trump’s divide-and-conquer strategy of blaming their misery and poverty on the Mexicans, Brown people and Blacks and thus diverting the blame from the oligopoly, which truly is the cause of their misery and alienation.
Like us, a century ago the Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and Icelanders all had electoral systems that pretended to be responsive to the people, but were not. They all came to realize that their “liberal democracies” were in fact oligarchies. In each country, the people took to the streets to force an opening for the will of the majority. They made a workable deal with their banks, corporations and the moneyed class in general, to attain a much more equal share of wealth and power.
The Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes went the farthest, displacing their economic elite as the hegemonic force directing society. Once they did that, they had the political space to create a new economic model (referred to as the Nordic Model). This made it almost impossible for a sociopathic narcissistic con-artist like Donald Trump to attain power there. [It should be noted that after Iceland suffered an economic meltdown similar to that in the US in 2008, they threw out the government and jailed many leading bankers. Icelandic women once held a general strike, and women are now in key leadership positions in politics and the economy.]
The following quotations from Viking Economics give a flavor of the Nordic Model in contrast to Trumpified America. “Money doesn’t dominate the political system, so citizens are freer to participate meaningfully in life—and they’re more likely to be exposed to newspapers with a variety of points of view, because journalism is subsidized to avoid a narrowing of perspective…Norway was tied with Sweden at number one for freedom of the press. Denmark was sixth, and Iceland was tenth. (The U.S. was 26th.) (p.9)
“Paid maternity and paternity leave is built into the (economic) system, and your job is held until you return.” (p.8) (With universal medical care) “total cost per capita is a little more than half what the United States pays for health care.” (p. 136)
“Urban dwellers are likewise members of one or more co-ops and benefit from an unpolluted natural environment…that wouldn’t be there if greed were their bottom line.” (p.104) “A point of curiosity about the Nordics is the extraordinarily low rates of violence and criminality that they enjoy. Rarely do people consider the economic benefit that goes along with that.” (p. 169)
“…One might argue that one reason for Nordic economic success over the years has been investment in research, big-picture analysis, education, planning and evaluation.” (p. 206)
Why Scandinavia did not go fascist like Germany and Italy after the class struggle in the 1920’s-’30’s is described in Chapter 5. The labor unions, almost entirely non-violent in the struggle over many years, achieved a consensus in which they were conjoined with the banks and the ownership class to make the mixed-economy of their countries relatively stable. What was the basis of this consensus? A high tax rate on wealth and property of the rich and substantial taxes in general for everybody resulted in social services for all and a dramatic lessening of social tensions in general.
Economic equality was the goal. For example, medical care was universal, housing and education were considered the right of every citizen, and transportation was subsidized. Labor representatives were on the boards of most banks and industrial firms. Prisons had the mandate of rehabilitation rather than naked vengeful punishment (which is sadly the case with much of American penology).
In sum, these countries of Scandinavia are much better and more humane societies than the US. Rates of crime and violence are lower, life-spans are longer, and the people are generally healthier than in the US.
Viking Economics should be read by everyone in the U.S. who isn’t brain-dead and who has something left of a conscience. This country should and can be organized differently. Viking Economics provides a humane and do-able blueprint.