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Norway is getting more press than usual lately due to their success at the Winter Olympics. With 13 gold medals and 38 medals in total, they crushed the competition, which is even more impressive when you consider that Norway is a tiny country of only five million people.
What’s the secret behind the success? The American leftist media like the New York Times will have you believe it is due to oil wealth, egalitarianism and free health care. However, the real reason might surprise you.
The oil wealth myth
First, let us dispense with the myth that Norway wins due to its oil wealth. To the Norwegian newspaper VG, the leader of the Norwegian Olympic Elite Tore Øvrebø said the following:
“Economically our model is extremely cost-efficient. Germany spends significantly more resources than us on winter sports and we know that the Austrian alpine team cost five times more than ours.”
Apart from an abundance of snow and a large rural population, Norway has something that is a major advantage to doing well in the Olympics: a winter culture.
Before the advent of industrial farming and world trade, Norway was a harsh place to live, chronically on the cusp of starvation. Agriculture had only a quarter of the yield of a corresponding area in tropical countries. This shaped the culture in three distinct ways.
First, Norwegians had to plan for the winter. It became part of the culture that you had to work hard during the summer to stock up food to survive the harsh winter season.
Second, the low yield and scarcity of resources meant that the population had to be sparse. Norwegians needed to be self-sufficient. They could not rely on the benefits of living in a densely populated area. During the middle ages when most of the farmers in Europe were serfs, Norway had the highest percentage of freemen and entrepreneurial farmers who owned their own land.
Third, and somewhat paradoxically, the scarcity of resources led to less competition and more cooperation. To understand this situation, picture living in a lifeboat, generation after generation. If you don’t cooperate with the others for mutual survival, you will all surely die.
In a sense, Norwegians were competing on the same team against King Winter. The economic lesson from this is that free market competition is the product of resource abundance, whereas scarcity leads to market consolidation.
Confusing winter culture with socialism
The liberal media and Bernie Sanders are infatuated with the Norwegian model because they confuse it with socialism. They believe that there is a magical Soviet Man egalitarianism in Norway, where individuals sacrifice their personal needs for the greater good of society. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, Norway is saturated with a culture of long-term planning, with a complex relationship between individual self-sufficiency and cooperation for mutual benefit. The winter culture is far more congruent with laissez-faire capitalism than with socialism.
This becomes evident once you look at how Norwegian immigrants to the US in the nineteenth century have fared compared to their brethren that stayed behind in the old country. Norwegian-descendants in America earn more, have lower crime rates and lower unemployment than the average American. And more importantly: they do better than Norwegians in Norway.
There are many lessons to learn from this. Culture is a neglected explanatory factor in national success and winter culture works best in a free capitalist society.