Norway: The land of peace and prosperity (Stories from Valhala)
This is the second article in this series “stories from Valhala”. In this series, I try to share with you what I learned from my short visit to Norway in April 2019.
We had only one day remaining before heading back home. We decided to make that day count by joining a free tour offered by a Swedish guide who was very familiar with the city of Oslo. The group was composed by tourists and visitors from all over the world. The guide took the lead and started to walk at a quick pace, and we were following.
After a good distance, we came across a big green square, and the guide decided to stop and tell us a little story about that special place. On one side, there was Oslo’s Grand Hotel. From the way it looks, it was a very normal hotel. Yet, that building was way more than a normal hotel. Once a year, Oslo’s Grand Hotel hosts a massive important event: the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony! Although Alfred Nobel was Swedish, he decided in his will that one, and on only one, Nobel prize should not be delivered in Sweden, and he chose Norway to host this annual event instead. For Alfred Nobel, and most people, Sweden was far from being a peaceful nation at that time being always deeply involved in wars and conflicts such as the coalitions against Napoleonic France. But, Norway .. Norway was the extreme opposite, it has been always a peaceful place away from wars and conflicts. Just think about where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the major conflicts of our time, was resolved in 1974 .. yes you guessed it! It was in no other city than Oslo. So, as you can see, Norway was a frequent international conflict arbiter, and for that reason, Alfred Nobel chose it to neutrally select the winners. And since then, every year, the prize gets awarded in that hotel and the winner steps out from the famous balcony to see the massive crowds of people gathered in that square to salute him for the efforts he did in order to contribute to global peace.
Unfortunately, this square didn’t only host celebrations and joy. It was also filled with anger and disguise, because on the other side, stands the Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament Chamber. And it was in front of this building that the people of Norway came manifesting, frustrated and unsatisfied. But what reason would make the people in this happy peaceful country unhappy.
Well, to understand that, let me take you back to 1975, the year in which Norway discovered that its lands are swimming over giant fields of oil. The parliament had to react fast, since oil is not always something to be happy about. Oil didn’t always mean economic thrive and growth. In fact, it can have many bad consequences if misused, you can ask Venezuela about it!
The parliament decided to control every drop of oil that lays beneath Norwegian soil. Not a single international company would be benefit from it or even worse, control it. They were so clear in their decision: the oil belongs to the people of Norway.
But, how will the people benefit from the incomes coming from selling oil? Don’t worry, The Norwegian government figured it out. They made the Government Pension Fund-Global, aka THE FUND. They would invest all the oil incomes in companies’ equities and estates from all over the world. The money they make from that is divided into two parts: one part to invest through buying more equities and estates, and the other goes to national projects like roads, schools, libraries, theaters, … from which a Norwegian citizen can benefit. Pretty simple, yet pretty accurate!
Now, we bounce back to our question: what was the reason behind those manifestations?
In 2010, my dear reader, the good people of Norway found out that their good Government was investing the money from the Fund in some “not good” companies. Companies that were accused by unethical behaviors like child labor and drug dealing. There was no way that people would accept that their public money comes from muddy sources. That’s why people went down the streets demanding clarification and action. In response, instead of unleashing their police and military forces, the guilty government did assume responsibility. They apologized, and they decided to make a list of companies they need to exclude. A company can make it into that list for many reasons such as Nuclear weapons production, tobacco production, Unacceptable greenhous gas emissions, Production of coal or coal-based energy, and even Gross production. You can find the whole list here. More over, they publish their activity reports annually and quarterly. You can access all the reports online too. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how to gain the people’s confidence: Transparency!
Today, you can visit the Fund’s official website and track their investments worldwide and see where all their money is coming from and going to.
When I visited it, there is something that brought my attention: A significant rise in the Fund’s investment in Tunisia after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. You have been a peaceful country Tunisia, we will reward you with more investment.
A decision like adopting the Government Pension Fund Act would’ve been very crucial for many other countries if the right people would’ve taken it in the right time. Countries that, unfortunately, are preventing their people from the wealth that lays beneath their feet. Just to say, if power resides within the hands of good people, they will make great things out of it. Hence, they can make a Norway out of the country they are ruling.