Nordic model

A new blog, the topic is obvious, hat tip to New Economist.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  No matter what your politics, contemporary northern Europe represents a high point in human civilization.  If you’re not deeply interested in the region, you should be.  If you haven’t visited, you must.  Go, go, go.  Travel is the starting point of learning social science.

Addendum: Elsewhere Meghan O’Rourke notes: "It’s telling, for example, that in Scandinavia, where attitudes toward gender are more egalitarian, both men and women wear engagement rings."


I live in Sweden. I find your comment to be bizarre.

lol, i like herman's comment... but I was going to say: being "egalitarian" about gender and being overly PC and trying to make the gender's identical are two different things. I think the US does a pretty good job (with erring in both directions, hopefully one day we will land in between the errors) of staying on the right side of that line.

The wedding has traditionally been a bit more for the woman as women tend to value the ceremonial aspect more than men -- dressing up, having a party, celebrating the day, etc. This is a difference between the genders that tends to hold true even when the genders are treated equally and it isn't sexist and it doesn't mean one gender is better than the other. That the woman wears an engagement ring and not the man to me goes along with this ceremony, evidencing that the wedding itself is more for her. Both wear the wedding ring as the marriage is for both equally. For couples who don't happen to be like this, they can feel free to do it differently - both or neither can wear engagement rings, the wedding can be for him, etc.

I suspect that it would take PC pressure to change that in the US -- not sure what it was for Sweden -- and I think that would be stupid.

I am not sure the engagement ring thing is a sign of egalitarianism or a successful marketing campaign by jewelers.

"No matter what your politics, contemporary northern Europe represents a high point in human civilization."

Is that true regardless of what race you belong to? I am skeptical.

To me, Sweden seemed like the world's nicest housing project. Clean, safe, but with the soul-destroying banality of a housing project, nonetheless. And there didn't seem to be much escape from it socially, either...

Professor Cowen, I only know of Sweden from a family I got to know (the mother is an artist) pretty well, and though they love Sweden, they expressed something close to the opposite view. My understanding is that the arts and culture generally is somewhat dull over there. This is merely an impression from talking to one family, but it would be helpful if you would qualify in what sense it's a high point in civilization.

I think that Scandanavian countries have been fairly stabilized across many dimensions, especially culturally. With the greater homogeneity of preferences, and the less uncertainty and cost of wars in their land relative to the rest of Europe over the recent millenium, the allocation of commons is a less onerous problem than their southern neighbors as well as the other continents (save Australia, who also enjoy a similar cultural stability and homogeneity).

Adrian, I have no idea how you happened upon Marginal Revolution, or why you decided to start posting here, but as a long-time reader of this blog, I would really appreciate it if you just moved along and started gracing some other blog with your racist tripe. Doesn't have a healthy discussion board?

I'd like to think that the highest point in human civilization will be when a people is independently minded enough to reject advertisers and not where ANY engagement rings.

"No matter what your politics, contemporary northern Europe represents a high point in human civilization."

What a goofy-ass comment...sounds like a "wanna-be" quote from a wimp in San Francisco. They want all the freedom without risk, danger, or confrontation. Meat eaters and men are only wanted when there's trouble; otherwise, let's wear engagement rings to signify our merging feminine sides.

"With the greater homogeneity of preferences, and the less uncertainty and cost of wars in their land relative to the rest of Europe over the recent millenium,"

Incorrect, they fought amongst themselves, controlled each other, and raided other lands a lot. The Finn's, an unusual race, constantly had to fight off Russia.

Admirable - but not a model.

I agree that the Scandinavian societies are an excellent system of civilization - the question I would ask is whether they are a 'model' for anyone else.

Are they propagating? What aspects - if any - are spreading?

It's my impression that the Nordic sphere has not provided a model of modernization for elsewhere, in the way that the Anglosphere certainly has, and that the Germanic culture used to.

To amplify: the Germanized zone of Central Europe and its outpost cities such as the Hanseatic ports has been for centuries markedly more successful than the adjascent zones (eg. Czech versus Slovakia; Hungary versus Romania; Flanders versus the rest of Belgium)- and the Germanic model of universities is the basis for modern US research universities.

adrian, thanks for responding to my comment. I did not mean to overlook or understate the cost of conflict in nordic lands, but to propose it was significantly less than the rest of Europe.

I've only been to Norway out of all the countries mentioned, but do have a good Finnish friend, and (and also took a beautiful swedish-american girl to my senior prom). I'm an engineer by training working in financial services, so I appreciate my lack of expertise in this area.

However, I'm not sure I know where to falsify my claim. Since 1066, have the scandanvians been ravaged by war as much as the rest of Europe (minus Switzerland)?

Chris wrote:
I'd also be astonished if more Americans moved to Scandinavia than people who moved in the other direction.

Well, America has a much bigger population than Sweden, so really we should be talking about proportions.

adrian, shouldn't you have linked to a specific article at TechCentralStation?

I've never been to Scandinavia, don't plan to either. It is often touted as an example for us all, but until I hear of significant migration from other first world countries to there (as is the case with the French going to England and the Germans going to Switzerland) I'm skeptical.

Having recently escaped from Denmark after 6 years, I would be saddened if other countries started imitating the Nordic model. The best way to explain this is by using Seligman's distinction between the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life. Life in Denmark is pleasant and can be good (though not for people with my special combination of talents); but it can hardly be meaningful: there is little control over your own life, little scope for improving it or the lives of other people. Reading "Brave New World" can also help to grasp these concepts.

TGGP has got it right: if you are not a local, you would not want to move there; though why the locals are happy there -- which they are -- is beyond me; possibly, it's down to their special combination of talents. I am much happier in Estonia.

All four of my grandparents emigrated from Norway about 100 years ago. My parents visited Norway. I've visited Norway. I'll stay in the U.S.A., although I ought to move out of the Socialist State of New York.

"If you haven't visited, you must. Go, go, go. Travel is the starting point of learning social science."

I see the usual flag-waving knuckle-heads have already chimed in on this one, but I would challenge them as you did above. Why not simply go and take a look for yourself before letting the knee jerk? What are you afraid of? I never fail to be amazed at the viceral reaction that a simple positive mention of ANYTHING beyond US borders merits among a certain type of "educated" American. You people have some serious issues. Yes, I feel for you, the Imperial Ship of State is on a crash course, but I imagine that Brits circa 1934 had a bit more class about it.

And it's so entirely too easy to get a chronic case of The Grass is Greener Syndrome without actually living there.

Thinking back about this issue, I have decided that there is something positive about Scandinavia that Americans should imitate: small government.

I mean, of course, small *federal* government. The population of Sweden is less than half that of California, but the EU is less important to Sweden that the federal government is to California. And the Swedes, and Danes, and especially Norwegians, are going to resist any change to this. The American Founding Fathers would have approved.

And by the way, Scandinavia is open to trade. No John Edwards protectionism there.

asiequana -

Wake up! Dubai puts NYC to shame.

Whether Scandinavian is a good place or a bad place we can be sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual Scandinavians, you know, the actual people who have lived there for thousands of years!

Is it possible that Scandinavia suits Scandinavians but not necessarily Anglo-Saxons or Hottentots? In other words that different people would prefer different "models"?

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