Post corona: pro business or pro market?

The 20th of May, Svensk Tidskrift hosted an online version of the Free Market Roadshow. Under the theme “Pro-business instead of Pro-market” the speakers discussed how Swedish Enterprise historically has stayed pro-market, unlike many of its European counterparts, and how to best handle the business implications of the Coronavirus.

FMRS has traditionally been a tour of several countries and capitals during the course of a few weeks but given the nature of the Coronavirus and the reduced mobility it entails, this time it has taken to the internet. Barbara Kolm director of the Austrian Economic Center led the conversation. She was quick to recall the longstanding relationship between her organisation and several actors in Sweden, as well as several individuals that had been with FMRS for a long time. Among them Anders Ydstedt.

Anders Ydstedt, chairman of Svensk Tidskrift started off on the historical topic on why Swedish Enterprise has been more pro-market than pro-business. Linking it to the attempt by the unions to socialise all major companies in Sweden via huge employee funds during the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore he also gave some insight regarding what countries should do in the aftermath of the Coronavirus.

”On the topic of financing there is a lot of talk regarding raising taxes, but I think this is a good time perhaps for governments to find out what assets to sell. In order to finance the crises and to make sure our society creates more freedom for people in many countries.”

Johan Norberg, Swedish author and documentary filmmaker, was asked to reflect on pro-business versus pro-market, what they entail and why this is important. Norberg told a compelling story about a small scale family farm that fought an uphill battle against both politicians and pro-business enterprises that wanted the competition gone. He ended the story by stating the following:

”Businesses do not always like markets, and they certainly do not always like competitiveness. It is like the old saying goes, monopolies are like babies. Nobody likes them until they get their own, then they really love them. I tell you this to remind you that many regulations that may sound well intended and serve a good purpose also serve to destroy alternatives, competitions and everything that does not fit the model about doing business the way people are used to.”

Jonas Frvcklund, deputy chief economist at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, continued where Norberg left off regarding the importance for business enterprises seeing the bigger picture and the market, rather than trying to bend it towards being favourable to its members. On the same topic Frvcklund later responded to a question from the audience regarding his thoughts on why the Swedish Comfederation seem to be more pro-market in comparison to many of their equivalents around Europe.

”I would say that we saw a big threat years ago when we had a social democratic government that was more left wing than it is today. The trade unions had a plan to take over and socialise the means of productions by owning shares in the companies. That was sort of one of those great moments in history, where businesses came together and fought that.”

After the discussion, Amanda Wollstad, Editor in Chief at Svensk Tidskrift was tasked with summarizing the conversation. She, along with the other speakers stated that the topics of today certainly lends itself to longer discussion than the time available would allow. During the summarization she took her que from the last question regarding subsidies for businesses .

”You can of course argue that a crisis is a cost of doing business and that you should have certain preparations in place, just like you should in case the restaurant chef becomes suddenly ill or you have a summer of bad weather. But no one could plan for this. Obviously you cannot plan for the market to come to a grinding halt from one day to another”

She elaborated on the topic.

”In Sweden in particular the cost of doing business is high and the cost of taxes are very high. So high that it impairs the possibility for most business owners to save up to handle a crisis on their own. Taxes become the insurance policy you sign on to regardless if you want to or not.”

A recording of the event is available at FMRS Facebook page.

Samuel Jonsson is the Vice Chairman of the Moderate Youth Party in Skåne