The Norway Quality of Life project is an investigation by the Evolution Institute to understand what makes Norway a successful society, ranking #1 in the UN Human Development Index for 12 of the last 15 years, and what lessons we can take away to improve our own society and those societies that live in our shadow.
Humans are a social species. We work together, live together, and learn from each other. Yet, we also find ways to take advantage of each other. The mechanics of evolved human sociability and cooperation, along with an appreciation of the social and political choices Nordic citizens such as Norwegians have made, holds the potential for understanding how to improve the quality of life for all people.
As scientists have deepened our understanding of biology, neuroscience, and history of culture, we learn that human organizations are complex organisms that have evolved on multiple levels. There are advantages for an individual to be part of a group, yet there are advantages to going it alone and getting a larger piece of the proverbial pie.
The urge to “cheat” and claim the lion’s share is hardwired in us. Yet societies do best and pass on the most genetic information to future generations when teamwork is at play. Political scientist Elinor Ostrom has shown us that the key is finding a way to suppress the natural urge of cheaters while at the same time using sociability to build an equitable society. In his book, EI science advisor Peter Corning expounds on what is required to create The Fair Society.
Some countries manage to live more cooperatively than others. They have adapted to their environment in a way that’s beneficial to the entire social organism. Norway is one example that is illustrative of much of what Corning proposes.
Why we picked Norway as a model of study: For a decade it has reliably occupied the number 1 position in the United Nations list of countries ranked by their Human Development Index. The HDI combines economic and biological measures of quality of life (GDP per capita and life expectancy) with educational attainment.
The Evolution Institute has embarked on a multi-pronged research project to understand the key to Norway’s success and to understand what elements of its success we can emulate in the U.S.
Norway has unwittingly used the principles of evolutionary cooperation to build a society with the highest levels of social equality. Its social system is one of the best in the world, and includes free education and healthcare. Opportunity is widely available, as attested by school exams results that show little discrepancy between scores of students from low-income and high-income families. The United Nations Human Development Index has ranked Norway number one for six consecutive years. It has by far the highest standard of living the world.
We wonder, how does it do it? Although we think of it as an oil-financed haven now, in the nineteenth century Norway was a poor country. It industrialized in early to mid 20th century, and grew on par with most other western European economies. But Norway, divorced in 1905 from Sweden and the aristocracy living there, created a society that strives for equality long before the commercialization of its natural resources. During the 20th century, Norway made it a goal to create the most equitable country in world by uniting farmers and workers in the 30s to demand a voice in the workplace, and by providing a social safety net for all in the 50s.
Things that Norway does right:
- Norway has a cultural ethos of “we’re all in this together.”
- Norway places the profits accrued from the sale of gas and oil are placed in a trust for the people and invested in companies and businesses that are screened by an ethics panel appointed by the government.
- Norway achieved gender equality, with men and women both taking paid leave to care for newborn children. Gender equality has been made possible by special government focus on high quality day care centers.
- Humane penal system that has very low rates of recidivism
- in achieving national-level cooperation that supports strong state intervention.
- Norwegians work about 37 hours a week, and take long paid vacations.
- Norway consistently tops international comparisons of such matters as democracy, civil and political rights, and freedom of expression and the press.
- Norway is the only nation where everyone that reaches the age of 15 can choose what faith they wish to join. This includes a secular life stance through the Norwegian Humanist Association.
As opposed to western countries such as the U.S. and much of Europe. which are splintering by internal discord, Norway seems to be headed in a positive direction. More people in Norway are happy about their government than anywhere. The percent of people in Norway who are happy about their government increased from 50 percent in 1999 to 70 percent in 2011.
Satisfaction with how taxes are used are widespread. The number who want their taxes decreased actually shrunk from 50 percent in 1999 to 20 percent in 2011.
As a think tank, our goal is to understand what makes Norway the tide rising that lifts all boats.