How Laissez-Faire Made Sweden Rich

Sweden cc

An excellent piece of history here. Sweden became an economic leader because of its long commitment to liberal markets and free trade. The wealth created from this free market situation (more free market than the US at the time according to the author) was then taken for granted and many believed that this wealth could be used to finance a cradle to grave welfare state. Turns out wealth needs to be generated on an ongoing basis and regulating commerce into oblivion is not a prescription for long term prosperity. Little by little Sweden’s vitality has been sapped. Interestingly Swedes are starting to understand this.

And just a side note. Perhaps the most radical anarcho-capitalist I’ve ever met was a Swede who grew up under the socialist system. I always thought that was interesting.

(From The Nassau Institute)

Once upon a time I got interested in theories of economic development because I had studied a low-income country, poorer than Congo, with life expectancy half as long and infant mortality three times as high as the average developing country.

That country is my own country, Sweden—less than 150 years ago…

…But in one century, everything was changed. Sweden had the fastest economic and social development that its people had ever experienced, and one of the fastest the world had ever seen. Between 1850 and 1950 the average Swedish income multiplied eightfold, while population doubled. Infant mortality fell from 15 to 2 per cent, and average life expectancy rose an incredible 28 years. A poor peasant nation had become one of the world’s richest countries.

Many people abroad think that this was the triumph of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, which somehow found the perfect middle way, managing to tax, spend, and regulate Sweden into a more equitable distribution of wealth—without hurting its productive capacity. And so Sweden—a small country of nine million inhabitants in the north of Europe—became a source of inspiration for people around the world who believe in government-led development and distribution.

But there is something wrong with this interpretation. In 1950, when Sweden was known worldwide as the great success story, taxes in Sweden were lower and the public sector smaller than in the rest of Europe and the United States. It was not until then that Swedish politicians started levying taxes and disbursing handouts on a large scale, that is, redistributing the wealth that businesses and workers had already created. Sweden’s biggest social and economic successes took place when Sweden had a laissez-faire economy, and widely distributed wealth preceded the welfare state.

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