LONDON (InsideBitcoins) — Preconceptions about Norway should be at best, mulled over and dismissed. Norway is a land of mixed messages. A windswept peninsula in the northern periphery of Europe might be a familiar moniker but it remains one that fails to capture all that the country has to offer.
Norway sits on the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia but the climate is, surprisingly enough, one of the more alluring cards it can bring to the table. Temperatures reach 30 degrees Celsius in summer months. The narrow inlets surrounded by steep cliffs — so quintessentially Norwegian that their very name, fjords, remains one of the few unaltered Nordic words in the English language — are peppered with summer swimmers.
Though the Gulf stream winds it’s fine toothed tendrils across Norway’s coast all year round, its warming effect inevitably fails and the flaxen hues of Autumn pause for a moment before colliding with the caustic blanche of winter. The land turns into a snow clad paradise of unsurpassed purity; not even the word pristine can do Norway justice. Frozen waterfalls echo the greenish haze of the northern lights, coastal gales sculpt the snow drifts into seemingly impossible geometric constructs and everywhere the wind arches its back and howls across the plains. Small wonder that cross country skiing is a national obsession.
Prosperity mixed with state generosity
But it is not Norway’s aesthetic that makes it such an enviable place. Norway ranks sixth in the world in nominal GDP per capita. In Europe, only Luxembourg ranks higher and even then it is more for reasons of its status as a tax haven for the rich than for any intrinsic wealth it contains. The USA, still the world’s largest economy only just manages to make it into the top 10 and Norway’s neighbor in the northern waters of Europe, the UK, manages to place a rather disappointing 28th. And all this wealth is concentrated in the hands of the just over 5 million people who make up Norway’s entire population. Prosperity has been freely mixed with a state generosity that at times belies a beggars belief. To use just one example, new mothers can expect to enjoy 49 weeks of leave at 100% of their normal pay or, if they prefer, 58 weeks at 80%! Fathers receive two weeks of leave at full pay but must– and this is an actual law– take an additional 14 weeks paid leave before the child reaches 3 years of age. You don’t even want to know what the pensions are like.
That Norway has persistently declined to join the EU is largely a function of its wealth. Norway’s stake in the future prosperity of Europe is more like that of a concerned uncle than that of a nuclear family member. The treaties are there anyway; as a Schengen state, no visa is required for those Europeans who want to pay a quick visit to the continent’s ceiling, it’s a member of the internal market thanks to the EEA agreement and the EU remains its most important trading partner.
Still, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Norway has to import a lot of its food and for those unwilling to learn to live like a Norwegian — and I can’t advise against trying the Lutefisk strongly enough– the cost can be ruinous. A Big Mac in Oslo costs $10 and no, that’s not with fries and a coke. That’s just for the burger.
Perhaps bitcoin can help with that.
Quality not quantity
That the country only sports 15 bitcoin friendly merchants does not speak highly of the enthusiasm for the currency but perhaps quantity in this case can be overridden by quality. The cafés and bars are there and at the end of the day, what more do you need?
Norway is also not likely to get embroiled in the EU VAT wrangling that has been simmering for years; if the EU make the call to treat bitcoin as a taxable commodity then there are many who will flee to the periphery of the continent. There they might find safe haven and then again, they might not. Norway’s mixed message respects no boundaries.
In December of 2013 Bloomberg was reporting that Norway did not consider bitcoin to be money; it’s an asset and as such is subject to capital gains. Last October Norway based Justcoin was forced to close its doors after two major banks declared that they would no longer service the currency. And just at the point that Norway began to look hostile toward cryptocurrencies one little tidbit creeps up and saves the day. It would seem that the tax authority is not wholly without heart. If you lose money on bitcoin in Norway, it’s tax deductible.
See? Mixed messages.
Ian Jackson is an Inside Bitcoins correspondent based in the U.K.