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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 17 2012

‘Planet Money’ hosts say learn from Norway’s lead

FARGO – If the oil-rich state of North Dakota is to thrive 20 years from now, state leaders should consider following the lead of their Norsk relatives on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, lest we, too, suffer what economists call “The Resource Curse.”

That’s the advice of Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg, co-creators of “Planet Money” and keynote speakers for the North Dakota 2.0 capstone summit Tuesday at the Radisson Hotel.

“We just want to express our deepest condolences,” Davidson said.

“You found oil,” deadpanned Blumberg.

In many places around the world where oil is found, democracy wanes, the National Public Radio journalists warned. But even if North Dakota

doesn’t slip into dictatorship under Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the state could see the power of oil crowd out other economic sectors for resources, leaving the state less able to adapt years down the road when the economy shifts again.

What Norway did in the 1970s was create a set of guiding principles for exploiting their country’s reserves of black gold and to invest in the future, Davidson and Blumberg said.

They included:

With the close of the Fargo meeting, the results of surveys taken at all 14 meetings held around the state since October will be compiled by researchers at North Dakota State University, then shared with local, state and congressional leaders and the general public, said Jasper Schneider.

Schneider has spearheaded the project as the state’s director for USDA Rural Development. He expects the report will be ready by the end of May.

”The art of the deal” will then be determining the themes and conclusions that can be drawn from the input given, Schneider said.

“We have to remember, for the vast majority of our state’s history, we have not been a beacon of economic prosperity, and so the thing we’ve always had going for us is our quality of life,” Schneider said. “The challenge for all of us is how do we reach our potential economically,” while maintaining our high quality of life.

“We’ve got to get this right,” he said. “The worst thing that can happen to us is that 20 years from now, we look back on a time of prosperity and wish that we had made wiser choices and smarter investments.”

For Davidson and Blumberg, transparency in how the exploitation of North Dakota’s oil riches takes place, as well as investment in education – from preschool to graduate school – are those wise choices and smart investments.

“For me, the transparency is really crucial,” Davidson said. “And that doesn’t mean having all the data in some file cabinet somewhere. But aggressive transparency, where anybody who is at all curious can easily see who is getting contracts, Let me read the contracts. How is this state well-being accessed and shared? Everything else can follow from that.”

Blumberg thinks the main thing “is to sort of realize that oil is a double-edged sword.” It brings much wealth, but it also can help create social ills such as homelessness and higher crime rates.

“Just sort of know what’s coming. Know it will disrupt the economy,” Blumberg said. “Part II is to figure out how best to manage for the future so your economy doesn’t only become about oil” and how do you use and invest that money “to get the most bang for your buck.”

Human capital also shouldn’t be forgotten, he said.

“It seems pretty clear that the better-educated your populace is, the better off your economy is, and it’s getting more and more that way,” he said. “Economists will tell you that preschool is a pivotal moment,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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