Friday, June 15, 2007

Why Were the Swedes So Responsible?

I and some relatives have been sharing emails, etc., about our Swedish ancestors--the Lindquists--who came to this country in the 1860s (I think) via Rhode Island (apparently greast grandpa worked in "a velvet mill," a new concept to me when I joined this coversation, but one I know more about now (link)). I'm still curious how hey/they brought it off. Contract labor? Recruited abroad? Too late (I assume) for outright indentured servitude?

But the inquiry also impelled me to focus on an inquiry about the larger context. In Global Capitalism (2006), Jeffry Frieden provides somke background. He shows how development of rail infrastructure after 1840 and particularly after 1865 led to a collapse in worldwide transportation costs and a revolution a lot of markets, not least wheat--made it economical to ship wheat

from Kansas or the Ukrain to European cities, destroying the market for domestic marginal-land producers like the Swedes. But it also opened up the market for other Swedish resources:

Sweden, a great success story of this period, illustrates the central role of economic integration in the second wave of industrial development. The country was one of western Europe's poorest in 1870, but rapid growth elsewhere increased demand for Sweden's exports, especially of lumber and simple wood products such as safety matches. The timber boom allowed Sweden to build new machinery, and other goods. Industrialization in Sweden was also fueled by foreign loans, which financed some 90 percent of the government's borrowing; much of the foreign cpaital went, directly or indirectly, to build up the country's rialroads, utilities, and port facilities. For Sweden, as for the other new industrializerrs, modern manufacturing went hand in hand with access to foreign masrkets, foreign technology, and foreign capital.

--Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism 77-8 (2006)

My question, untouched on by Frieden, is why Sweden actually used the new wealth to build new infrastucture, unlike so many other countries where it just disappeared into plutocrats' Swiss bank accounts (or up their noses, which amounts to the same thing). A possibility is that the Viking countries have kind of a "tradition of communism"--apparently piratical raiding ships were built by collaborative family/kin groups, back in the 11th century [it's a side issue, but I have long wondered how Sweden went form being one of the most bellicose nations (under Gustavus Adolphus) to being one of the most pacific).]

Another wrinkle is that literacy was, I believe, comparatively high. I don't have the data at my fingertips, but I believe it goes something like this: Go to 1850 and give England a wealth index of 100; the literacy index would be about 50. In Sweden, the wealth index was somewhere between 5 and 20, but the literacy index was 100

In any event, all this explains how when I took my own mother back to Sweden in 1978, she kept talking about how poor the Swedes were, while everything we saw around us bespoke a country richer than the US.

1 comment:

kamilla kirch said...

1842 a law was passed that public school was to be introduced. I don't agree with you that illiteracy was as high as you claim it was.