WE, THE PEOPLE
Many have claimed that the reason Norway has such generous benefits is because it’s oil rich. In the late 1960s oil was discovered off the country’s coast. Today, Norway is considered one of the largest producers of oil. Each day it produces 1.9 billion barrels of oil. The United States? We produce 13.9 billions of barrels of oil a day. Seems if oil is the measure, by comparison, we’re rich too. According to the International Monetary Fund, Norway is the sixth wealthiest country per capita (per person) in the world. The United States? We’re not far off at tenth. There are 322 million people in our country. There are 5 million people in Norway. We’re sixty-four times larger and yet we are almost as rich as Norway on a per person basis.
In many ways, our two countries are aligned on how we spend our money. Norway spends 18 percent of its national budget on health. We spend 19 percent. Norway spends 16 percent on education; we spend 17 percent.135 But here’s the difference: We put significantly more of our money into building up our defense. In 2015, 19 percent of our $3.8 trillion budget went to the military. Norway? Just 4 percent of their $500 million budget goes to defense. As a result, we don’t have “extra” money to invest on supporting families. We’re too busy building bombs. Seems to me that old adage “how you spend your money reflects your values” applies here.
When Norway discovered it had significant oil deposits, rather than divide it up to private interests, the country declared the oil fields were state owned and that the state was to have a 50 percent interest in every production license.136 That money, the country decided, would go to benefit the people. The majority of the revenue from Norway’s oil fields has been deposited in the
Government Pension Fund, which as of 2014 had more than $160,000 in reserve for every Norwegian. By contrast, each American actually owes $54,733 thanks to our national debt.137 The rest of Norway’s money didn’t go to defend the country from external threats (for example, Russia is an ever-present and looming oppressor of Norway) or to protect its interests around the world. Instead, Norway focused on empowering its citizens to thrive, especially its mothers.
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It isn’t only Norway, with its rich oil deposits, that views supporting the next generation a public policy priority. Consider Italy, where my sister, Kirsten, lives. Following in our mother’s footsteps, Kirsten has made her home in a country different from where she was born. She is a professor of art in Florence and a practicing artist. She and her Italian husband have two young boys.
When my nephews were born, Kirsten had twenty-two weeks of paid (at 80 percent) maternity leave and the confidence to know if she took more time off, her job remained secure. She and her entire family also have full medical care covered by the state. While there is no real support for child care (most Italians have a nona a grandmother who helps care for the kids), she only expects to pay around $4,000 for college tuition. Try as I might to convince her to move back home to the states, Kirsten says she doesn’t want to raise her children in a country that doesn’t provide support to families.
“I live in a society that places children at the top of its list of values,” she told me. “This allows me to be the mother I want to be and still have a career I love. Why would I want to live in the United States where the values are placed on making money, not living a full and rich life?”
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