Economy of Sweden

Economy of Sweden

The economy of Sweden is modern and highly industrialised. It has a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labor force. Timber, hydropower, and iron ore constitute the resource base of an economy heavily oriented toward foreign trade. Main industries include motor vehicles, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and forestry.

Aided by peace and neutrality for the whole of the 20th century, Sweden has achieved an excellent standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. The country is known for its high taxes and large public sector. Sweden has the second highest total tax revenue behind Denmark, as a share of the country's income. As of 2007, total tax revenue was 47.8% of GDP, down from 49.1% 2006. [cite news |first=Kenneth |last=Westerlund |title=Danmark har högsta skattetrycket |url= |publisher=DN |date=2008-03-11 |accessdate=2008-03-11 ]


In the 19th century Sweden evolved from a largely agricultural economy into the beginnings of an industrialized, urbanized country. Poverty was still widespread in large sections of the population. However, incomes were sufficiently high to finance emigration to distant places, prompting a large portion of the country to leave, especially to the USA.

Economic reforms and the creation of a modern economic system, banks and corporations were enacted during the latter half of the 19th century. By the 1930s, Sweden had one of Europe's highest standards of living. Sweden declared itself neutral during both world wars, thereby avoiding much physical destruction like several other neutral countries.

The post-war boom propelled Sweden to greater economic prosperity, putting the country in third place in per capita GDP rankings by 1970. [] Beginning in the 1970s and culminating with the deep recession of the early 1990s, Swedish standards of living developed less favorably than many other industrialized countries. Since the mid 1990s the economic performance has improved.

In 2006, Sweden had the world's ninth highest GDP per capita in nominal terms and was in 14th place in PPP terms (2005 figures) [ [ | Country Briefings: Sweden ] ] .

Crisis of the 1990s

Sweden has had a unique economic model in the post-World War II era, characterized by close cooperation between the government, labor unions and corporations. The Swedish economy has extensive and universal social benefits funded by high taxes, close to 50% of GDP. In the 1980s, a real estate and financial bubble formed, driven by a rapid increase in lending. A restructuring of the tax system, in order to emphasize low inflation combined with an international economic slowdown in the early the 1990s, caused the bubble to burst. Between 1990 and 1993 GDP fell by 5% and unemployment skyrocketed, causing the worst economic crisis in Sweden since the 1930s. In 1992 there was a run on the currency, the central bank briefly jacking up interest to 500% in an unsuccessful effort to defend the currency's fixed exchange rate. [ [ Krona's Fall Threatens a New Currency Crisis in Europe - International Herald Tribune ] ] Total employment fell by almost 10% during the crisis.

The welfare system that had been growing rapidly since the 1970s couldn't be sustained with a falling GDP, lower employment and larger welfare payments. In 1994 the government budget deficit exceeded 15% of GDP. The response of the government was to cut spending and institute a multitude of reforms to improve Sweden's competitiveness. When the international economic outlook improved combined with a rapid growth in the IT sector, which Sweden was able to capitalize from, the country was able to emerge from the crisis. [ [ Swedish Economy - SWEDEN.SE ] ] []

However, the reforms enacted during the 1990s seem to have created a model in which extensive welfare benefits can be maintained in a global economy.Steinmo, Sven. 2001. "Bucking the Trend? The Welfare State and Global Economy: The Swedish Case Up Close." University of Colorado, 18 December.]

Current economic outlook

Sweden is an export-oriented market economy featuring a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labor force. Timber, hydropower, and iron ore constitute the resource base of an economy heavily oriented toward foreign trade. Sweden's engineering sector accounts for 50% of output and exports. Telecommunications, the automotive industry and the pharmaceutical industries are also of great importance. Agriculture accounts for 2 percent of GDP and employment.

The 20 largest Sweden-registed companies by turnover in 2007 were Volvo, Ericsson, Vattenfall, Skanska, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, Electrolux, Volvo Personvagnar, TeliaSonera, Sandvik, Scania, ICA, Hennes & Mauritz, Nordea, Preem, Atlas Copco, Securitas, Nordstjernan, and SKF. [ [$/lev2-TopList/lev2Desc-The_largest_companies_in_the_Nordic_countries_by%A0turnover%A0%28excl._national_subsidiaries%29/AdPageId-102/list-2/cc-SE/ 20 largest companies in Sweden] ] Sweden's industry is overwhelmingly in private control; unlike some other industrialized Western countries, such as Austria and Italy, publicly owned enterprises were always of minor importance.

Some 4.5 million residents are working, out of which around a third with tertiary education. GDP per hour worked is the world's 9th highest at 31 USD in 2006, compared to 22 USD in Spain and 35 USD in United States. According to OECD, deregulation, globalization, and technology sector growth have been key productivity drivers. GDP per hour worked is growing 2½ per cent a year for the economy as a whole and trade-terms-balanced productivity growth 2%. Sweden is a world leader in privatized pensions and pension funding problems are relatively small compared to many other Western European countries. [ [ Pension Reform in Sweden: Lessons for American Policymakers] by Goran Normann, Ph.D. and Daniel J. Mitchell, Ph.D. 29 June 2000.] Swedish labor market has become more flexible, but it still has some widely acknowledged problems. The typical worker receives only 40% of his income after the tax wedge. The slowly declining overall taxation, 51.1% of GDP in 2007, is still nearly double of that in the United States or Ireland. State and municipal bureaucrats amount to a third of Swedish workforce, multiple times the proportion in many other countries. Overall, GDP growth has been fast since reforms in the early 1990s, especially in manufacturing.OECD Economic Surveys: Sweden - Volume 2005 Issue 9 by OECD Publishing]

World Economic Forum 2008 competitiveness index ranks Sweden 4th most competitive, behind Denmark. [ [ World Economic Forum - Global Competitiveness Report ] ] The Index of Economic Freedom 2008 ranks Sweden the 27th most free out of 162 countries, or 14th out of 41 European countries. [ [] ] Sweden ranked 9th in the IMD Competitiveness Yearbook 2008, scoring high in private sector efficiency. [ IMD Competitiveness Yearbook 2008] ] According to the book, "The Flight of the Creative Class", by the U.S. economist, Professor Richard Florida of George Mason University, Sweden is ranked as having the best creativity in Europe for business and is predicted to become a talent magnet for the world’s most purposeful workers. The book compiled an index to measure the kind of creativity it claims is most useful to business — talent, technology and tolerance. [" [ "Sweden most creative country in Europe & top talent hotspot"] , Invest in Sweden Agency, 25 June 2005.] Sweden's investment into research and development stood, in 2007, at over 3.5% of GDP. This is considerably higher than that of a number of MEDCs, including the United States, and is the largest among the OECD members. [citeweb|url=|title=Main Science and Technology Indicators|publisher=Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development|accessdate=2008-09-07]

Swedes have rejected euro in a popular vote and Sweden maintains its own currency, the Swedish krona (SEK). The Swedish Riksbank—founded in 1668 and thus making it the oldest central bank in the world — is currently focusing on price stability with its inflation target of 2%. According to "Economic Survey of Sweden 2007" by OECD, the average inflation in Sweden has been one of the lowest among European countries since the mid-1990s, largely because of deregulation and quick utilization of globalization. [,3343,en_2649_34569_38048997_1_1_1_1,00.html Economic survey of Sweden 2007] ]

The largest trade flows are with Germany, United States, Norway, United Kingdom, Denmark, and Finland.

The Swedish economic picture has brightened significantly since the severe recession in the early 1990s. Growth has been strong in recent years, and even though the growth in the economy slackened between 2001 and 2003, the growth rate has picked up since with an average growth rate of 3.7% in the last three years. The long-run prospects for growth remain favorable. The inflation rate is low and stable, with projections for continued low levels over the next 2-3 years.

Since the mid-1990s the export sector has been booming, acting as the main engine for economic growth. Swedish exports also have proven to be surprisingly robust. A marked shift in the structure of the exports, where services, the IT industry, and telecommunications have taken over from traditional industries such as steel, paper, and pulp, has made the Swedish export sector less vulnerable to international fluctuations. However, at the same time the Swedish industry has received less money for its exports while the import prices have gone up. During the period 1995-2003 the export prices were reduced by 4% at the same time as the import prices climbed by 11%. The net effect is that the Swedish terms-of-trade fell 13%. [$File/prm050228.pdf]


The government budget has improved dramatically from a record deficit of more than 12% of GDP in 1993. In the last decade, from 1998 to present, the government has run a surplus every year, except for 2003 and 2004. The surplus for 2007 is expected to be 138 billion ($20b) kronor. [ FaktaStatsskulden sjunker ] ] The new, strict budget process with spending ceilings set by parliament, and a constitutional change to an independent Central Bank, have greatly improved policy credibility. This can be seen in the long-term interest rate margin versus the Euro, which is negligible.

From the perspective of longer term fiscal sustainability, the long-awaited reform of old-age pensions entered into force in 1999. This entails a far more robust system vis-à-vis adverse demographic and economic trends, which should keep the ratio of total pension disbursements to the aggregate wage bill close to 20% in the decades ahead. Taken together, both fiscal consolidation and pension reform have brought public finances back on a sustainable footing. Gross public debt, which jumped from 43% of GDP in 1990 to 78% in 1994, stabilised around the middle of the 1990s and started to come down again more significantly beginning in 1999. In 2000 it fell below the key level of 60% and had declined to a level of 37% of GDP as of 2007, and is expected to come down to a level below 20% of GDP in 2010.

Economic and Monetary Union

Current economic development reflects a quite remarkable improvement of the Swedish economy since the crisis in 1991-93, so that Sweden could easily qualify for membership in the third phase of the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union, adopting the euro as its currency. In theory, by the rules of the EMU, Sweden is obliged to join, since the country has not obtained exception by any protocol or treaty (as opposed to Denmark and the United Kingdom). Nevertheless, the Swedish government decided in 1997 against joining the common currency from its start on 1 January 1999. This choice was implemented by exploiting a legal loophole, deliberately staying out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. This move is currently tolerated by the European Central Bank, which however has warned that this wouldn't be the case for newer EU members.

In the first years of the twenty-first century, a majority for joining emerged in the governing Social Democratic party, although the question was subject of heated debate, with leading personalities in the party on both sides. On 14 September 2003, a national referendum was held on the euro. A 56% majority of Swedes rejected the common currency, while 42% voted in favour of it. [ [ BBC NEWS | Europe | Sweden turns back on euro ] ] Currently no plans for a new referendum or parliamentary vote on the matter are being discussed, though it has been implied that another referendum may take place in around ten years.Fact|date=July 2008


In contrast with most other European countries, Sweden maintained an unemployment rate around 2% or 3% of the work force throughout the 1980s. Fact|date=April 2008 This was, however, accompanied by high and accelerating inflation. It became evident that such low unemployment rates were not sustainable, and in the severe crisis of the early 1990s the rate increased to more than 8%. In 1996 the government set out a goal of reducing unemployment to 4% by 2000. During 2000 employment rose by 90,000 people, the greatest increase in 40 years, and the goal was reached in the autumn of 2000. The same autumn the government set out its new target: that 80% of the working age population will have a regular job by 2004. Some have expressed concern that meeting the employment target may come at a cost of too high a rate of wage increases hence increasing inflation. However, as of August 2006, roughly 5% of working age Swedes were unemployed, over the government-established goal. However, some of the people who cannot find work are put away in so-called "labor market political activities", referred to as "AMS-åtgärder", whose only purpose is to reduce the headline unemployment number. [ [ The Sweden Myth - Stefan Karlsson - Mises Institute ] ]

According to Jan Edling, a former trade-unionist, the actual number of unemployed is far higher, and those figures are being suppressed by both the government and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. In Edling's report he added that a further 3% of Swedes were occupied in state-organised job schemes, not in the private sector. He also claimed a further 700,000 Swedes are either on long-term sick leave or in early retirement. Edling asks how many of these people are in fact unemployed. According to his report, the "actual unemployment" rate hovers near 20%. [] Critics say that the concept of "actual" unemployment, also termed "broad unemployment" by the Moderate Party, is absurd as it points out e.g. sick people, people with cancer, students who rather want a job, people with part-time jobs, conscripts in the army, and house wives as "unemployed".Verify source|date=April 2008

Trade unions

Around eighty percent of the Swedish labour force is unionised. [$file/Rate_of_%20unionization.2006.pdt.pdf] For most unions there is a counterpart employer's organization for businesses. The unions and employer organisations are independent of both the government and political parties, although the largest confederation of unions, the National Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions or "LO" (organising blue-collar workers), maintains close links to the largest political party, the Social Democrats. So close that after the election in 2006 and the resignation of the party leader Göran Persson, one of the strongest candidates for new party leader (and their candidate as Prime Minister) was the LO chairman Wanja Lundby-Wedin.

The unionisation rate among white-collar workers is exceptionally high in Sweden - almost as high as for blue-collar workers. There are two major confederations that organise professionals and other qualified employees: the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees ("Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation" or TCO) and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations ("Sveriges Akademikers Centralorganisation" or SACO). They are both independent from Sweden's political parties and never endorse candidates for office in political elections.

There is no minimum wage that is required by legislation. Instead, minimum wage standards in different sectors are normally set by collective bargaining. Most labour contracts were re-negotiated during 2004, and call for wage increases of around seven percent over a three-year period.

Labour force

The traditionally low-wage differential has increased in recent years as a result of increased flexibility as the role of wage setting at the company level has strengthened somewhat. Still, Swedish unskilled employees are relatively well-paid while well-educated Swedish employees are low-paid compared to those in competitor countries. The average increases in real wages in recent years have been high by historical standards, in large part due to unforeseen price stability. Even so, nominal wages in recent years have been slightly above those in competitor countries. Thus, while private-sector wages rose by an average annual rate of 3.75% from 1998 to 2000 in Sweden, the comparable increase for the EU area was 1.75%. In the year 2000 the total labour force was approximately 4.4 million people.

Ongoing privatisations

The Swedish government has announced that it will privatise a number of wholly and partly state owned companies. "The income from these sales will be used to pay off the government debt and reduce the burden of debt for future generations. The Government's ambition is to sell companies to a value of SEK 200 billion during 2007-2010."" [ [ | Reduced state ownership] .


* Apoteket - pharmaceuticals. To be partially sold when breaking up the state monopoly and opening the market to free competition. []
* Nordea - bank (19.5% owned by Swedish government [ [ Shareholders | ] ] )
* OMX - stock exchange - shares sold to Borse Dubai for 2.1 billion SEK [cite news
url = http://www.
title = Regeringen har sålt hela OMX-innehavet
accessdate = 2008-05-02
publisher = Dagens Industri
date = 2008-02-15
* Telia Sonera - telecom (37.3% owned by the Swedish government [,2858,l-en_h-12715,00.html] ). Hitherto SEK 18 billion worth of shares has been sold reducing state ownership from 45.3% to 37.3%. [ [ Privata Affärer - Staten fick 18 miljarder för aktierna i Teliasonera ] ]
* SBAB - finance
*Vin & Sprit - sold to Pernod Ricard for 5,626 billion euro [cite news
url =
title = Pernod wins auction for Vin & Sprit
accessdate = 2008-03-31
publisher = The Local
date = 2008-03-31
] .
* Vasakronan - sold to AP-fastigheter for 4,3 billion euro

Gross Regional Product

The gross regional product differs from a top of 363 000 SEK in the capital Stockholm County where much of the economic activity is centered to 212 000 SEK Gotland County with an average or 263 000 SEK for the whole country. Much of the industry and services sector is located in the southern part of Sweden, while the north has many natural resources such as timber and hydropower. The extra regional figure referes to parts of the economic territory which cannot be attached directly to a single region, e.g. embassies and consulates. [ [ Regional Gross Domestic Product (GDPR) by county (NUTS-3) - Statistics Sweden ] ]

ee also

**List of Swedish companies
**Stockholm Stock Exchange
**Government finance
***Central bank ("Sveriges Riksbank")
***Currency ("krona", "kronor" in plural)
***List of Swedish government enterprises
***Monetary policy of Sweden
***Ministry of Finance
***Swedish National Institute of Economic Research
***Swedish National Financial Management Authority
***Social Security (Sweden)
**Agencies, unions
***Government agencies in Sweden
***Confederation of Swedish Enterprise ("Svenskt Näringsliv")
***Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations ("SACO")
***Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees ("TCO")
***Swedish Trade Union Confederation ("LO")
**Energy policy
***Nuclear power in Sweden
***Proposed Oil phase-out in Sweden

"Other links"
* Economy of Europe
* European Union
* History of copper currency in Sweden


External links

*CIA World Factbook: [ Sweden]
* [ Nationmaster] : [ Economy of Sweden]
* [ OECD's Sweden country Web site] and [ OECD Economic Survey of Sweden]
* [ Sveriges Riksbank (Swedish Central Bank)]
* [ Statistics Sweden]
* [ Sweden Global Investment Discussion] by N. Vardy, August 2006
* [ Sweden – Economic Growth and Structural Change, 1800-2000] - EH.Net Encyclopedia
*United States Department of State - [ Sweden]

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