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Labour's share in twentieth-century Sweden: a reinterpretation

Erik Bengtsson

Scandinavian Economic History Review, 2014, vol. 62, issue 3, 290-314

Abstract: The distribution of national income between capital and labour is a classical theme in political economy. This paper takes a long-run perspective to the issue and asks two questions: How did the distribution of income between capital and labour develop in Sweden from 1900 to 2000? And how can this development best be explained? It is shown that labour's share in Sweden in the 100 years from 1900 to 2000 saw three important shifts, and the three shifts are analyzed. Around 1920, there was a surge in labour's share as workers mobilised in trade unions and universal suffrage and the eight-hour working day in manufacturing strengthened the bargaining power of workers. From 1950 until the late 1970s, there was another period of an increasing labour share, when the welfare state expanded and trade unions were strong. Contra the well-known postwar wage moderation analysis, there was no wage moderation in Sweden during the 1950s and 1960s, but rather the opposite: wages increased faster than productivity which caused a redistribution from capital to labour and reduced income inequality. The third shift occurred around 1980 when labour's share started a continuous decrease, beginning with several devaluations intended to increase profitability and competitiveness of Swedish business.

Date: 2014
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DOI: 10.1080/03585522.2014.932837

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