Lindberg, Henrik (2007). ”The Role of Economists in Liberalizing Swedish Agriculture.” Econ Journal Watch, 4(2): 213-229.

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Abstract: Inside the Swedish parliament sat members from the five major parties in Sweden. Outside, more than 20,000 angry farmers marched around Parliament and the Royal Castle carrying placards and shouting slogans. The “revolt” took place the 23rd of May, 1985 while the politicians were discussing overproduction adjustments.

The scene is unusual for Sweden, and makes vivid how acute the issues concerning agricultural policy had become during the 1980s. Food surpluses in Sweden, Europe, and the United States had no obvious market as the world market was filled with subsidized milk, meat, grain and other products. How to get rid of itR The whole sector in Sweden was girdled in controls on land management, cultivation, quantities, and prices (Flygare and Isacson 2003).

The system was changed fundamentally in the early 1990s. Deregulation was decided in 1990 and implemented thereafter. Although agricultural policy is looked upon as especially hard to change because of the vested interests, the reform was a change of system. The 1990 deregulation was approved in a political consensus the Swedish way.

The change brought Sweden from one of the most regulated and subsidized countries to one of the least regulated. It is part of the story of the resilience of the Swedish system (Bergh 2006, 458).

A starting point to understand the change of system in agricultural policy is that ideas matter. They influence politics. However, they do not exist in a vacuum, but are promoted by idea carriers, such as economists from time to time. To have effect, ideas must have actors imbued with purpose and motivation.

It is hard enough for a citizen to keep track of the government agencies, political organizations, and industry and trade associations of her own country, especially in history, but it is even harder for foreign institutions. Here I generally avoid names of specific Swedish institutions (which would be translations, anyhow) and instead use generics like “producer groups” and so on.

The present research is based substantially upon interviews I conducted with many of the major players (listed after the References list). When I write of one of them “looking back,” etc., I mean as spoken to me in interview.