By many accounts, Sweden did a great job managing its financial and fiscal crises in the early 1990s. But more than 20 years onward, its unemployment rate is still higher than before the crisis, as noted in a recent commentary by the Cleveland Fed’s O. Emre Ergungor (ht: Torsten Slok):
And its labor force participation rate is still lower:
Does Sweden’s experience portend similar problems for the United States? Ergungor thinks not. Instead, he attributes this shift to a structural change in Swedish policy that has no direct analog in the United States:
One study of public sector employment policies published in 2008 by Hans-Ulrich Derlien and Guy Peters indicates that for many years, the labor market had been kept artificially tight by government policies that replaced disappearing jobs in failing industries with jobs in the government. The financial crisis was the breaking point of an economic system that had grown increasingly more unstable over a long period of time. It was a watershed event that marked the end of an unsustainable structure and the beginning of a new one. Public sector employment declined from 423,000 in 1985 to 240,000 in 1996 mainly through the privatization of large employers—like the Swedish postal service, the Swedish Telecommunications Administration, and Vattenfall, the electricity enterprise—and it has remained almost flat since then.
With such a large structural change, what came before the crisis may no longer be a reference point for what will come after. Having corrected the root of the problem, the Swedish labor market is now operating at a new equilibrium.
That doesn’t mean smooth sailing for the United States, as he discusses. But it does leave hope that perhaps we do better than Sweden in creating jobs in the wake of a financial crisis.