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Historisk tidskrift 122:4 • 2002

Innehåll (Contents) 2002:4

Uppsatser (Articles)

Analytisk historia om tillväxt – reflektioner kring Lennart Schöns En modern svensk ekonomisk historia

Lars Herlitz

Fulltext (pdf)


Analytical History on Growth – Reflections on Lennart Schön’s En modern svensk ekonomisk historia (English translation: A Modern Swedish Economic History)

The influence of Rankian orthodoxy culminated in the 1890s and receded during the twentieth century. The analysis of development was refined and much of the twentieth century’s historical descriptions were either inspired by Marxism or attempted to offer alternatives to it. The End of History around 1990 ended any such ambitions. One of the contributing factors to this was the social science’s traditional deprecating attitude, particularly that of economics, toward history. Economic history was a particularly problematic venture. Heckscher certainly felt this way when he represented the subject in Sweden.

Lennart Schön’s book has significant differences from Heckscher’s Sveriges ekonomiska historia (English translation: Sweden’s Economic History). For Heckscher economic history was used to high degree as a supporting science. Schön’s history is about a development process where pronounced changes create stages and where both changes and stages are analysed and explained in economic terms. In addition, he finds that these stages can be synchronised quite accurately with the division of world orders found in political history.

Much has occurred between Heckscher and Schön. New questions and fields of study have been incorporated into economic theory. Words such as growth and transformation are already found in the subtitle to Schön’s book. The development of national accounts has been an indispensable support. Schön also writes about something that Heckscher never quite reached other than superficially: a long-term process of growth. Heckscher’s premise was a type of equivalent to institutional restrictions, which in addition to resources and technology, limited the choices of the economic actors. Schön endogenises the institutional changes using functional explanations.

Several new trends in Schön’s presentation of Swedish economic history can be noted. The dating of the breakthrough of industrial society in Sweden to the 1890’s is one and the argument that high wages were a driving force on the transformation is another. His generosity to both the Swedish model and new liberalism are part of his undaunting economism. Central to several of the unique approaches that Schön worked with throughout his book is the weighing of internal and external factors against each other in economic development.

Schön acknowledges Eli Heckscher insight on ”globalising forces”, which pull toward an equilibrium, where the migration of the factors of production equalised their prices. The basis for such a tribute, however, can be questioned. Technical changes and their ability to create new complementary aspects and development blocks are central for Schön’s growth theory. ”The capital factor” belongs to another theoretical setting. The influence of globalisation on development via mobility and prices of factors of production is theoretically questionable.

Schön’s book combines rich concrete discussions with clear theoretical reasoning and a broad comprehensive approach. It not only offers new knowledge, but also is a daring attempt at renewing the science. It has an explanation of a long growth process with help from systematic comparisons of a number of structural transformations.

Interpretations of not just technical renewal but also of the institutional changes must also be included in such an explanation. Heckscher realised this and as such saw the impossibility of a general theory for the development of society. Economic functional explanations of institutional changes however can be disturbing for some. Explanations of intuitional changes have significant importance, but the field has to be expanded to include the social oppositions and conflicts.