The NORDIC REGION...
Student Text Page No. 2: "Current Patterns"
Tourists who plane-hop from Reykjavík, Iceland, to the Nordic Region's
other capital cities can catch a bird's-eye view of why the region hums.
In addition to Reykjavík, those other capitals (Copenhagen, Denmark
… Oslo, Norway … Stockholm, Sweden … Helsinki, Finland)
are all busy seaports. Indeed, they are gateways for the trade on which
these five nations depend.
Here's one example of how vital that trade is: In 2009, the ratio of Denmark's
$197.8-billion exports to its gross domestic product (GDP) was roughly 46:100. In other
words, for every $100.00 worth of goods and services that Denmark produced, it sold
almost $46.00 worth overseas. The other four Nordic nations had impressive export ratios, too.
Success story. From Swedish cars and chemicals to Danish meats
and machine tools, the success of Nordic exports can be traced to a common
ingredient quality control. Even when the product is a natural resource
petroleum from Norway, timber from Finland, fish from Iceland
its regional label promises satisfaction. No surprise! Scandinavians (an
historic name shared by people in northernmost Europe) have been honing
their production skills for centuries. Finnish paper and Danish windmills
(which help provide renewable energy) are not simply "made."
Unique model. The petroleum beneath Norway's offshore waters was
not tapped until the mid-1970s. But from the time the industry was born,
Norway's government controlled it. That's not unusual in this region.
Like other Nordic nations, Norway has a "mixed economy"
a combination of (a) many privately owned businesses and (b) a few state-controlled
industries. Indeed, by taxing private companies and using profits from state-owned
companies, each Nordic nation is able to fund its own version of what is called the
"Scandinavian welfare model." This is the system by which each nation provides social
and education to all its citizens.
All together.... The cultural traditions reflected in Nordic welfare
laws date back to an era when Scandinavians lived in small farming or
fishing villages and helped neighbors in need. Today, however, Nordic
nations are highly urbanized, and close to 75 percent of their workers
are in service industries. Thus, helping all one's neighbors is
no longer easy. That's why Nordic societies accept the high taxes that
help fund their welfare systems. By 2008, Denmark's tax receipts equaled about 49
percent of its GDP! The percentage was high in the other nations, too: Sweden, 48;
Norway, 44; Finland, 43; Iceland, 41.
To sustain such high taxes, governments
in the Nordic nations strive to be flexible and far-sighted.
Sweden, for example, gives its citizens control over some tax bills by
allowing people to put part of what they owe into stock-market investments.
And all Nordic governments spend heavily on high-tech research and higher
education in order to help businesses stay competitive in the global market
— even as they pay taxes, too.
Regional Matters. Even with such change, the values embedded in
the Scandinavian model remain strong. Nordic people believe in equal rights
a belief that explains the big role women play in Nordic governments.
(In 1980, Iceland's Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the first woman ever to
be elected as head of state by popular vote. And today, women form 46
percent of Sweden's parliament.) Nordic people respect cooperation, too.
Since the 1950s, all five nations have been members of the Nordic Council,
cooperating on such issues as environmental protection and hi-tech research. All in all,
this region's successful track record helps us to ponder: What values and priorities
do nations within the Nordic Region seem to have in common? How widespread are those
values and priorities in the rest of today's world?