The Nordic Varieties of Capitalism: Volume 28


Table of contents

(14 chapters)

This volume reports results from the Nordic Economic Policy project. The project issued a number of reports in the late 1980s. A bibliography of research until the early 1990s is available in Mjøset (1993), and a later programmatic survey (with extensive references) is available in Mjøset (2006).

This chapter maps the political economy characteristics of Icelandic society in the post-war period. It shows how the period of statism from the early part of the 20th century, with a strong legacy of protectionism and clientelism, changed up to the present. A major turning point came with a shift towards more liberal mixed economy in 1960, which progressed through the 1980s. That was a period of very high growth rates in an egalitarian society. During the 1990s the political economy became significantly more influenced by neoliberal policies, which can be associated with the buildup of an excessive bubble economy in the 2000s. A new policy emphasis in a new environment of globalized finance, of which Iceland became an active part from 1995, in conjunction with a generally lax attitude of laissez faire in public administration, seems to have made possible rather unusual excesses in speculation and debt accumulation. That eventually led to the dramatic collapse of Iceland's financial system in October 2008. In the wake followed a deep recession. The chapter sets this long-term development into a broad societal context, taking account of political power constellations and changes in politics, the labour market and living conditions.

The chapter presents a timeline and an analysis of economic and social policy in Finland. Finland is an example of an étatiste late industrialiser, in which the post-war period up to the mid-1980s was a phase of catching up and energetic mobilisation of resources. The policy regime relied on vigorous State intervention comparable to that of the Asian tiger regimes, in Finland's case motivated also by the stringent geopolitical constraints of Cold War. Public saving contributed to a high rate of capital accumulation, credit was rationed to favour manufacturing investment and corporatist incomes policy was used to sustain the profitability of key export industries. Keynesian demand management was largely neglected, and the high growth rate was associated with large fluctuations and devaluations cycles. The credit and financial market liberalisation of the 1980s resulted in overheating, a deep recession and a failure of the attempted fixed exchange rate anchor. In the 1990s, incomes policy was used to boost the rise of the information technology sector, whereas monetary stability was sought by a strive towards EMU membership. Finland's long-run growth performance has been good, but economic policy will be challenged by the sharp deterioration of the dependency ratio as well as the politics of right-wing nationalism. The wage setting regime is in a state of flux.

This chapter analyses the recovery of the Danish economy from the crisis of the 1980s, its elevation to a bit of an ‘economic miracle’ or at least an ‘employment miracle’ from 1995 to 2005 and its subsequent decline during the financial crisis, which revealed more long-standing problems that precluded a quick recovery. The solution of Denmark's structural balance of payment problems in the early 1990s paved the way for long-term prosperity, and Denmark managed the challenges of globalisation and deindustrialisation almost without social costs. However, an accumulation of short-term policy failures and credit liberalisation facilitated a credit and housing bubble, a consumption-driven boom and declining competitiveness. In broad terms, the explanation is political; this includes not only vote- and office-seeking strategies of the incumbent government but also ideational factors such as agenda setting of economic policy. Somewhat unnoticed – partly because of preoccupation with long-term challenges of ageing and shortage of labour – productivity and economic growth rates had slowed down over several years. The Danish decline in GDP 2008–2009 was larger than in the 1930s, and after the bubble burst, there were few drivers of economic growth. Households consolidated and were reluctant to consume; public consumption had to be cut as well; exports increased rather slowly; and in this climate, there was little room for private investments. Financially, the Danish economy remained healthy, though. Current accounts revealed record-high surpluses after the financial crisis; state debt remained moderate, and if one were to include the enormous retained taxes in private pension funds, net state debt would de facto be positive. Still, around 2010–2011 there were few short-term drivers of economic growth, and rather unexpectedly, it turned out that unemployment problems were likely to prevail for several years.

Norway is a small nation state on the northernmost coastline of Western Europe, integrated in the Western world economy. For centuries Norway's integration in the world economy had been based on exports of raw materials such as fish and timber, as well as shipping services. In the early 20th century, furnace-based metals (made possible by cheap hydropower) were added to this export basket. Just as the world economy entered an increasingly unstable phase in 1970s, another natural resource was discovered in Norway: petroleum – that is, oil and natural gas from the North Sea. This chapter analyses the challenges and possibilities inherent in the Norwegian strategy of developing an oil economy in a world economic situation influenced by new and stronger forms of international integration through the four decades between 1970 and 2010.

The new economic-policy regime in Sweden in the 1990s included deregulation, central-bank independence, inflation targets and fiscal rules but also active labour market policy and voluntary incomes policy. This chapter describes the content, determinants and performance of the new economic policy in Sweden in a comparative, mainly Nordic, perspective. The new economic-policy regime is explained by the deep recession and budget crisis in the early 1990s, new economic ideas and the power of economic experts. In the 1998–2007 period, Sweden displayed relatively low inflation and high productivity growth, but unemployment was high, especially by national standards. The restrictive monetary policy was responsible for the low inflation, and the dynamic (ICT) sector was decisive for the productivity miracle. Furthermore, productivity increases in the ICT sector largely explains why the Central Bank undershot its inflation target in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The new economic-policy regime in Sweden performed well during the global financial crisis. However, as in other OECD countries, the moderate increase in unemployment was largely attributed to labour hoarding. And the rapid recovery of the Baltic countries made it possible for Sweden to avoid a bank crisis.

The chapter presents a historical and economic analysis of Nordic wage formation, with a special focus on how collective agreements really work. A stereotypical interpretation of the evolution of Nordic wage bargaining systems is that a centralised setting of wages has gradually been substituted with more decentralised pay bargaining. This overlooks the fact that central organisations could never really control wage levels, even in the golden age of centralised bargaining. Instead, central pay bargains defined minimum wage changes that ensured that local conflicts would be ruled out. Moreover, the central stipulations could often be overruled or adjusted at the local level. Following insights of Teulings and Hartog, we argue that the main function of Nordic collective agreements has always been to rule out local conflicts that would otherwise be initiated to seek local rents. Thus, collective agreements combine macroeconomic flexibility with adequate investment incentives at the local level. In this crucial sense, Nordic collective agreements are a completely stable institution. The most important transformation that has taken place is that formal peak bargaining on mean pay increases has been substituted with pattern bargaining where the manufacturing industry acts as a wage leader. Economic theory suggests that this almost amounts to centralised pay setting.

This analysis attempts a comparative specification of certain aspects of the country studies contained in this volume. The point of departure is the banking crises of the early 1990s (deep in Finland, Norway and Sweden, mini-crisis in Denmark and absent in Iceland) and the contrast to Iceland's financial meltdown in 2007/2008 (no crisis in the three, a new mini-crisis in Denmark). Detailed process tracing of the Icelandic crisis is provided. The case account is then used to shed light on the different roles of neoliberalism, economics expert knowledge and populist right-wing party formation in the five Nordic political economies.

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Comparative Social Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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