The Norwegian central bank reported yesterday that its world-leading social wealth fund surpassed $1 trillion in value for the first time in the second quarter of this year. The fund posted a 2.6 percent return during that quarter, beating its benchmark index by 0.3 percentage points.
The first half of this year has been the fund’s most successful half-year on record. It returned $63 billion of income, or $12,000 for every Norwegian citizen. At $1 trillion, the fund now holds $192,000 of wealth for every person in the country.
It took Norway a little over 20 years to grow the fund from nothing to $1 trillion. The fund now owns the stock of nearly 9,000 companies and owns around 1.3 percent of all of the publicly-traded equity in the world.
Norway’s global wealth fund gets a lot of attention because of its sheer size, but this attention can sometimes lead commentators to the wrong conclusions about the country’s economic model. The global wealth fund has grown to such heights as a direct result of the country’s enormous oil reserves. But the oil is not the only reason the country has such high levels of socialized wealth ownership.
In addition to its global wealth fund, Norway has a number of domestic wealth funds that have nothing to do with its oil revenues. The Folketrygdfondet is a domestic wealth fund that has been around since 1967, well before the discovery of oil. Its money is invested 85 percent in Norway and 15 percent in the other Nordic countries. Its assets total $27 billion and the fund, by itself, owns 5 percent of the equity on the Oslo stock exchange.
Other government entities own another 28 percent of the Oslo stock exchange, meaning that, altogether, governments in Norway own one-third of the domestic equity in the country. The market capitalization of the Oslo stock exchange stands somewhere around $309 billion, making the government’s one-third stake equal to around $103 billion, or one-third of the country’s annual GDP. This is more than the amount of domestic equity owned by private Norwegian individuals.
If by socialism we mean state ownership of the means of production, there is little doubt that Norway is the most socialist country in the developed world right now. It has combined high levels of state ownership with full employment, mass unionization, and a generous welfare state to create one of the best societies in the world. American policymakers would be wise to move in the Norwegian direction.