Do you remember how marvellous we were told that the Nordic societies were? How wonderful it was to be like Sweden or Denmark, having all the benefits that socialism can bring? Those countries, we were told, were as near as one could get on this earth to Nirvana. They were more equal societies with low GINI indices. They were mature societies with no need for foolish inhibitions about sex or pornography. These were societies where the State cared for its citizens. Men and women were treated equally. They were societies at ease with themselves. Countries like ours, we were told, stuck in the Dark Ages, should look to them for a model of how to run our own society.
Alas for the Nordic countries, things are not as simple as that. The well-respected Boston Consulting Group (BCG) does not mince its words. Its recent report says, ‘The much-admired Nordic model is showing cracks. The Nordics must act now and act fast to transform the model in order to continue to create wealth and well-being in the years to come…Nordic competitiveness is increasingly an illusion.’
What an earth could have gone wrong?
A big problem for the Nordic countries is manpower. There simply are not enough Scandinavians for the jobs that need to be done and the countries are suffering as a result.
The first requirement for an adequate workforce is to produce the next generation. The process of begetting children is, if not the most, certainly one of the most enjoyable activities one can engage in. So it takes a fair amount of effort to stop a nation reproducing. But the Western world, and the Nordic countries are excellent examples, have made a jolly good job of doing so. Wall to wall sex, divorcing the pleasure of sex from its primary function, seems to be the best ways of knocking the birthrate down. The Germans are the masters of this. Why have sex when, with much less effort, you can watch it happening?
There are the other incentives away from reproduction that statism champions. The first is to peddle the myth that rearing children is, in some way, depriving women of something more valuable – i.e. their career. That which one pays less for, one values less. The State provides childcare. The personal investment parents make in their own children by forgoing the second income is less, as is the time that parents spend with their children. Inevitably parents value parenthood less. This is all part of the State’s bargain. ‘We’ll look after your children and we’ll look after you in your old age.’ Small wonder that so many couples opt out of the inconvenience of reproduction. In Denmark, European capital of pornography, where the birth rate has dropped to 1.7 (the replacement level is 2.1) the government has, almost unbelievably, resorted to television advertising promoting ways to increase libido. Click here to watch.
With a shortage of labour, it may seem sense to get women out to work. The irony is that this further reduces the birthrate. The State fails to see the net benefit of a woman taking ten or even twenty years to raise a family of three or four.
Given a low birthrate, surely countries can find ways of coping? Of course they can – without State intervention. But the State is incapable of leaving well alone.
The Nordic countries suffer from ‘late entry into the workforce’. That is code. It means that they spend far too long in school or in university courses. Why? Because the State pays for it. Why on earth should one get a proper job when one can have years dossing around at university? The vast majority of jobs never needed degrees, never needed education after the age of 15. The State, thinking that a little education is useful, wrongly reasoned that having a lot of education would be even more beneficial. It doesn’t. It is a waste of money (but few in education would question that particular gravy train).
At least, with all these graduates, there must be plenty of well-qualified Nordic scientists? Far from it. If the State pays, why should one do a science or engineering course which requires hard graft rather than a soft humanities degree? The Nordic countries are desperately short of science graduates. The Nordics love equality, so more or less everyone is paid the same. Why do a demanding and technical job when there is no more money in it?
As BCG puts it: ‘A combination of high minimum wages and rigid labour regulations in the Nordics today have the undesirable consequence of preventing the weakest groups…from entering the labour market.’ The low-skilled rely on state benefits rather than contribute to the economy. There are certainly no opportunities in manufacturing because ‘the high cost of low-skilled workers…is a main reason for the outward migration of manufacturing activities.’ To cap it off, generous retirement benefits perpetuate the myth that thirty years’ work can pay for an equal number of years of retirement.
The Nordic countries are in a mess. To the acute shortage of labour there is but one solution: ‘The Nordics need 2 million more workers by 2030…we need to increase the inflow of immigrant labour.’
Now which of these mad Nordic statist policies should we implement in the UK? If one looks at recent governments – Labour, Coalition and Conservative – our politicians seem committed to all of them.