‘Most expensive’ yet again

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Another ranking of the world’s major cities places the Norwegian capital in the top spot as most expensive, way ahead of cities known for high prices like Tokyo, Paris and New York. What may be most worrisome for Oslo residents, though, is how low they rank in actual purchasing power.

Oslo tops another list over the world's most expensive cities. Here, shoppers and strollers along the city's main boulevard, Karl Johans Gate. PHOTO: Views and News

Norwegian politicians often dismiss international rankings that show Oslo to be more expensive than most other capitals. They’ll downplay taxes and argue that salaries also are higher in Oslo than other cities, while the powerful agricultural lobby, for example, will defend high food prices by claiming that Norwegians spend less of their total income at the grocery store than many others do elsewhere in the world.

A new study by the large Swiss banking group UBS, however, throws some cold water on the politicians’ and agricultural lobbyists’ claims.

In UBS’ annual study called “Prices and Earnings 2011,” the cost of a weighted shopping basket of 122 goods and services geared to western European consumer habits left Oslo in the top spot, followed by Zurich and Geneva. It’s probably no coincidence that all three cities are in countries that refused to join the European Union and which are known for protectionist policies, relatively high taxes and strong currencies.

Next most-expensive on UBS’ list were Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tokyo and Sydney, followed by Helsinki, Toronto and Singapore to make up the world’s 10 most expensive cities. New York was ranked 14th, followed by London at 15th. Paris was 12th.

On the ranking for wage levels, however, Oslo placed only fourth, behind Zurich, Geneva and Copenhagen. So the average earnings of Oslo residents don’t rank as high as the prices they must pay for goods and services, and that’s reflected in perhaps UBS’ most alarming ranking: Oslo’s domestic purchasing power based on net hourly wages.

While Zurich topped the list, followed by Sydney and Luxembourg, the average Oslo resident’s purchasing power ranked a lowly 26th, way below New York (in 8th place) and even Tokyo, in 23rd place. In other words, the residents of 25 of the world’s major cities including Geneva, Chicago, even London and Stockholm, enjoy more purchasing power than those in Oslo, according to the so-called “wealth management” experts at UBS.

And UBS’ price-earnings measurements did not take into account monthly housing expenses. Housing prices have soared in Oslo in the past few years, as have rents. That suggests Oslo residents’ purchasing power may rank even lower in comparison to other cities.

So even though Norway has often ranked as the “best country in the world” in which to live by the United Nations Development Program, it’s still mighty expensive for both locals and visitors alike. The politicians, lobbyists, wholesalers and retailers who effectively set prices in Oslo and elsewhere in Norway may shrug that off as the price one pays to live in their version of paradise, and most Norwegians don’t have the huge health insurance or college education costs that many Americans have. But that doesn’t necessarily take the sting out of a shopping trip.

To view UBS’ complete rankings and methodology, click here (external link).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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  • Rshobbet1

    Thanks for this analysis, Nina. As a newcomer to Oslo, I feel the high prices here most painfully in tandem with the protectionism, especially at the grocery stores. Compared to any other country without such rigid controls, the selection is poor–and yet the prices are Whole Foods all the way. I admit to some grating resentment. At these prices, I don’t want to see lettuce rotting around the edges.

  • SteelMagnolia69

    The way I see it, even the most highly qualified young people (late 20s, early 30s), working for many years at the best companies in Oslo, can’t afford a good life here. We have to live in ridiculously small apartments, drive very old cars (if we’re lucky enough to have one), eat low quality food, never go out for dinner, pay insane taxes, and save as much as possible so that one day maybe, just maybe, we can afford to put a down-payment on an extremely small, dilapidated apartment in the suburbs.

    You will notice that all the other cities on the most expensive list are extremely large cities, so it makes sense to pay a lot to live there. What is Oslo’s excuse? For the price of a 50 square meter apartment in Oslo you can get a 4-bedroom house with a garden, and even a swimming pool, in central Washington DC. I’m not exaggerating. How is Norway the “best place in the world to live”? Aren’t you living better if you have room to breathe in your apartment? Aren’t you living better if you don’t have to drive a 20 year old car (with failing brakes) that stinks like arse, or cram into a hot bus that stinks worse? Aren’t you living better if you can afford good food, and a night out on the town more than twice a year?

    Heck, we have people dying here because they can’t afford to heat their apartment. We have people dying because the public healthcare system is so inefficient, and they are rationing care and making people wait for critical operations. Don’t tell me about maternity leave either, what if I don’t want to have kids? What if I got my education elsewhere and I don’t want to pay for yours? Why is that not my choice? Why are we not free in this country?

    No, I really don’t like anything about this country, but I have to stay for now, for personal reasons. I wish they would report stories like this in the Norwegian press so people would pull their heads out of the sand and rise up against this ultra-socialist nonsense. FRP has my vote.

    • Rob

      Sounds like you are stuck in the same trap that I am in, would love to leave but can’t.

    • townecksinanoose

      I would love to see an actual 4 bedroom house in central DC for anything under US 1 million. Actual sales for the 2010-11 period show the average price to be closer to IS1.25M. Even in Oslo, one can get much more than a 50 sq. mt. apartment at that level of spending — at least here in Gamlebyen.

      I moved to Norway from the US a little over two years ago & would not live anywhere else. You can keep the FRP. The socialist tendencies of Norwegian society are one of Norway’s most attractive features.

    • Southernfjord

      What a load of tripe. I came to Norway nine years ago with nothing but the clothes on my back and the brain in my head. I took the language courses offered me, got into university and got a degree. I now have a good job, a house, a car, and I’m working on my master’s degree. It’s a lot of hard work and I had some undesirable jobs along the way, but hey, if you really want something then you should be willing to work for it. Isn’t that what they are always saying in America? Oh yeah, and I go out plenty. You say you already had an education when you got here? Great, then you were a step ahead of me, so what’s your excuse? Sounds like you’re disappointed because you got here and figured out that it’s not a free ride.

      And I just love how you end your hateful and highly inaccurate rant: you would leave but you “have to” stay here. Oh I get it. All those bad things in your life are not your fault: it’s Norway’s fault and everything would be great if you weren’t being held prisoner here. I’m sure that if you were someplace else you would find some other excuse as to why your life is so miserable. It’s ironic how those who complain the most about high taxes for social goods are the ones who always whine for more entitlement. It makes sense that you vote FrP, since they have the highest percentage of voters on welfare. Here’s a news flash for you: Norway doesn’t need you and doesn’t owe you anything. You have to prove your worth. The only way you’re going to improve the value of your own life is to show that you can be of value to others. It’s the same everywhere.

      And BTW, Norway is very much a free country and you are free to leave today. So by all means, go to America and live in that polluted, crime-ridden, 2-party dictatorship of a police state.

    • Dmitry Shaporenkov

      When you say “you are free to leave today” and “Norway doesn’t owe you anything”, don’t forget that taxes paid by SteelMagnolia69 and other folks supported your university education and likely language courses too. I’m glad you’re doing well, but please respect people’s right to have different opinion.

      • Southernfjord

        I pay taxes too. So what? We all do. That still doesn’t mean that Norway owes anybody a better job, or flat, or car (those are the things that SteelMagnolia complains about). It is up to the individual to take advantage of the opportunities available.
        You must also not forget that I was replying to a person who said that “there is nothing I like about this country.” I respect differences of opinion, but I take exception to a person who whines about their life situation and then blames it on the country that they CHOOSE to live in. I’m simply pointing out that this person is free to make a different choice.

    • Aquacalc

      “…go to America and live in that polluted, crime-ridden, 2-party dictatorship of a police state.”

      Well, I gave you a “Like” for your well-reasoned and well-presented response, with which I generally agree. And you have a very compelling personal story that I appreciate. It reminds me of other get-the-job-done immigrants I’ve known.

      On another tack, although I know very well that anti-Americanism is a well-accepted ‘parlor game’, I think you spoiled your otherwise even tone by painting my entire country, the USA, in the exaggerated way that you did. It’s inconsistent with the rest of your post and more in the spirit of the posts to which you responded — only much more childish.

      It’s the sort of rant I’ve come to expect from people who either know the States mainly through the newspapers or who are bitter ex-pats with chips on their shoulders. It’s certainly *nothing* like I’ve come to expect from any my Norwegian friends and colleagues. You’ve done very well in other aspects of Norwegian society, perhaps you could find a course in Norwegian moderation, too?

      • Southernfjord

        I appreciate your candor and I’m sorry if I offended. I agree that the whole nation is not “crime-ridden and polluted,” but relative to Norway, I think the average is. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s based on 25 years there. However, I won’t qualify my assessment of the American political system. I stand by that.

        • kiwirob

          Odd that you would consider the US polluted and Norway not sice Norway is one of the largest producers of carbon emissions in the world.

          As for the Norwegian system, it’s far from perfect, nothing here ever gets done, there’s too much pork thrown around and too many regional squables. Roading and public transport outside of Oslo are prime examples of where the Norwegian system doesn’t provide for all Norwegians.

        • aquacalc

          Thanks for that response. I take no deep offense and I understand your position. (And twenty-five years certainly qualifies you to express an informed opinion, even if I disagree with the manner in which it was presented.)

          You appear to thrive in your new life in Norway, which, of course, is a very good thing. I wish you continued success.

    • kiwirob

      It really makes me mad that freeloading immigrants can get a free university education in this country, free university education should only be given to Norwegian citizens.

      I’d also like to see the statistics the prove FrP voters are the biggest abusers of social welfare, all the right of centre voters I know have higher education and managment or professional careers, where as the left wing people I know are mostly public servants or blue collar workers.

      • Southernfjord

        Værsågod: http://www.aftenposten.no/okonomi/innland/article4166945.ece
        Their voters also tend to have lower income and education:
        http://www.aftenposten.no/okonomi/innland/article4179892.ece

        Why would it be “freeloading” for an immigrant but not a native Norwegian to go to university?

        • kiwirob

          In the first article it’s talking about pensioners, pensioners in most countries tend to vote right wing.
          The second article talk about people living in Eastern Norway not the entire country. If you looked at Northern Norway you’d find most Norwegians up there are also have a low income and education and are heavily subsidised by the Govt, Northern Norway is a AP stronghold.
          Aftenposten is a left leaning paper so you can’t expect unbiased reporting.
          You didn’t pay tax in Norway prior to moving here and going to university, IMO that’s freeloading, native Norwegians have parents and family who have been paying taxes for a long time, IMO that gives them the right to a free education.

          • Vitelius

            Aftenposten is an old traditonal monarcist conservative newspaper. Now thats a historical fact. Dagbladet on the other hand is leftist.

    • steelmagnolia69

      Southernfjord, there was nothing hateful about my post, but there is clearly something vitriolic and incendiary about yours.

      I came here with nothing but a Master’s degree, a job offer, and the clothes on my back. That is to say, I was paying high taxes from the first day I set foot on Norwegian soil. I have paid over a million kroner in taxes in less than 4 years, and I have received absolutely nothing in return. You on the other hand, came here as an unskilled worker and got your education. It’s a shame that during that education you weren’t able to learn to respect opposing points of view without resorting to straw-man arguments and ad hominem attacks. (I am not an American nor am I advocating an American approach to government, so your arguments are pointless.) You just seem to have learned the typical Norwegian “don’t criticize anything, or get the heck out” attitude.

      In all truthfullness, for a million kroner, I think Norway does owe me a little something. I’ll settle for a tax-break and the opportunity to opt-out of the social welfare programs. I support FRP because of their libertarian viewpoints, that is all, and I think all things considered it is pretty rich for you to lecture me on entitlements. You clearly benefited from what the socialist country has to offer, whereas I like many other highly skilled immigrants, have not. I can respect your opinion, but you need to be able to afford that same courtesy to others.

      I did not complain about my job, as you claim. I have an excellent job at one of the top companies in Oslo, you might have missed that in my original post. The problem is, my friends in other developed countries who are at the same career level are paying lower taxes, and they’re able to afford a better standard of living.

      You didn’t bother to address any of the real issues I pointed to in my post, i.e. high taxes, poor healthcare, unaffordable housing etc. Your long diatribe was just an attack on some assumed short-comings of my personality, of which you know nothing.

    • Matsui alban

      Southernfjord,

      I trust that you have already shared some of your Norway give wealth and success by donating to support this website?

      It’s never too late!!

    • Southernfjord

      I respond because you amuse me:
      “You on the other hand, came here as an unskilled worker and got your education.”
      Haha…veiled insults will get you nowhere. Actually, it was my 2nd degree that I got here and I was very much skilled in what I did when I arrived. I just decided on a career change is all.
      “I was paying high taxes from the first day I set foot on Norwegian soil.”
      Me too, while I went to school. It’s called multi-tasking.
      “I have paid over a million kroner in taxes in less than 4 years”
      Again, me too. What do you want, a medal?
      “I am not an American nor am I advocating an American approach to government, so your arguments are pointless.”
      I never made such arguments (amusing how you would accuse me of making a straw man, then in the next sentence shoot down an argument I didn’t even make). If you recall, YOU were the one making comparisons with prices in America, not me. I’m simply saying that if you think it’s so much better in D.C., then by all means, go there.
      “You just seem to have learned the typical Norwegian “don’t criticize anything, or get the heck out” attitude.”
      No, not at all. You were the one who said you “don’t like anything about this country” but you “have to” stay. What a weak cop out. You give yourself free license to complain, but refuse to take responsibility for doing anything about it. Some people are just career whiners, I guess. Again, if you don’t like anything about Norway, then there’s no point in you staying or us even having a debate. Just leave.
      “In all truthfullness, for a million kroner, I think Norway does owe me a little something.”
      No, it doesn’t. You live and work in this country and you have the right to take advantage of a million different offers. That’s the social contract…and it’s not just about books and babies. You can’t even walk out your front door without using something your taxes paid for.
      “You clearly benefited from what the socialist country has to offer, whereas I like many other highly skilled immigrants, have not.”
      Bull. You have…remember that wonderful job in Oslo you keep touting? Many industries in Norway prosper in part because of what this country is. Also, Norway has been largely insulated from the current economic crisis. Yeah, right, you haven’t benefited from Norway, but you’re not quite ready to leave and hunt for a new job. Hypocrite.
      “I did not complain about my job, as you claim.”
      Haha…you got me there…you just complain about everything else.
      “The problem is, my friends in other developed countries who are at the same career level are paying lower taxes, and they’re able to afford a better standard of living.”
      Maybe they’re just better with money than you are. I think I must be too. After all, you tell me how great your job is, but at the same time claim that you “can’t afford a good life here.” Even when I didn’t have much money I always had a good place to live with excellent access to transport, shopping, and activities. Either you’re a liar, or have the economic sense of a 4 year old.
      “You didn’t bother to address any of the real issues I pointed to in my post, i.e. high taxes, poor healthcare, unaffordable housing etc”
      Because there is no issue there. There’s a difference between pointing out issues and just saying stuff. Yes, taxes are higher than some other places, but that’s not news. The other things you say I don’t take for granted. Show me where the issue is and I can address it. However, just for fun I’ll point out that Norway has the 6th best infant mortality rate in the world and the 13th best life expectancy. So, where’s the issue?
      “Your long diatribe was just an attack on some assumed short-comings of my personality, of which you know nothing.”
      Well, it wasn’t JUST an attack. And I don’t assume anything about your personality…maybe you’re great in person and just a whiny, pompous liar on the internet.

      • SteelMagnolia69

        I don’t know why I bother replying to ill-tempered, childish and arrogant posts like yours. I’ll just address a few points and this will be my last reply to you.

        Calling you an unskilled worker is not a veiled insult, I don’t resort to insulting people I disagree with, as you have done repeatedly. That was just intended to say that people who come here without an education (as you originally claimed you did) get more benefits from the system, so they’re understandably happier with it.

        I clearly stated that I have to stay in Norway for personal reasons, but since that doesn’t appear to be good enough for you, here it is: my fiance is going to a private vocational school here, so we have to stay until she is finished. Happy now?

        You must have moved here before this huge housing bubble we’re currently experiencing, where even the most successful young people have a great deal of difficulty getting into the market.

        Also, judging by the number of people who liked my original post, there are a lot of expats out there experiencing exactly what I am experiencing, and it has nothing to do with how we spend money. It is the high taxes, and ridiculous living costs due to poor socialist policies that are the problem. That’s why I’m a libertarian. You could argue libertarianism vs. socialism instead of calling me a “hypocrite”, “whiner” and a “liar”, but I don’t think you’re capable of having a mutually respectful debate.

  • Rob

    “The politicians, lobbyists, wholesalers and retailers who effectively set prices in Oslo and elsewhere in Norway may shrug that off as the price one pays to live in their version of paradise, and most Norwegians don’t have the huge health insurance or college education costs that many Americans have.”

    This annoys me, why always compare Norway to the US, the US is not that impressive, there are other countries which have many if not all the benefits Norwegians enjoy who pay siginificatly less for everything, so we really should be looking towards Australia, Canada, NZ, Sweden…….

    BTW my wife has a large student loan, so do most of the Norwegians I know who went to university. Education in Norway is not free.

  • MattAusinLondon

    The worst part is though Oslo finished way down on the Domestic Purchasing power list. Which essentially means after tax and paying for general goods after your high wage you have only 70% of what you would have in Sydney! But at least Oslo has more Graffiti and easily accesible Drugs!

  • AWoLsco

    Sorry to interrupt. Just a quick question from a Scot, (the forum is shut down).
    Any tips on how to identify ” False ” Norwegians?
    Following the Breivick incident we seem to have had many people posting in the comments section of British newspapers as “Norwegians”….but I doubt the identity of many.
    Scandinavians have a different keyboard to Britons(please, no “Brits”, rhymes with shits).
    I never see this employed when referring to place names or names, Christian or surname.
    Any comments, or pertinent observations on this unwelcome development would be most welcome.

  • lemming2

    For the record Zurich and Geneva don’t have ‘relatively high taxes’. When I lived in Zurich I was taxed at the lowest rates I have ever had. That was the beauty of the Swiss system – prices are very high but I get to spend my earnings on what I want and not what the government wants.

  • Shawn Rutledge

    Yeah I agree, prices are way high; I moved here in June and this is the main reason that I’m wondering why the heck I moved here. Why must it be that way? What can be done about it? Tax is “only” 25% yet the prices are 2x-3x those in the USA, on everything other than wood and salmon AFAICT. Is protectionism really the whole reason for that? Is it really true that the farms are insufficient to support the population, and therefore most food must be imported, and that’s the main reason food prices are so high? Or could the farmland be used more efficiently? The cities are so compact, there must be a lot of land out there on which to grow stuff so that Norway could import less? And I think the existence of monopolies in food packaging and distribution is a big problem too; I guess the gov’t doesn’t put much emphasis on anti-trust intervention here? So we tend to buy everything possible in the Grønland markets just to get some decent selection; but I see that white folks are really the minority there. It’s strange that Norwegians seem to care so little, and make do without the equivalent of Whole Foods, with organic food being so exotic and hard to find. Phoenix was much better about this, despite also not having much local agriculture left, and therefore importing most food from other states.

    Why do housing prices need to go so high? I suspect maybe there is a real-estate bubble, as there was in the US a few years ago, but nobody seems to be acknowledging the possibility (which is the nature of a bubble after all – it has to go un-recognized in order to exist).

    • kiwirob

      Farmers get something like a 70% subsidy from the govt, along with protective tarriffs. Being a farmer in Norway is a pretty easy job as well, farms here are small and therefore not very productive, (hence the subsidies) the average dairy farm has 25-35 dairy cows, no farmer can make a living of such a small herd.

      • Gibcdi

        There is also the concept of arable land which limits the amount of land at which it makes sense to farm, much less profitably. But I give you mayor kudos for voicing the opinion that we should be asking how we can make life better for Norwegians and residents alike rather than the “if you don’t like it leave” thread. I mean it is possible to make things better, even if you already like it here.

  • Shawn Rutledge

    As for education I can’t believe how much Folkeuniversetet charges for the language courses. I would think the tuition they charge would be enough to support the whole school without any government subsidies. But the government should subsidize it heavily in order to help with integration. Instead the refugees get free lessons, and some people get free university education, but those of us who “can afford it” will put off getting well-integrated just because classes for 2 will cost 1/3 of our monthly salaries. Meanwhile community colleges in the US cost something like 1/4 or 1/5 as much.

  • thatbob

    But the weather is so nice.

  • Anonymous

    1. If you criticize or complains does it mean one is not happy?
    2. Why some people can’t be happy no matter what they get through or do?