NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2005

Despite popular belief, Norway is not the richest country in the world, says Bruce Bawer, a freelance writer based in Oslo. In fact, he says the economic reality of life in Norway is far different than the perception of affluence, which Norwegians themselves believe and want you to believe, too.

In order to uphold their image of superiority, Bawer says Scandinavians often stereotype the United States as a nation divided, inequitably, among robber barons and wage slaves, with armies of the homeless and unemployed. However, numerous studies strongly suggest otherwise:

  • Timbro, a Swedish research organization, compared the gross domestic product of the 15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the 50 American states; the only European country with an economic output per person greater than the United States average was Luxembourg, which ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.
  • KPMG, the international accounting and consulting firm, found when disposable income was adjusted for cost of living, Scandinavians were the poorest people in Western Europe; the leaders on the list were Spain and Portugal, two of Europe's least regulated economies.
  • Johan Norberg, a Swedish economist, says that in the last 25 years, economic growth has been 3 percent per annum in the United States, compared to 2.2 percent in the European Union; the gap in purchasing power is constantly widening between the United States at $36,100 per capita and the EU at $26,000.

While these studies confirm Bawer's suspicions, he says references to Norway as the world's richest country still continue and this is obviously one misconception that will not be put to rest by a measly think-tank study or two.

Source: Bruce Bawer, "We're Rich, You're Not. End of Story." New York Times, April 17, 2005; and Fredrik Bergstrom & Robert Gidehag, "EU Versus USA," Timbro, June 2004.

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