First - and arguably foremost - there is virtually no difference among upper, middle and lower classes in Iceland. And with that, tension between economic classes is non-existent, a rare occurrence for any country.Björgvin SigurðssonSocial Democratic Alliance
A study of the Icelandic class system done by a University of Missouri master’s student found only 1.1% of participants identified themselves as upper class, while 1.5% saw themselves as lower class.
The remaining 97% identified themselves as upper-middle class, lower-middle class, or working class.
On one of three visits to Althing, the Icelandic parliament, I met Bjorgvin Sigurdsson, former chairman of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Alliance. In his eyes - as well as those of many Icelanders I spoke with - equality was the biggest reason for the nation’s relative lack of crime.
“Here you can have the tycoon’s children go to school with everyone else,” Sigurdsson says, adding that the country’s social welfare and education systems promoted an egalitarian culture.
Crimes in Iceland - when they occur - usually do not involve firearms, though Icelanders own plenty of guns.
GunPolicy.org estimates there are approximately 90,000 guns in the country - in a country with just over 300,000 people.
The country ranks 15th in the world in terms of legal per capita gun ownership. However, acquiring a gun is not an easy process -steps to gun ownership include a medical examination and a written test.
Police are unarmed, too. The only officers permitted to carry firearms are on a special force called the Viking Squad, and they are seldom called out.
In addition, there are, comparatively speaking, few hard drugs in Iceland.
According to a 2012 UNODC report, use among 15-64-year-olds in Iceland of cocaine was 0.9%, of ecstasy 0.5%, and of amphetamines 0.7%.
There is also a tradition in Iceland of pre-empting crime issues before they arise, or stopping issues at the nascent stages before they can get worse.
Right now, police are cracking down on organised crime while members of the Icelandic parliament, Althingi, are considering laws that will aid in dismantling these networks.
When drugs seemed to be a burgeoning issue in the country, the parliament established a separate drug police and drug court. That was in 1973.
In the first 10 years of the court, roughly 90% of all cases were settled with a fine.
The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical. The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Swede pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he gets decent schools and free health care. The Nordics have pushed far-reaching reforms past unions and business lobbies. The proof is there. You can inject market mechanisms into the welfare state to sharpen its performance. You can put entitlement programmes on sound foundations to avoid beggaring future generations. But you need to be willing to root out corruption and vested interests. And you must be ready to abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and right and forage for good ideas across the political spectrum. The world will be studying the Nordic model for years to come.
Yes, I know the Nordic model isn’t entirely translatable. But it still dispels the notions that big government *in principle* is always bad. It all depends on how that government is run and formulated, not so much it’s size. For example:
In the United States, unions are sector-specific, in the Scandinavian countries, unions are strong, centralized and multi-sector. This way, unions can take a far broader view of things as well as reduce the number of unions with which a company has to deal. In addition, in the Scandinavian nations, unions have a place on the boards of public companies, something that’s unheard of here in the US. By doing that, unions, through their elected board representatives, have a say in how a firm is run. Imagine an airline handled in such a manner. Rather than rising fuel prices causing a fight between management and its various unions, the union representatives become part of the planning stage, to address the issues which can hurt the company before it becomes unmanageable. The broad view enabled by such an arrangement makes the union part of the company’s biggest strength as they understand the underlying economic impact of corporate decisions.