EI has been engaged in learning as much as possible about Norway since its Quality of Life workshop at the University of Memphis in 2011. There we considered what nations received high ratings on the UN Human Developed Index, learning that Norway was repeatedly the highest – with the least inequality according to the UN Gini coefficient.
It is now a decade that we have been gathering information and insights on Norway’s world class QoL outcomes. We have had numerous workshops in Norway, conducted hundreds of interviews, published books and articles with our Norwegian colleagues at the University of Oslo, and forged long-term relationships with civic groups, think tanks, labor organizations, youth groups, and local and national elected officials.
Significantly, we are revitalizing our relationship with Norway as a result of last September’s national election and increased opportunity for international travel. After eight years of a center-right government, a center-left government has returned and selected a new prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, leader of the Labour Party. A photograph taken eight years ago in the Storting (parliament building) features Støre and the co-founders of the Evolution Institute, David Sloan Wilson and I.
David and I had been invited to meet with the then-head of the Labour Party, who was expected to win the national election and become prime minster. Støre was interested in the work being done by the Evolution Institute and wished to explore ways it could contribute to Norway and the agenda of a new administration concerned about growing inequality, privatization, anti-immigration trends, and the negative effects of neoliberalism and ecological challenges.
Since our meeting with the now prime minster of Norway eight years ago, the center-right government has reduced taxes for the wealthy, privatized the railroads, encouraged public universities to better serve corporate profitability, and included the Progressive Party in its administration, best known for its strong appeal to hostility toward immigrants and foreign workers.
Norway is important to the Evolution Institute and the world because it has massive resources and great flexibility in the use of these through having the largest sovereign fund in the world. It is a very strong democracy with great trust in government, including the youth’s trust. The predominant religion is Lutheran, and it is highly secularized and welcoming of science and critical thinking. Humanism is inherent and implicit in Norwegian Lutheranism and results in many young people opting out of the religion and requesting at the age of 15 that their spiritual, religious, and/or secular ceremonial requests be undertaken by the Norwegian Humanist Association. This results in substantial government funding of this organization – enabling it to become the largest of its kind in the world and the principal supporter of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
If the new center-left government of Norway is to accomplish much, support from other parties on the left will be essential. This is because the new government does not include a majority. Its previous partner, the Socialist Left (SV), has determined it is best served by not being a part of government. My understanding of why this is the case has much to do from what resulted when it was part of a Labour-Center Party government. Then, as part of the government it was more obligated to go along with policy often unacceptable to its membership. This proved detrimental in the national election of 2013. Now SV is believed to have more leverage, and in collaboration with the Red Party, seats have increased from 1 to 8 in the Storting – meaning more of their policies can receive serious consideration. Lacking the votes from SV as well as the Red Party, the Labour and Center Party will either opt toward the left’s agenda or reach out to a right party. The latter can alienate those unions that support Labour thereby continuing its long-term decline in membership and voter support.
The present political dynamics in Norway are fraught with risks and opportunities. There is a check on what the minority government can accomplish and an opportunity for minority parties to strengthen Norway’s social democracy that has been incrementally eroding for decades regardless of which parties were governing. If Norwegians are to determine what’s best for their nation and the planet – knowing what to preserve and to enhance from their system and culture are essential.
What needs to be done for this nation to have a high quality of life, and how can its enormous wealth and resources contribute to sustainable modernity? These are questions that the Evolution Institute plans to engage in with Norwegians again in the belief that their universities and institutes will be incentivized to seek answers and solutions, focusing scientific and technological development on improving quality of life as broadly as possible.