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Economists and political scientists have many different theories about what makes countries poor or rich. One prominent argument is that poverty tends to concentrate in tropical areas, driven by devastating tropical diseases and lower agricultural productivity, among many, many other factors. But what makes one country much richer than others? Chalk it up to North Sea oil and gas. Since , when the Ekofisk field was first discovered, Norwegians have pumped billions of kroners of oil and gas from the Norwegian Continental Shelf.
What might Norway be like, if oil had never been found, or if other countries had owned the area of the North Sea where oil was found? Between and , for example, nearly 1 million Norwegian immigrated to the United States. In a commentary in Aftenposten , a national newspaper, Sverre Knutsen, a professor of economic history at BI Norwegian Business School, notes that Norway was slightly below the arithmetic mean of the 16 richest OECD countries in , as measured by gross domestic product GDP per capita.
He stressed that it is impossible to know how Norway would have fared without oil money, but allowed himself to speculate a bit. He thinks Norway, with its highly educated population, had a good foundation for sound economic development, even without oil. One of the biggest challenges facing Norway at the time of the Ekofisk discovery was that it had absolutely no expertise in oil and gas production.
That meant the country was dependent on international companies, at least in the beginning. Part of the luck had to do with swings in oil prices, he said.
Right around the time Norway entered the oil market, in , prices shot sky high. Norway entered the market in a tense situation where oil prices were skyrocketing and when demand was high. We definitely had an excellent hand to play. Ola Honningdal Grytten, a professor of economic history at the Norwegian School of Economics, believes Norway would have been a rich country even without oil.