TomDispatch: Ann Jones on Social Democracy in Norway

I subscribe to TomDispatch …

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… an email service that describes itself on the “About” page of  its website as follows:

Tom Engelhardt launched Tomdispatch in November 2001 as an e-mail publication offering commentary and collected articles from the world press. In December 2002, it gained its name, became a project of The Nation Institute, and went online as “a regular antidote to the mainstream media.” The site now features Tom Engelhardt’s regular commentaries and the original work of authors ranging from Rebecca Solnit, Bill McKibben, and Mike Davis to Chalmers Johnson, Michael Klare, Adam Hochschild, Robert Lipsyte, and Elizabeth de la Vega. Nick Turse, who also writes for the site, is associate editor and research director.

Tomdispatch is intended to introduce readers to voices and perspectives from elsewhere (even when the elsewhere is here). Its mission is to connect some of the global dots regularly left unconnected by the mainstream media and to offer a clearer sense of how this imperial globe of ours actually works.

The Tom Dispatch offerings (which arrive in the form of email “Tomgrams”) are quite interesting and generally thought-provoking.  The one I received today …

… motivated me to comment.

Scandinavia Map

This is an interesting Tomgram discussion, primarily regarding the differences between how the U.S. and the Nordic countries (primarily focused on Norway) handle many aspects of modern life, most notably their national economic & social systems.

The author of the piece, Ann Jones, is an admirer of the largely socialist economic systems in place in the Scandinavian countries.  Many of the concepts she promotes are an anathema to my libertarian sensibilities — and I think she blithely ignores the fact that what works for small, largely homogeneous, countries like Norway (5.1 million people, roughly equal to North Carolina, in an area larger than Texas) would be orders of magnitude more difficult to implement in the U.S., which covers nearly four times the area of Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark & Iceland) and 13 times the combined population of those five countries.

Besides being a libertarian in my political views, I am also essentially anti-social and an iconoclast — I would not do well in the Norway Jones describes. Consider these excerpts from the Jones discussion of how society developed there in the 1970s:

“There, feminists and sociologists pushed hard against the biggest obstacle still standing in the path of full democracy:  the nuclear family. … the Norwegian state began to deconstruct that undemocratic ideal by taking upon itself the traditional unpaid household duties of women. Caring for the children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled became the basic responsibilities of the universal welfare state, freeing women in the workforce to enjoy both their jobs and their families.”


“In Norway, mother and father in turn take paid parental leave from work to see a newborn through its first year or more. At age one, however, children start attending a neighborhood barnehage (kindergarten) for schooling spent largely outdoors.”

Both of those concepts (“deconstruction” of the nuclear family and starting school at the age of 1) are contrary to my personal views of how to best raise children. I don’t even like the current trend in the U.S. of sending kids to pre-kindergarten classes.

I also can’t help wondering how much of what the Scandinavian countries have accomplished with their social-economic systems has been possible only because they have been able to maintain a significantly insular existence thanks to their relatively isolated geographic location, the fortuity of the North Sea oil reserves (which are the primary reason Norway has a significantly positive export-import balance) and because, since the end of World War II, they have been able to essentially rely on other countries (primarily the U.S.) to insure their national security.

Have to admit that I also found the Tomgram tagline for the Jones article (“Social Democracy for Dummies”) condescending and offensive.

Despite my disagreements with the Ann Jones article, I highly recommend TomDispatch for anyone interested in current national and international affairs.  You can subscribe to the email service on the webpage linked above.


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