In 1980, Sweden was a highly regulated economy with several state monopolies and low levels of economic freedom. Less than twenty years later, liberal reforms turned Sweden into one of the world’s most open economies with a remarkable increase in economic freedom. While there is resilience when it comes to high levels of taxes and expenditure shares of GDP, there has been a profound restructuring of Sweden’s economy in the 1980s and 1990s that previous studies have under-estimated. Furthermore, the degree of political consensus is striking, both regarding the welfare state expansions that characterized Sweden up to 1980, as well as the subsequent liberalizations. Since established theories have difficulties explaining institutional change, this article seeks to understand how the Swedish style of policy making produced this surprising political consensus on liberal reforms. It highlights the importance of three complementary factors: policy making in Sweden has always been influenced by, and intimately connected to, social science; government commissions have functioned as ‘early warning systems’, pointing out future challenges and creating a common way to perceive problems; and, as a consequence, political consensus has evolved as a feature of Swedish style of policy making. The approach to policy making has been rationalistic, technocratic and pragmatic. The article concludes that the Swedish style of policy making not only explains the period of welfare state expansion – it is also applicable to the intense reform period of the 1980s and 1990s.
Related content: Working Paper No. 110
Bergh, A. & Erlingsson, G.Ó. (2009). ”Liberalization without Retrenchment: Understanding the Consensus on Swedish Welfare State Reforms.”Scandinavian Political Studies, 32(1): 71-93.