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Rikard Westerberg - Socialists at the Gate: Swedish Business and the Defense of Free Enterprise, 1940–1985

Twice in the last century, organized capital in Sweden clashed with organized labor on the issue of private ownership and state intervention. First, in the 1940s following proposals on increased regulation, higher taxes, and potential nationalization. Thirty years later, when business interests felt pressured by radicalized politics and a threat of losing ownership to union-controlled wage-earner funds in the midst of an economic crisis. For the captains of industry, the perils of socialism were to be fought by convincing the general public of the benefits of free enterprise and assisting the non-socialists parties to return to power.

This study analyzes business counter-reactions: its attempt to influence public opinion through PR-campaigns, public protests, research financing, press subsidies, and political donations. Applying theories on interest group formation and with access to previously closed archives, it finds that it was the level of radicalism within the internationally uniquely strong Swedish labor movement which incentivized business to act. It also analyzes the previously unresearched connections between Swedish employers and pro-market organizations abroad, including the relationship between prominent free-market economists and public-relations experts within the Swedish business community.

In addition to shedding new light on how organized business tried to reach its political goals during the Cold War era, the thesis helps us understand how ideas of deregulation, competition, and individual choice got a foothold in a country so characterized by social democracy.

Rikard Westerberg is a political business historian at the Institute for Economic and Business History­ Research at the Stockholm School of Economics. He has previously worked as a journalist, editorial writer, political advisor, and communication consultant. This is his doctoral thesis.

Rikard Westerberg - Socialists at the Gate: Swedish Business and the Defense of Free Enterprise, 1940–1985