Viking Economics by George Lakey
Review by N. Moran
Ever wonder what society will look like for our children and grandchildren? Will we all have health care in 10 years? Or will we still have a dysfunctional healthcare system that privileges those with the money to pay, and is a gift to the insurance industry? How about our higher educational system: Will we increasingly send our students into lifelong debt? Or will we move to invest in our greatest resource, our young people, and offer them a chance to really make their best contribution? And how about the big banks; will they continue to siphon our wealth into the coffers of the richest few?
Or will we be able to do what the Nordic countries have done, and whip the banks into submission, so that the economy serves the needs of its people? We could then use our wealth to offer National Improved Medicare for All and free quality education, we could use our wealth to support the growing cooperative model of non-exploitative businesses, and at the same time, we could protect the environment from further degradation.
Well-known activist, professor and author, George Lakey, in his latest book, Viking Economics, examines how this not only can be done, but actually has been done in countries such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. By all standards of quality of life, these countries fare better than we do in the U.S. Universal programs (such as those that care for the elderly, offer parental leave, living wages and one-month annual vacations) have buy-in from everyone, especially the working and middle-classes. These programs are supported by the majority of people because they are not means-tested subsidies for the poor, they are for everyone – so everyone supports them. These countries value full employment, high productivity, and a high standard of living for all.
Lakey’s coverage of Norwegian and Swedish history clarifies that none of what these countries have was handed to them gratis. Much as the working class in the U.S. fought for an end to child labor, for an 8-hour day, social security, and other rights and benefits, the working classes of the Scandinavian countries also had to wage many nonviolent direct action campaigns over the last century and a half to get where they are today. The difference between their countries and ours is that they continued their fight for a more just and equal society, whereas we have largely retreated from the agenda set by the working class struggles of the first half of the last century. Where they continue to go on the offensive, we have largely moved to a defensive mode, trying to protect gains won in the past.
It helps to take a step back from our daily politics and our daily struggles, as we can do in a book club discussion, and look at the vision we have for our future society. To see how other countries have built – and continue to build – better societies is an inspiration. The chapter on Iceland’s handling of its banking crisis draws a sharp contrast to the way the Bush and Obama administrations handed our 2008 banking crisis over to Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan to solve. While Iceland’s collapse was arguably worse than our own, people stayed in their homes, the government expanded the social safety net and let the biggest banks go bust. The population as a whole felt an uptick in their sense of well-being. That result stands in sharp contrast to the ongoing foreclosures – with the resulting rise in homelessness – here in the U.S.
So, when we wonder what our society will look like for our children and grandchildren, we could look at countries who are heading in a different direction than the one our largest corporations and banks have in mind. We can also look at our rich history of experience with people power, including civil resistance, nonviolent struggles, boycotts, occupy, strikes and demonstrations. Since our struggles of the 30’s and 60’s, we have learned much about grassroots organizing. But unlike those past years, when we were offered options, when we experienced growing prosperity, and the government still had some legitimacy, we are now faced with a system which increasingly cannot provide for the basic needs of its citizens. Then, the alternative economic designs were made to seem scary; now the Nordic Model shows us that healthcare for all, business coops, caring for the environment, childcare, public pensions, public transportation and free public education for all ages, can be a reality. Countries like Norway, Sweden and Iceland are the best places to grow old, where there is no fear of hunger, homelessness or lack of medications. Isn’t it time we gave it a try?