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Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

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UPDATE: Two very good additional posts by Daniel and Gene Callahan. In particular, will Breivik's quoting of Mises and Hayek be cause for reflection among libertarians, and encourage a toning down of the self-righteous attitude of exceptionalism (and a tendency towards "'sic simper tyrannis" rhetoric)?

As most of you know, I have called Norway home for the better part of two years. While I have been on exchange for the last six months, I shall also be returning there shortly to start my PhD. I have offered previous thoughts on the country's approach to liberty and mixed-market economy elsewhere. For example:
[The commentator above] more or less nails it: 

'Recall that the phrase "economic liberty" means different things to different people.'

As a foreigner that has now lived in the Nordics for close on two years, this is the crucial distinction that I keep trying to point out to dogmatic, US-style libertarians. (Actually, there have been a number of interesting articles on this precise matter... See, for instance, here and here.)

From my experiences, Scandinavians place a premium on equality and fairness alongside prosperity. They appreciate the benefits offered by social security (and, by and large, trust their politicians to make sensible decisions). As one example, the State education loan funds in these nations put an excellent tertiary education in reach of virtually every student. This ensures that they preserve a critical mass of human capital that helps maintain the countries’ international competitiveness, say nothing of rewarding student meritocracy regardless of the social standing of their parents. 

Now, I certainly don’t agree with everything that I have experienced here (e.g. the ridiculous state monopoly on selling wine and spirits), and would be cautious for suggesting how replicable their system is given the small size and homogeneity of their economies. However, I will say that their mixed-economy structure works for them, if nothing else, for the simple reason that everyone buys into it.  

An example that was particularly striking to me: You can freely view the full salary and tax contributions of each and every Norwegian citizen (your neighbour, priest, date for next Friday night… even members of the Royal family) on public websites (e.g. here). You can only imagine the cries of “privacy invasion!” if you tried to implement that kind of system in other parts of the world and yet it is consistent with the Nordic view of how a transparent and fair society should be run.

Freedom in terms of "outcomes" is one thing, but it is the premises themselves that form the crucial distinction here.
I have been meaning to write something on the sheer frivolous of trying to pin down the "Scandinavian Model" according to the usual dichotomies that we've grown accustomed to in the Anglo-Saxon west \(-\) capitalism vs socialism \(-\) for a while on this blog. However, in the absence of such extended comments, I suppose that the above quote succinctly summarises my thoughts. The mixed-market economy is exactly that. Those who seek only to find absolute redeeming features of any particular ideology lose the essence of Scandinavia's successful economic and social balance in the process. But then again, what do I know?...

The majority is always wrong; the minority is rarely right. 
- Henrik Ibsen


Daniel Kuehn and Gary Gunnels are among those commenting on the Norway shootings, attempting to draw out the blurred lines between political ideology and individual psychology. In particular, what labels should we apply to Anders Behring Breivik? (He appears to see himself as a righteous crusader of liberty and Christian conservatism.)

The twisted mind of our present subject notwithstanding, I am pretty uncomfortable with the tendency to simply categorise individuals by the labels that they self-apply. Breivik's quoting of John Stuart Mill no more renders him a disciple of liberty than having a Che Guevara t-shirt makes you a socialist revolutionary.

If self-proclaimed labels leave me uneasy, then I'm definitely sceptical of the tendency to bend major events and characters to our preferred worldview. I was struck by a thought yesterday when chatting to a friend, who holds strict libertarian views of the anarcho-capitalist variety. He mentioned his surprise \(-\) following revelations of Breivik's identity \(-\) that the attacks were not in retaliation to Norway's involvement in Afghanistan and Libya. However, had the killings indeed been motivated by Norway's NATO activities, I've little doubt that we would have seen the likes of Lew Rockwell dot com trumpeting this as horrific evidence of the uncontrollable fallout of aggressive foreign policy.[*] But, if we were being entirely consistent, wouldn't you now have to argue on that lax immigration policy and social integration should be rethought? After all, they too can now be argued as bringing about terrible backlashes of their own. Well, apparently not.

It is convenient to place people in boxes. This applies as much to others as it does ourselves. When those privileged typologies don't gel with the narrative before us, I wonder which is easier to discard or rearrange...

[*] Just to be clear, my opinion is the possibility of a backlash \(-\) terrorist or otherwise \(-\) provides entirely justifiable (utilitarian?) grounds to generally oppose military interventions in other countries. The operative word being "generally", as there may be equally inescapable reasons to enter into war in particular circumstances.