Viking Economics, by George Lakey

While my mind was certainly open to the ideas George Lakey puts forth in this fantastic book, his message has completely changed the way I view the American economy. By nearly every absolute standard, we're doing almost everything wrong. Lakey's evidence and argument for the Scandinavian model of economics, explained simply and conversationally, is powerfully persuasive. Whether those who aren't as open-minded would be convinced (or even pick up the book) is quite another issue.

Lakey takes us through the growth of Scandinavian economics chronologically at first: we start all the way back with the Vikings (important for understanding the general Scandinavian mien) and travel through the politically tumultuous 19th and early 20th Centuries, to the incredible growth of socialism (real socialism, not psuedo-fascist, lip-service "socialism"). The thread running through Scandinavian history is one of self-determination - whenever oligarchy threatened to overtake democracy, workers used every nonviolent means at their disposal to bring the government back to working for the people, rather than for the rich. When the recession hit in 2008, the International Monetary Fund tried to force its theoretically modeled policies onto the affected countries; Nordic nations, Iceland especially, fought back. Depending on real data rather than models, they increased spending on health care and education, raised taxes and offered more government services; their economies bounced back within a couple of years, while nearly a decade later, the U.S., Spain, and Greece are still mired in the aftereffects of the recession.

The ideal behind the Scandinavian economic model is what drives every decision: investment is made in the individual, who is considered a resource for economic growth. Where in the U.S. it's assumed that business owners and the wealthy are job creators, in the Nordic countries it's acknowledged that workers drive the economy. People in debt, working 80 hours a week with horrible health that they can only afford to deal with at the emergency room cost the economy real dollars. Entrepreneurship is something the U.S. prides itself on, yet "rates of start-up creation in Norway are among the highest in the developed world, and Norway has more entrepreneurs per capita than the U.S." Think about it: most students in the U.S. graduate with a mountain of debt. Those new workers are too worried about that pile of money they owe to take risks, and risk is what stimulates the economy. Not to mention, it undermines the American ideal of freedom; too much debt means you're stuck in a job you hate in a city you despise because you can't realistically change jobs or move until you're financially stable. This means people with skills that would be put to better use elsewhere can't do so, perhaps don't even know they have those talents. We're too worried about education, retirement, and medical expenses to make work more meaningful for us. And people who like their work are more productive.

So the Scandinavians have free health care, free education (including university), free job training if you lose the job you're in, free elder care, free public transportation; how is all this paid for? That four-letter word Americans seem to hate so much: TAXES. But here's the thing: according to Lakey, polls clearly indicate that most Americans think their taxes should actually be higher in order to increase government services. After all, you get what you pay for, right? In the Nordic countries, so many institutions are publicly funded so their transparency is very high. Plus since they're all run under the same system, the bureaucracy, which you'd think would be ridiculous, is actually much smaller! Multiple systems mean an obscene amount of paperwork and are very inefficient; Norway pays a little more than half for health care what the U.S. pays. And it's better care! Everyone gets taken care of no matter what job they have, allowing people to work in fields they actually enjoy, which, as we've already seen, increases productivity and entrepreneurship.

Aside from all the basic economic arguments, there's also the social goods that the Scandinavian model creates: these countries have much lower child, relative, and absolute poverty; they have longer life expectancy and much better overall health; they have already cut their carbon emissions immensely and seek to get rid of them entirely within this century; their birthrates are high and their children perform very well by international educational standards. Sure, they're not perfect - right-wing, racist anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise, not to mention the winter weather leaves something to be desired. But when all is said and done, their people are taken care of (immigrants included), their land is being preserved for future generations, and their economies just keep growing and growing.

Come on, America, you can do so much better...the Vikings prove it.


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