Kåre Willoch: Reflections in connection with the University's bicentennial

I seem to remember hearing at school – I had an excellent history teacher, Mr Aakvaag – that King Frederik VI was afraid that establishment of a university in Norway would only serve to strengthen the liberation movement here.

And his fears were justified. In 1814, a professor in Christiania, Georg Sverdrup, advised Christian Frederik to relinquish his claim to the throne of Norway and grant the people of Norway sovereignty. He was to invoke Norway's right to self-determination and let the people decide whether they wanted Norway to be an independent kingdom after Denmark had ceded Norway to Sweden. This led to the constitutional convention at Eidsvold, which turned out rather well in the end.

However, I do not want to imply that this had any influence on my career choice. It was my father who suggested that economics at the University of Oslo might be best suited to my interests. He did not pay heed to the rumours that it was a breeding ground for social democrats. At that time, "social democracy" was generally taken as meaning that government should own and run all the big companies and have a lot of say in the details how private-sector companies worked too. However, there were many talented economists who saw things very differently.

Although the brilliant economist Ragnar Frisch was in fact a socialist, not even the social democrats among us regarded him as a political mentor.  We were also taught by another future Nobel Prize winner, Trygve Haavelmo, a gifted teacher who encouraged the students to think for themselves.

The political affiliations of the students were very similar to that of the general public at the time, and there were friendships and understanding across all party divisions that were and have remained very valuable. As a politician, I benefited greatly from collaborating with talented acquaintances from my student days – both left-wing and right-wing. And I am still very grateful for the quality of the economists at the University of Oslo.

Published Sep. 8, 2011 3:08 PM