In the wake of the sovereign debt crisis, we are used to thinking that neoliberalism has a negative effect only on Europe’s weaker economies. In fact, in many richer parts of the continent people have become obsessed with their regions’ per capita income, to the point of considering to split up for good with their less fortunate co-nationals. Thus the well-off Flemish wish to secede from Belgium in order to avoid subsidising the less competitive Walloons; the Catalans loathe to help out some of Spain’s poorer regions and would likewise prefer to live in a separate state; even Bavarians have second thoughts when it comes to paying their taxes to Berlin, thus calling into question the long term viability of Bismarck’s German reich.
In many respects, however, Scotland is an exception to this rule. The Scots’ plans to dissolve the 300 year-old union with England is based on a desire to preserve and enhance Scotland’s egalitarian way of life. The latter puts them on a collision course with its much larger partner, which is still bent on privatising everything down to police stations, and on charging an arm and a leg for the chance to acquire a good education.
The 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, if successful, might result in the creation of a second ‘Norway’, inside the European Union. Like Norway, Scotland has around 5 million inhabitants confronted with a harsh climate, both countries’ economies relying mainly on oil production and fishing, although the Scots earn a few billion euros more from selling their whisky brands worldwide.
The independence referendum also brings into focus an alternative economic model which has come to be known as state capitalism. Indeed, in a global social environment dominated by neoliberalism-inspired inequality, economic stagnation and recurrent crises, the Norwegian brand of state capitalism stands out as a viable alternative. In Norway, state ownership extends to major companies, major banks, energy companies and even the stock market. While most of Europe is mired in negative growth, Norway has been experiencing annual growth rates of between 4 and 5 percent. As one local politician puts it, the country had pioneered state capitalism long before the Chinese, immediately after world war II. Norwegians enjoy high standards of living and although they pay high levels of taxes, they get excellent, free medical care, as well as free education for the young, in return. Their experience shows that having the state as a stakeholder in strategic industries improves both the stability and the performance of any given economy. This, to be sure, is what The Economist should be promoting as the Scandinavian model worth emulating.