The Neoliberal Shift

Session organizer/s: Jonas Ljungberg and Erik Bengtsson

A Nation of Everyman Investors: The Popularisation of Stock Saving in Sweden

Session: 1

Authors: David Larsson Heidenblad

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: The paper discuss the profound transformation of the Swedish savings- and investment culture, from the late 1970s to the 2020s. During this period, financial markets and practices have come to play an ever-greater role in the lives of the many. Scholars have pointed out that the transformation of Swedish society has been especially thorough. However, despite this, we know surprisingly little about the actors and organizations who have sought to promote and strengthen popular engagement with financial markets. Consequently, scholarly understanding of this process is conspicuously void of historical agency.

This paper will shed light on some of the historical actors and organizations who have embraced and promoted a “turn to the market” through educational initiatives as well as political reforms. Particular attention will be given to what made the pivotal turning point in the early 1980s possible.

Central bankers and centralized wage bargaining: A different perspective on the rise of neoliberalism in Norway

Session: 1

Authors: Eivind Thomassen

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: There is broad agreement about the significance of professional economists and their ideas for the rise of neoliberalism in Western Europe from the 1970s onwards. Central bank economists have rightly been seen by many as particularly important. But what exact ideas were crucial for the policy shifts of the period, and how new were they? How ‘neo’, in other words, was the liberalism of 1970s central bankers? This paper seeks to address this crucial question by exploring central bank economists views on postwar dirigiste policies in Norway from the late 1940s until the 1980s. In particular, it investigates the views on the role of the state in wage formation, and the advice economists gave on this issue to government.

The Struggle Against Institutions: Platform Market Creation and the State

Session: 1

Authors: Pontus Blüme

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: Associated to the proliferation of platform capitalism, a strand of management and organisational literature came to attach to this development a theory of institutional entrepreneurship, and ascribed to the entrepreneurs the power to drive institutional change. Typically, Uber has been the platform in focus, and the way that the company managed to curb legislation and bend institutions governing labour markets for taxi drivers has been the empirical material to back it up. The conflict is described as one against institutional inertia, and the theory attempt to capture the process in which ‘embedded’ actors resist, and finally give in, to divergence.

Two things is underemphasised in this strand of theory, and in research of the platform economy more broadly. The first is the role of the state in the implementation of its markets. During the past ten years, the position of the Swedish government to gigwork and platform markets could best be characterised as ambivalent. As the status of workers are often times one of independently contracted labour, the position of the federation of trade unions has been one of similar indecisiveness. At the same time, different levels of government has been assisting the implementation of a platform market logic under the pretext of job creation. Secondly, even though gig platforms share aspects of algorithmic management and the three-part labour relationship, they differ in whether they intervene and reshape markets, or commodify previously non-monetised aspects of societal life, something which qualitatively affect the form of resistance faced in the process.

This paper examines the tensions that followed from the establishment of four Swedish platform markets, from the 2013 launch of Uber, through Foodora and Tiptapp, to the conflicts in between the municipality of Stockholm and the establishment of ‘micromobility’ actors in 2019. Through court documents and the internal case files of public office, it aims to investigate the strategies of platform actors in navigating the ‘embedded resistance’ from their institutional environments, and the response to these strategies from different levels of the state.

50 Shades of Trade: Swedish Trade Union Interests and the Neoliberal World Trade Regime post 1979

Session: 2

Authors: Li Eriksdotter Andersson

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: The conclusion of the GATT Tokyo Round in 1979 marked a turning point for the international trade regime. Prior to the Tokyo Round, global trade institutions were shaped by two partially conflicting principles established in the aftermath of WWII. These principles included open or “free” international trade in goods and services, and the freedom for states to enhance their welfare provision and regulate their economies to reduce unemployment. As suggested by previous research, the Tokyo Round shifted the relative dominance of these principles, ushering in a period of at least three decades during which a “purer” form of economic liberalism became the more dominant ideology in international trade governance (Lang 2011). This shift has been referred to as the transition from an “embedded”, to a “redisembedded”, or “neo-”, liberalism (Ruggie 1997).

During the same period, there has been a trend towards increasingly deep and comprehensive trade agreements with a growing scope and ambition (Dür et al 2012). These agreements now typically address not only tariff levels but also so-called non-tariff barriers, such as import quotas, subsidies, and technical barriers in the form of rules and regulations. Negotiations have also focused on whether trade agreements should be widened to include provisions on labor standards, or not.

To fully comprehend the development of international trade, it is crucial to examine how trade interests are shaped in relation to the shifting and increasingly complex trade landscape. This involves understanding the formation of trade interests not only at the state level but also through and within specific interest groups. This paper examines the articulation and internal struggles of trade union interests within the Swedish trade union confederation (Landsorganisationen; LO) in relation to the changing international trade landscape and the principles of economic liberalism and state welfare provision. Using organizational materials from LO and its member unions, the study focuses on two pivotal moments in union discussions on trade: the early 1980s LO ‘Economic policy for the 80s’ report and the mid-2010s TTIP and CETA trade agreements negotiations.

Neoliberalism in the making? The role of managerial agency in the corproatization of swedish public entperises

Session: 2

Authors: Rasmus Nykvist

Co-authors: Rickard Björnemalm

Abstract: An often overlooked aspect of the neoliberal shift within the Swedish national context is the process of corporatization of public enterprises. Corporatization was a decades-long, gradual process, starting with formalization in 1911 and its culmination in the early 1990s as the Swedish ‘affärsverk’ (public enterprises) –specific types of “business-like” government authorities– went from being a public agency to being a state-owned enterprise. As such, the corporatization of the ‘affärsverk’ is a key part of this shift towards market orientation.

The research presented will be focused around a critical juncture in the historical trajectories of the ‘affärsverk’: The government official inquiry into the public enterprises - the enterprise leadership committee (‘verkledningskommitén’) that was initiated in 1983 and delivered its two final reports in 1985. These reports were then developed into a legislative proposal and accepted in 1987. This proposal officially granted the Affärsverk results-based, corporate governance structures (Berg, 1999). This marked the “last gasp” and a distinct market oriented shift in the organizational and regulatory structure of the ‘affärsverk’, however it did not entail full corporatization.

Because of their structure, the affärsverk were part market overseer and regulator, part market actor and part creator of markets. Often acting as both regulator and participant in the very same market. In addition, each of these organizations arose from specific historical circumstances (Waara, 1980). The structures governing ‘affärsverk’ were often unclear and non-uniform. This gave the individual affärsverk varying levels of discretion depending on the specific regulatory rules that governed each organization. As such, there was considerable tension between the structures governing the affärsverk and agency in terms of managerial discretion within each affärsverk. It is therefore of interest to bring further understanding to how and to what extent management attempted to utilize this agency to influence their own regulatory structures by partaking in the policy process leading to the major reform in 1987 to this end, verkledningskommittén provides an intriguing subject of study.

As an entry point, Berg (1999) explicitly mentions that the internal perspective of the Affärsverk has not yet been covered extensively. Our research will fill this gap as we will utilize archival material from ‘verkledningskommittén’, in addition to board- and management minutes as well as to internal strategic reports from the different affärsverk archives (with the exception of FFV).

Patterns and Causes of Marketization in Public Services

Session: 2

Authors: Dominic Mealy

Co-authors: Jonas Ljungberg

Abstract: Privatization has resulted in the changed ownership of important sectors of developed economies, including telecommunications, aviation, railways and utilities. While outright privatization has been less commonplace and extensive in public services (education, health care and social care) different forms of marketization have, nevertheless, been implemented. Broadly defined, marketisation refers to an increase in the private-sector production of goods and services previously undertaken by the state and the allocation of these resources through market arrangements, where non-market forms of administration previously prevailed. Most importantly, this has resulted in services in the public sector being provided by actors other than governments yet still being financed by revenue generated from taxation.While there is a huge literature on privatization of state-owned enterprises, and a growing literature on marketization of welfare services, there is still no quantitative mapping of the process of marketization showing when and to what extent this has taken place in different countries across time. According to the stylized facts presented in the literature on the European welfare states – social democratic (Nordic), conservative (Continental) and liberal (Anglo-Saxon) – a corresponding pattern in the structure and dynamics marketization could be expected. However, the present paper highlights that marketization only follows these stylized facts to a limited extent and in crucial aspects has been most rapid and radical in “social democratic” Sweden. These findings are based on OECD data that in very broad terms allows the tracking of marketization in education and health care back to the mid-1990s, and in the case of education partially back to the 1970s. To make this broad picture of marketization patterns more comprehensive, this paper aims to track the process of marketization in more detail and further back in time (to at least 1980) for a handful of countries. In so doing this paper will answer, firstly, when the levels of marketization began to rise and, secondly, map the various forms marketization that have taken place in education and health care systems. The most promising countries with regards the availability of data are Austria, Germany, France, and Sweden. In the political economy literature privatization and marketization have both been subject to a significant amount of analysis and theorization, however the focus has primarily been placed on the role of politics and ideology, leaving out the extent and character of the actual processes. This situation has been compounded by a lack of precise quantitative data arising from the conventions of national accounting, with the recommendation that countries measure both the industrial and institutional distribution of production at a disaggregated level only appearing in the SNA 2008. This paper therefore aims to open up new avenues of research by examining both these aspects for education and health care over past decades. It will further contribute to the literature by critically assessing the conventional ideational explanations of the driving causes of marketization. An alternative explanation is that marketization has been pushed by the contemporaneous and increasing process of financialization. A test is provided by analyzing how the extent of financialization across countries corresponds with the extent of marketization in the public services.

Decentralization and Management Consultants

Session: 3

Authors: Mathias Krusell

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: This paper is a proposition for a future research project on the role of managerial consultants in the decentralization of Swedish public administration. It draws upon the ongoing research of my thesis which looks at management consultants’ interactions with businesses such as Alfa-Laval and Ericsson in consequential re-organizational projects during the late 1970s and 1980s. It contributes to our knowledge on the decisive aspect of the neoliberal shift of the changes in public administration. In the implementation of New Public Management, decentralization was a contributing factor (Williamson 1985 and Pollitt & Bouckartt 2011). The call to decentralize public administration harmonized with a larger critique against bureaucratic structures both within public and business administration. Statskontoret (The Swedish Agency for Public Management) started working with the management consultancy firm SIAR (Swedish Institute for Administrative Research) in the late 1960s. They established contact and discussed decentralization, a topic which the Statskontoret later also published reports on. My proposed project will answer

  • How did the interaction between Statskontoret and SIAR elapse?
  • What did it lead to?
  • How influential was SIARs theoretical position on bureaucracy in this process?

Through presenting at this session, the prospect is to get comments which could improve the research questions, contribute to the theoretical framework and provide further significant historical context for the research.

Divining the Economic Future: The Stockholm School, the Rehn-Meidner model and the School of Industrial Growth in competition over forecasts for the Swedish economy 1971-1985

Session: 3

Authors: Elisabeth Lindberg

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: Economic policy in Sweden during most of the second half of the 20th century was dominated by three strands of economic thought: The Stockholm school of macroeconomic analysis, the Rehn-Meidner model of labour market analysis, and the Industrial growth school of structural analysis. During the 1970s and 1980s these strands were all integrated in production of economic forecasts via organizations such as the Swedish Confederation of blue-collar unions (Landsorganisationen), the Centre for Business and Policy Studies (Studieförbundet Näringsliv och Samhälle) or the Industrial Institute for Social and Economic Research (Industriens utredningsinstitut). Economic policymaking relies heavily on forecasts, and the presence of these different forecasts makes for an interesting historic case of competition over the political understanding of the future. Whoever could influence this understanding also had the possibility to shape long-term economic policies. The paper will use empirical evidence in the form of forecasts from the three afore-mentioned organizations, as well as official government long-term forecasts made within the Treasury and the Department of Industry. It connects to previous research in history of economic thought and economic history. A theoretical framework of growth models is used, where it is assumed that the core problem in a capitalistic economy is the search for growth. This search, how it should be conducted, and who should benefit from it is in turn relying on analyses of the future and what limits it puts on present policymaking.

Underemployment and the Neoliberal Shift

Session: 3

Authors: Paulina Vaughn

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: This paper proposal is an early draft of my dissertation ‘plan paper’, to be presented at the Political Science Department at Lund University sometime in October/November 2023. The paper will largely form the basis of my dissertation plan and is part of the session “The Neoliberal Shift”.

The project sets out to investigate the transformation of the Swedish labor market since the onset of de-industrialization and the rise of neoliberalism. My focus lies on how policy-makers responded to what I will refer to as the ‘underemployment dilemma’. The term underemployment is usually applied in the field of economics to account for the difference between the hours people would like to work and the actual hours worked. The prime example is a part-time worker who is unable to get a full-time position. The understanding of underemployment I depart from is slightly different, referring instead to a structurally induced difficulty to create stable employment; a development that started with de-industrialization. The symptoms of underemployment as opposed to unemployment, however, is not that workers are generally out of work. Underemployment instead takes the expression of insecure, badly paid, bullshit jobs, often in the form of temporary or part-time contracts swallowed by the less productive service sector.

In the United States, in which most of the literature on the transformation of labor and its relation to inequality have been conducted, the growth in low-productivity service sector jobs has been significant. Sweden has seen a different trajectory, creating other sorts of restrains on its economy. Already in the 1990s, political economists noted that the shift from manufacturing to services had created new difficulties for policy-makers pursuing full employment and egalitarian wages. The new ‘service economy trilemma’ forced policy-makers to choose only two out of three goals: egalitarian wage-setting, employment growth in the public sector, or budget restraints. Complicating rather than contradicting this story, I want to investigate the multitude and often ‘innovative’ responses to the new low-demand for labor economy in Sweden, moving beyond the alternatives of the above. The primary dilemma, as I see it, is one between a political economic (social democratic) system that works from the ideal of full employment and one in which firms are decreasingly capable of creating that employment. How policy-makers chose to respond to this dilemma is a story that still unfolds, but the early pursuit of neoliberal objectives clearly marked the beginning of it.

In short, I take underemployment dilemma to play a significant role in the political economic development of the neoliberal age. Yet, few studies have adopted this perspective as a starting-point for their analysis of neoliberal reform. Political scientists have tended to focus on ideational change among experts, elites, and institutions. Among critical political economists, on the other hand, underemployment is often sweepingly applied to diagnose the current stage of capitalism, but little attention has been paid to the role that it has played in shaping the political economic development. Hence, by tracing rather than assuming the responses to the low-demand economy, I hope to shed new light on the transformation of the Swedish labor market and its intimate relationship to the rise of neoliberalism.

Explorers and creators of markets - Market research and public relations in Sweden 1980s to 1990s

Session: 4

Authors: Elin Åström Rudberg

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: This paper is concerned with the development of market research in Sweden in the 1980s and 1990s from the perspective of a changing landscape for the private consultancy business at the intersection of marketing, communication, and public relations. During this time of liberalization and internationalization of the economy the industry grew momentously. The starting point for the paper has been to understand how this development and growth can be explained and why the services were increasingly perceived as essential by both the business world and the public sector. The paper discusses the knowledge production of the industry and the ideas and methods presented by representatives concerning the role it played in the economy and society. Of particular interest is the industry’s role as both the explorer of markets—in line with its mission to map and discover people’s needs and opinions—and as a promoter or creator of new markets in relation to deregulated sectors and international expansion. What were the fundamental principles that underpinned the industry’s description of itself and the value it would bring to the economy and society? In what ways were these principles transformed into practice by industry representatives?

The study connects with and contributes to previous research about marketization in the late twentieth century and to literature on the historical evolution of marketing, communication and public relations. Theoretically, inspiration is drawn from Luc Boltanski’s and Eve Chiapello’s New Spirit of Capitalism (2005) and their theories about justification and economies of worth. The study is based on archival records emanating from two key market- and opinion research companies in Sweden: Demoskop (a subsidiary of the PR company Kreab) and Sifo. Published sources from the industry’s business interest organizations are also used.

The politics of profits: Profit squeeze and macroeconomic management in Sweden, 1975–1985

Session: 4

Authors: Erik Bengtsson

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: In the late 1970s, the Swedish economy faced a profit squeeze which threatened to hamper investments and, by extension, jobs creation. Economic policy makers reacted and attempted in various ways – incomes policy, devaluations, tax reforms – to bolster profits. This paper investigates “the politics of profits”: how politicians, including those from a professed labour party, act to cut real incomes of their electorate in order to pump up profits (thereby helping the economy in the medium and longer run). How did Swedish politicians act to convince Swedes, the electorate, that a pro-capital shift of incomes was needed? How were various policy measures motivated and how was the debate on profits related to the ongoing revision of macroeconomic paradigms which took place after the oil crisis of 1973? This explorative paper will give a new view of Swedish policy shifts in the 1970s, from the vantage points of profitability and the need for profits and investments. The study is based on two sources, covering the years 1975 to 1985: the macroeconomic analyses presented in the yearly budgets, produced by the Ministry of Finance and the National Institute of Economic Research (Konjunkturinstitutet); and the debate on labour costs and profits in the Dagens Nyheter daily newspaper. The study of the “politics of profits” contributes to our understanding of the macroeconomic shifts since the 1970s and to the political economy of the distribution of income.

Work life as an arena for neoliberal subjectification: The case of personal time management in Sweden during the 1980s

Session: 4

Authors: Charlotte Nilsson

Co-authors: NA

Abstract: The paper is based on a book chapter about the establishment of personal time management as industry and ideology in Sweden during the 1980s (“Marknadens tid”, eds. Andersson et al., forthcoming in 2023). The Danish company Time Manager International offered courses, handbooks, and planning tools from 1979, while British Filofax launched its calendars in Sweden in 1985. The study shows that in merely a decade personal time management became a normalized idea and practice in Swedish organizational life and society, applicable even to schoolchildren.

A research tradition with historical materialist roots has highlighted that industrialization not only consolidated time as a resource but also made it into a commodity (Nowotny, 1994; Thompson, 1967). From the time studies of early 20th century scientific management to the Swedish state’s guidelines for efficient housework in the mid-1900s, individual productivity was key. However, such projects were essentially aimed at improving the economy and progress of the organization and/or society. Only with personal time management in the late 20th century did the individual become responsible for optimizing their time to achieve personal success and well-being (cf. Boltanski & Chiapello, 2007).

In the emergence of a post-industrial, neoliberal knowledge economy, the normative form of organization became flexible networks with temporary work engagements instead of traditional hierarchies with fixed career paths. Previous research has shown that a flood of self-help books and inspirational seminars stepped in to guide people to not only work harder, but also continuously invest in their own development, not least in terms of time usage (Gregg, 2018; McGee, 2005).

Theoretically, the paper connects to the formation of a neoliberal/entrepreneurial subject during the late 20th century (Bröckling, 2016; Harvey, 2005; Rose, 1999), but it further clarifies the role of new commercial actors in the co-creation of such an ideal individual. The case study provides a Swedish perspective on the global personal time management industry and shows how individual privacy and personality were included in the presented ideas and tools: Planning one’s time and researching one’s priorities were methods not only to achieve higher productivity and, thus, more professional success, but also to become a “better”, more fit individual in general.