|/* Written 10:40 AM Nov 2, 1998 by firstname.lastname@example.org in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "Pity the Norwegian Working Class; P" ---------- */
Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1998 08:13:32 -0700 (MST)
From: ANDERSON DAVID
IN THIS MESSAGE: Pity the Norwegian Working Class; Private Prison Hell;
Unconventional Wisdom About Government
Norway Pays a Price for Family
Parents Receive Stipends To Stay Home With
By T. R. Reid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 1, 1998; Page A26
OSLO, Norway—Like countless other women around the world,
Suranhild Aenstad decided to leave her job and stay at home
after her first child was born. Unlike most other young mothers,
though, she paid no financial penalty for choosing family over
Aenstad was "hired" by the Norwegian government for a new line
of work -- staying home to raise her own daughter. The state paid
the new mother a yearly salary of $18,800, or 80 percent of what
she made as a secretary. With the savings on clothes and
commuting, Aenstad came out slightly ahead.
Last spring the baby, Serine -- a buoyant blue-eyed blond with a
smile as brilliant as the autumn sun glistening on the Oslofjord
beneath her nursery window -- celebrated her first birthday. At that
point, Suranhild Aenstad turned the household duties over to her
husband, Martin, who quit his job to stay home. So now it is he
who receives a monthly paycheck from the government for raising
his own child.
Politicians in Norway love to talk about "family values," and in that
they're no different from politicians almost everywhere else.
What's different here is that Norway has put its money where its
The United States pays a small percentage of its mothers a
monthly stipend to help them raise and feed their children. These
payments carry a stigma. They are known as "welfare," and
generally are available only to mothers who prove they can't find
work. The Clinton administration and most states have programs
in place to reduce the number of "welfare mothers," and
governors routinely boast about how much their welfare rolls are
Norway, in contrast, treats the monthly payment to parents as a
salary. Income and social security taxes are withheld, just as with
any paycheck. The payment is designed for working parents, to
encourage them to leave the job for a while and raise their
children. The government takes pride in statistics showing that
the number of recipients has been growing rapidly.
"We have made a fairly basic decision -- although, let's admit it, it
took us years to do it," said Valgard Haugland, the leader of
Norway's Christian Democratic Party and the minister of Children
and Family Affairs.
"We have decided that raising a child is real work. And that this
work provides value for the whole society. And that the society as
a whole should pay for this valuable service."
It should be noted that this kind of thing is easier for Norway than
it might be for nations facing tighter budget strictures. This
beautiful northern land, where the icy fiords wrap their deep blue
fingers around leafy green hills, is the world's second-largest
exporter of oil, after Saudi Arabia. Even with the past year's drop
in petroleum prices, Norway has run up a big budget surplus while
expanding its generous network of cradle-to-grave state benefits.
Norway's package of parental payments has been put together
gradually. More than a decade ago, the government established
the initial "maternity right," which pays a parent who leaves a job
to raise the baby 80 percent of his or her regular salary. This
program gradually has been extended, and now lasts for the first
12 months of the baby's life. When the year is up, the custodial
parent has a legal right to return to work -- not just any job, but the
same job, with at least the same pay as before.
"This is wonderful for me, that I could be home with Serine and
know that my career is protected," said Suranhild Aenstad, 24,
who was a secretary in a downtown office when Serine was born.
"But it is not perfect. Women can suffer. We all know that some
companies don't hire a woman if they expect you are going to
take maternity leave in a few years."
Haugland, the cabinet minister who is known as the "mother of
parental payments" because of her support for the proposal,
agrees that this can be a problem. "Of course we have made it
illegal for an employer to turn down a young applicant for this
reason," she said. "But how do you prove it? They will never say
they rejected somebody because of maternity leave."
At the moment, however, losing out on a job is not a serious risk.
Norway's labor market is so tight -- with the economy strong and
unemployment at 3 percent -- that most employers will take any
qualified worker, no matter what the parental future might bring.
While the first-year "maternity right" is accepted across the board
in political circles, there has been more controversy about the
new "parental payment" plan, which pays for child care beyond
the first year of life. As of this fall, the government is paying
custodial parents during a baby's second year. Funding for a
third-year parental payment is proposed in the 1999 budget
pending before the Storting, or parliament.
The parental payment is considerably smaller than the first-year
maternity right, paying a little less than $5,000 per year. Parents
who don't choose to take it can go back to work and send their
children to government-subsidized day care, which is known here
as kindergarten. The law also says that medical treatment is free
for the first seven years of a child's life -- but that's not such a big
deal in a country where medical care is subsidized and patients
generally pay no more than $10 for a doctor visit.
Almost all political parties in Norway are more liberal than the
major U.S. parties. But those on the left, by Norwegian standards,
have objected to the budget proposal that would extend the
parental payment to a child's third year.
This is partly because the more liberal parties have an
ideological commitment to conformity, and they say children
should be sent to licensed day care facilities instead of being
raised at home.
In addition, the liberals object to the notion of paying parents who
choose not to take a job outside the home. When parliament was
debating the issue this month, Thorbjorn Jagland, the Labor Party
leader and former prime minister, complained that the parental
payment is a giveaway. "Why would you pay somebody who does
not hold down a job?" he demanded.
Sitting in his cozy apartment here, with 18-month-old Serine
bouncing happily on his knee, Martin Aenstad begs to differ. "I've
had jobs, and now I'm raising my daughter. And I can tell you that
being a house-father is hard work.
"At least when I was on the job, they gave me a lunch break. If
Serine is hungry or crying or has a full diaper -- well, you try telling
her that Daddy needs a lunch break."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
The Problem With Private Prisons
Sunday, November 1, 1998; Page C08
A report released last month by the D.C. Department of
Corrections highlighted accounts of horrific conditions at the
Northeast Ohio Correctional Facility, where the District began
shipping inmates 16 months ago. Yet any veteran corrections
official, constitutional scholar, prison advocate or federal judge
will tell you that these same inhumanities plague public prisons.
What is different and unfortunate about private correctional
facilities is their lack of accountability. Private prison companies
are unlicensed and unregulated, and they are expanding their
operations at a frenzied pace.
Since the transfer of inmates from the District to the Ohio facility
began, 20 inmate stabbings have occurred; two inmates have
died from these incidents. Six D.C. inmates also escaped from
the Youngstown prison, prompting Ohio Gov. George Voinovich
to consider closing the prison because of security concerns.
These are concerns that the D.C. Department of Corrections
must weigh too as it begins to review a multimillion-dollar contract
with Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) to build and maintain a
similar facility in the District.
CCA, the largest for-profit prison company in the world, is one of
about 20 private prison companies that together bring in more
than $250 million a year in revenues from taxpayer dollars. In the
northeast Ohio facility, CCA kept costs down by housing violent
and nonviolent inmates together -- a practice not employed at
public prisons, and one that may have helped to create an
explosive environment that led to the stabbings. Private prisons
abide by no federal or state contract guidelines, and the reporting
clause of private prison contracts also is often weak, requiring
only an annual pro-forma report to a legislative committee. In
addition, government monitoring of these contracts is often
To build a prison, most private companies need only buy a chunk
of land in a state where prison beds are scarce and start building.
In almost all cases, by the time construction is complete, the
companies have found one or several governments (often located
several states away) willing to buy the beds. At last count, 17
states were doing business with for-profit prison companies.
What has compounded the negative effects of the privatization of
prisons is that the constitutional safeguards and nonprofit
watchdog groups previously in place to protect prisoners' rights
have been all but eliminated. The Prison Litigation Reform Act,
passed as part of the 1994 federal crime bill, undercut existing
court orders where federal courts found local systems to be in
violation of the Constitution.
The problem with for-profit prisons is not the profit. What is wrong
is that the companies are not held accountable for intolerable
performance. Taxpayer money is used to subsidize the building
of cruel and inhumane environments.
Violent prisons produce violent people, most of whom eventually
return to the community. Certainly, this is not the purpose of
prisons. Offenders must be held accountable for crimes and
punished. Yet studies show that if prisoners attend education and
work programs while incarcerated, they are dramatically less
likely to commit more crimes when they are released. Sadly, over
the past four years, governments systematically have cut these
programs, while awarding more contracts to private prison
companies, which offer few such programs.
In an age in which privatization is popular yet public safety
remains the public's number one concern, we would do well to
open up the doors to private prisons and take a good look. We
will not like what we see.
-- Nancy Mahon
is director of the Center on Crime, Communities & Culture of the
Open Society Institute in New York.
UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: New
Facts and Hot Stats From the Social
By Richard Morin
Sunday, November 1, 1998; Page C05
Putting the Good in Good Government
How did some governments come to be so good and some
governments so ghastly? That question has provoked a thousand
theories but few answers. Now researchers at Harvard and the
University of Chicago have assembled data from more than 150
countries in an effort to answer the question. In the process, they
are challenging some popular assumptions about what makes
Size does matter, they argue, but not in the way that Ross Perot
and othergovernment bashers suspect. Around the world, big
governments have been better than smaller governments at doing
the things these researchers say government should do: protect
individual and property rights, deliver high-quality goods and
services efficiently, and foster democratic principles.
High taxes, too, are associated with good governments. "It's quite
shocking," laughed one of the researchers, Harvard economist
Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes. Apparently "people don't mind
paying more for good government. This does not mean that bad
governments should grow or tax more to get better. But it does
suggest that big does not necessarily mean bad government."
The researchers collected mountains of data from countries
around the world, including statistics on gross domestic product,
per-capita income, size of government, tax rates, measures of
corruption, and salaries of workers employed in the public and
private sectors, as well as data on personal freedom, literacy,
educational attainment and infant mortality.
To see if economic, cultural and political traditions predict
government performance, the researchers looked at each
country's religious makeup and examined survey data that
measured how much people trusted their fellow citizens. And they
ascertained whether a country's laws were based on English,
French, German or Scandinavian legal traditions.
"History and traditions matter," Lopez-de-Silanes and
economists Rafael La Porta and Andrei Shleifer of Harvard and
Robert Vishny of the University of Chicago concluded in a paper
they prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The Terrible Tropics Countries farther away from the equator are
better governed than those in the torrid zone. No, it's not because
bureaucrats in the tropics spend their time lounging on white sand
beaches, sipping rum drinks. "In temperate zones, there is much
less disease and the agriculture is much more productive,"
Lopez-de-Silanes said, which may have allowed chillier countries
to develop better economies and institutions.
Income Not surprisingly, rich countries are better governed. The
surprise is that researchers don't exactly know why. They suspect
that wealthier countries can simply afford better government and
better educational systems that produce better-trained and more
public-spirited citizens. Or maybe good government boosts
national income, which in turn whets the appetite for more and
perhaps bigger government.
Ethnic Diversity Uh-oh. Don't want to be politically incorrect here,
but "ethno-linguistically heterogeneous" countries (those with lots
of ethnic groups) don't seem to be as well governed as those with
much less diversity. That's because competing ethnic groups too
often waste their energy--and squander their country's
resources--trying to dominate and sometimes exterminate their
rivals, Lopez-de-Silanes said.
Religion Uh-oh again. Don't want to get on any fanatic's hit list
here, but the researchers contend that Muslim and Catholic
countries are consistently less well-governed than countries with
relatively large numbers of Protestants. Lopez-de-Silanes
suspects the answer has little to do with religious doctrine.
Instead, he notes that Islam and Catholicism were used by rulers
to support state power. "The use of these religions for political
purposes may have shaped policies in ways that ended up being
hostile to good government," he said.
Trust in Individuals Makes sense. If you don't trust others, you're
likely not to trust or support government; thus it withers from
neglect. "In countries that have higher levels of trust between
individuals, we see better government performance on a lot of
measures," Lopez-de-Silanes said. Again, he suspects religion
may play a key role. Catholics and Muslims tend to be more
mistrustful of others than Protestants are, he said. One reason
may be that these religions are hierarchical, with strict chains of
ecclesiastical command that suppress the development of what
other scholars call "horizontal bonds of fellowship."
The French Connection Countries whose laws are based on the
Napoleonic Commercial Code tend to be badly governed, while
those based on English common law tend to have good
governments. Lopez-de-Silanes said that's because the
Napoleonic Code was designed to protect state interests over
those of the individual, while English common law was designed
to protect individuals' rights "and particularly property rights" from
the state (specifically, the monarch).
"This is one of our most important and powerful [findings]," he
said. "Legal systems that have their origin in French civil law
predict inferior government performance; this seems to be driving
a lot of stuff, from the quality of government to the development of
business and commerce."
It's true in Indonesia and Zaire, these researchers claim, and also
in Mexico and, of course, in France. It may even be true in the
United States. Well, maybe just in one state: Louisiana, which is
the only state whose legal system is based on French civil
law--and a state whose government has been historically corrupt.
"It certainly is one data point that fits our theory well,"
You can reach The Unconventional Wiz at:
* Here's a list of the 10 best and the 10 worst governments in the
world, based on how efficiently government delivers quality goods
and services, levels of personal freedom, and the degree to
which the government interferes in the private sector. The list was
compiled by Harvard economist Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes.
Overall French Origin of
Ranking Country Commercial Code?
TOP 10 COUNTRIES
1. New Zealand No
2. Switzerland No
3. Norway No
4. United Kingdom No
5. Canada No
6. Iceland No
7. United States of America No
8. Finland No
9. Sweden No
10. Australia No
BOTTOM 10 COUNTRIES
1. Zaire Yes
2. Sierra Leone No
3. Sudan No
4. Haiti Yes
5. Cameroon Yes
6. Mali Yes
7. Syrian Arab Republic Yes
8. Indonesia Yes
9. Niger Yes
10. Algeria Yes
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company