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While oil lurches toward some of our finest beaches—the powder white sand stretches along the Alabama and Florida panhandle coasts, I was in Norway last week where off shore oil drilling and the economy are basically one and the same. This Scandinavian country of four million people, laced by stunning fiords and mountain valleys, is essentially the Saudi Arabia of Europe and the third wealthiest nation in the world in monetary value.   In some villages which dot the countryside, entire populations work for the petroleum and gas industries. Shipbuilding, merchant marine, fishing (Atlantic salmon and mussel farms), sheep and goat farming and tourism are now secondary players relative to big oil. The government largely controls oil production and oil handsomely funds healthcare, social security, and infrastructure development (for the past 30 years since North Sea oil reserves were discovered Norway has been building tunnels through its mountain sides to make it easier for people to get around). That doesn’t mean taxes are low or gasoline pump prices are cheap—they’re not. The government realizes that its oil fields will eventually run out and builds a large reserve fund (the largest per capita in the world) to buttress the economy when black oil production begins to ebb.  In the meantime, the country has steered clear of membership in the European Union and keeps its krone currency separate from the Euro. Life in this capitalist-social democracy welfare state feels very secure at least for now—and locals shrug off the BP spill as something far away that won’t happen here.

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