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«Abstract This paper reviews Finland’s growth strategy in the postwar decades. Finland was able to initiate an impressive mobilization of resources ...»

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Research Paper No. 2009/35

The Finnish Developmental State

and its Growth Regime

Markus Jäntti1 and Juhana Vartiainen2

June 2009


This paper reviews Finland’s growth strategy in the postwar decades. Finland was able

to initiate an impressive mobilization of resources during this period, reflected mostly in

a high rate of capital accumulation for manufacturing industries. This was achieved by

an unorthodox combination of dirigiste means and a basic commitment to upholding the market economy. The state acted as a net saver, and credit was rationed to productive investment outlays. This policy package may have been boosted by the country’s precarious international position during the cold war, so that an economic failure would have been very risky indeed. We argue also that incomes policies and welfare reforms were important in sustaining the necessary political compromise that underpinned the Finnish development state.

Keywords: economic growth, incomes policy, income distribution, labour unions, structural transformation, social contacts, developmental state JEL classification: O43, E64, O15, J5 Copyright © UNU-WIDER 2009 1 Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University, and UNU-WIDER, Helsinki, email:

markus.jantti@iki.fi; 2 National Institute for Economic Research, Stockholm, email:

juhana.vartiainen@konj.se This study has been prepared within the UNU-WIDER project on Country Role Models for Development Success, directed by Augustin Kwasi Fosu.

UNU-WIDER gratefully acknowledges the financial contributions to the project by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the financial contributions to the research programme by the governments of Denmark (Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Finland (Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs), Sweden (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency—Sida) and the United Kingdom (Department for International Development).

ISSN 1810-2611 ISBN 978-92-9230-206-1 The World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) was established by the United Nations University (UNU) as its first research and training centre and started work in Helsinki, Finland in 1985. The Institute undertakes applied research and policy analysis on structural changes affecting the developing and transitional economies, provides a forum for the advocacy of policies leading to robust, equitable and environmentally sustainable growth, and promotes capacity strengthening and training in the field of economic and social policy making. Work is carried out by staff researchers and visiting scholars in Helsinki and through networks of collaborating scholars and institutions around the world.

www.wider.unu.edu publications@wider.unu.edu UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) Katajanokanlaituri 6 B, 00160 Helsinki, Finland Typescript prepared by Liisa Roponen at UNU-WIDER The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by the Institute or the United Nations University, nor by the programme/project sponsors, of any of the views expressed.

1 Introduction Finland is an example of a late but successful state-led industrialization that was carried out rapidly. The economic policy strategy that achieved this was a judicious mix of heavy governmental intervention and private incentives. Governmental intervention aimed at a fast buildup of industrial capital in order to ensure a solid manufacturing base. This presupposed the mobilization of the nation’s resources. Policymakers as well as private actors and corporatist organizations shared the view that market signals and individual incentives would not be sufficient to sustain the desired rapid rate of growth.

At the same time, however, it was made clear that the aim of the heavy-handed state intervention was not to establish a planned economy as a permanent solution. Rather, the government and the constitution made it clear that the basic property rights of capitalism would ultimately be respected. It is this characteristic of non-socialist economic planning that has warranted a comparison of the Finnish growth regime with those of the Asian ‘tiger countries’ (see Vartiainen 1999).

The growth strategy has generally been considered a success since the country was able to undergo a remarkably rapid industrial transformation. Finland was definitely a late industrializing nation. In the 1930s, the economy was predominantly agrarian and, as late as in the 1950s, more than half the population and 40 per cent of output were still in the primary sector. Per capita gross domestic product was only half of that of Sweden.

Yet by the late 1970s, Finland had become a mature industrial economy.

Figures 1(b) and 1(c) compare Finland to a few other countries, namely the USA, the UK and Sweden during this period. Figure 1(b) shows the level of GDP per capita, measured in 1990 international PPP dollars for these four countries. Figure 1(c) shows the same series relative to the real GDP per capita of the USA.1 Figure 1(b) suggests that the Finnish economy suffered quite large shocks relative to those in other countries (Sweden, geographically close and with a similar climate as in Finland, was Finland’s most natural comparator in the nineteenth century). While Finland may have narrowed the gap with other countries in the inter-war period, it was only after the Second World War that growth relative to these other countries really seemed to take off, reaching the GDP per capita level of the UK in the 1980s and that of Sweden in the 1990s, although the depth of the 1990s recession led to a relative decline in Finland’s economic position.

Figure 2 shows the economic structure across sectors from 1860 to the present.

Figure 2(a) gives the breakdown of the total labourforce employed in agriculture, the manufacturing industries and services. The share employed in agriculture started to decline in the last decade of the nineteenth century. This decline accelerated after the Second World War and again in the early 1960s to slow down somewhat in the late 1970s. The manufacturing sector again increased slowly from the beginning of the series in 1860, increased slightly more rapidly in the inter-war period and rose after the Second World War to around 30 per cent of the labourforce. Since its peak around 1980, manufacturing has declined and is currently lower than at any time since the 1 The cases of Sweden and Finland are discussed in detail by Lindmark and Vikström (2003), who carefully analyse and decompose the growth performance of these two economies to its constituent parts.

–  –  –

The growth performance was all the more remarkable because of Finland’s bruised political past before the Second World War, as well as because of the country’s precarious international position during the cold war. As soon as the country had achieved independence in 1918, it succumbed to an extremely bloody civil war that decimated 34,000 people from a population of about three million.

Figure 2 Sectoral distribution of employment Figure 2(a)

–  –  –

2 Changed political preconditions after the Second World War The political scene remained acrimonious even in the interwar years. Political contradictions were acute, and the Communist Party was banned. In the 1920s, however, some tentative steps towards national reconciliation were taken.

It was only after the Second World War, however, that economic growth really took off.

The most important engine for growth was simply an energetic accumulation of capital, reflected in an unusually high investment rate.

The outcome of Second World War changed the political constellation of the country and paved the way for a long-standing political coalition of the centre-left parties. This political shift reinforced the preconditions for economic interventionism, but the Finnish dirigiste growth regime was never imposed on reluctant capitalists. Instead, under this phase of rapid capital accumulation, the state cooperated with banks and business organizations. From the 1950s onwards, as the trade unions had become stronger, the labour movement became a more active partner in this more or less implicit social contract. Thus, in a manner similar to that of Austria, Korea and Taiwan, decisionmaking has been quite corporatist.

Of course, the general mood of economic thinking was quite sympathetic to state intervention after the Second World War. Directly after the war, it was generally accepted in Europe that the state would play an active role in economic policymaking, and ‘socialism’ as well as economic planning was openly discussed in many countries.

Committees for ‘nationalization’ or ‘socialization’ were set up in many countries (such as Norway, the UK and France) and many policymakers in the west were probably wondering whether the market system alone would be sufficient to match the massive military-industrial buildup that was occurring in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the military performance of the Soviet Union during the Second World War had boosted the prestige of economic planning: in the course of two decades, the country had achieved an impressive accumulation of resources for heavy industries, and this high investment rate was widely seen in Europe and the United States as a challenge or an example to be emulated. This emphasis on heavy capital accumulation may seem archaic as of now, but contemporary observers should remember that the crucial role of individual incentives for long-term economic growth came to be appreciated within the economist profession only from the 1970s onwards. Operating a war economy had offered policymakers in many countries practical lessons on how to intervene in the market in order to mobilize the economy’s resources.

Finally, development of the national accounts also contributed to policymakers’ practical ability—or at least their perceived practical ability—to influence the working of the economy. In the Nordic countries, the main macroeconomic national account, that of income and expenditure, was called from the outset the provision account,2 with a direct connotation to the issue of meeting the needs of the population with adequate supply.

Thus, at this stage even the national accounts were largely regarded as planning tools.

In Finland, the étatist-dirigiste view was certainly espoused by President Urho Kekkonen, whose influential pamphlet ‘Do we have the patience to prosper?’ (in Finnish Onko maallamme malttia vaurastua?) advocated a state-sponsored programme of massive investment in productive equipment (Kekkonen 1952). Kekkonen was no socialist and probably was not interested in ideological controversies about the relative role of the state and private investors. By contrast, he was keen to generate economic growth via investment by any means possible, be it through direct discussions with industrialists or more sophisticated policy schemes. This pragmatic but dirigiste attitude was typical even 2 Huoltotase in Finnish, försörjningsbalans in Swedish.

for many other protagonists of the Finnish growth model. Finnish capitalists and industrialists regarded the state as a vital partner in advancing industrial investment.

3 The Finnish industrial growth regime The main economic and institutional elements of Finland’s high-growth policy regime

were the following:

– A high rate of capital accumulation in particular sustained by a high public saving rate. The public sector has been an important net saver in the economy;

– A high rate of investment in key areas of manufacturing, the paper and pulp and metalworking industries in particular;

– Low and rigid interest rates and administrative rationing of credit to some areas of business investment, at the expense of depositors and households. With administratively-set interest rates, bouts of high inflation have resulted in transfers from creditor households to debtor businesses; and – A high average growth rate but a very volatile growth path: during a period that is often characterized as a ‘golden age’ of Keynesianism, Finnish business cycles were particularly severe.

We next describe some of these aspects of the growth model in more detail.

3.1 The state as a net saver As in other war-affected countries, the Second World War required a mobilization and reorientation of the nation’s resources. This implied a sharp rise in the tax rate and an acceptance of a far more active role for the state in the allocation of resources: price regulations, selection of investment targets together with industrialists, rationing of credit, social contracts with trade unions and business organizations, and outright economic planning. The tax rate also went up sharply, as one might expect. Once the two world wars were over, a strategic decision was made not to return to pre-war levels of taxation, but to use instead the public surplus to finance a programme of public and private productive investment. In the aftermath of the war, this was partly a necessity, since war indemnity to the victorious Soviet Union forced a rapid buildup of industrial capacity in the metal and engineering sectors, in particular. The continuation of a statesponsored programme of capital investments became a conscious policy choice. As shown by Katri Kosonen (1992), this was, to some extent, typical for all the Nordic countries. In Finland, the state adopted an even more direct, interventionist role in industrial policy than what was the case in Sweden, for example.

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