Norway’s royal family is far from alone in its members’ inheritance of power, position, privileges and wealth, all of which has recently become controversial once again. The fortunes of fully 77 of Norway’s 100 wealthiest taxpayers are based on inheritance as well.
Examination of the public tax lists released by state authorities last week continue to reveal new details about Norwegians’ income, net worth and how much tax they paid. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported, for example, how very few of those hitting the “most wealthy” lists, based on their taxable net worth, have earned their fortunes themselves.
In the top 10 there are only two: Kjell Inge Røkke, who left his native Molde as a young man and made a fortune fishing off the west coast of North America, and Svein Støle, who went from being a journalist to founding the Oslo-based Pareto brokerage and investment banking firm.
The eight others ranked in order of taxable net worth include three descendants of the Tiedemanns tobacco fortune, the son and grandson of a pump entrepreneur and three heirs to shipping fortunes.
Norway’s monarchy, meanwhile, is currently a target of renewed debate because critics claim the royal family’s inherited power and privileges defy the principles of an open and democratic society. Others, including commentator Knut Olav Åmås, have pointed out that inherited wealth and power remain widespread within Norwegian society.
The tax lists certainly reflect that. Only 23 self-made millionaires rank among the 100 wealthiest and even some of them came from politically prominent families, or at the very least were relatively well-off.
Norway has its self-made tycoons, including grocery retailer and wholesaler Odd Reitan, real estate magnate Olav Thon, airline entrepreneur Bjørn Kjos and automobile importer Egil Stenshagen. The other 77 on the top 100 list still feature some of the biggest names among shipowning families, like Høegh, Wilhelmsen, Ugland, Bergesen and Klaveness. Missing entirely is the self-made shipping and business tycoon John Fredriksen, regularly ranked as one of the wealthiest men in the world, but that’s because he’s been in tax exile for years and now lives mostly in London. Another of Norway’s wealthiest self-made men, hotel developer Petter Stordalen, isn’t on the list either, because his debt and other tax deductions left him with a taxable net worth of zero.
Odd Reitan, who founded the REMA 1000 grocery store chain and ranks 11th among the wealthiest Norwegians with taxable net worth of NOK 2.9 billion, doesn’t think it’s so important whether wealth is inherited or self-made. His two sons are inheriting the family business and have active roles, and rank as 14th and 15th among the wealthiest.
“The most important thing is that we have strong values and have developed a mental sense of vanity that makes us want to create wealth,” Reitan told DN. “Having the ability to envy and admire one another is also a factor in success. Whether that’s inherited, doesn’t matter.”
He acknowledged that his sons, Magnus Reitan and Ole Robert Reitan, have inherited wealth and thus started off with an advantage. “But what’s most important is that they have created great value and strengthened the concepts they’ve been responsible for during their time in the Reitan Group,” stressed their father.
The magnitude of inherited wealth in Norway is already stirring discussion about whether the state should reinstate the inheritance tax that was recently repealed by the current conservative coalition government. Finance Minister Siv Jensen said it was removed because it hit too many “ordinary folks” too hard, and because it was viewed as unfair that children had to pay a high tax to take over their family’s home or summer house. Not even the Labour Party is proposing that the tax be reinstated, with Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre telling newspaper Aftenposten last year that it wasn’t “pragmatic” to do so.