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Why is Sweden so rich? The Local answers Google’s questions 

Why is Sweden so rich? Why is Sweden so depressing? Why is Sweden called Sweden? In a new series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you type "Why is Sweden..." into the Google search engine.

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Why is Sweden so rich? Let's find out. Photo: Google screenshot

Sweden is the world’s 16th wealthiest country. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is just below Germany’s in the OECD’s rankings

It’s a country of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. The vast majority of enterprises are privately owned.

Daniel Waldenström at the Stockholm Research Institute of Industrial Economics says that Sweden’s economic success is due in large part “to our stable economic and political institutions, which allowed us to focus on producing wealth. That’s in addition to being in Europe, where the economic boom all started”.

So, how rich is Sweden, really? 

GDP is only one way of measuring wealth. It doesn’t tell the whole story. 

By all economic measures, Sweden is a relatively wealthy country, but this doesn’t necessarily trickle down to everyone.

Seven percent of working Swedes have an income below the EU’s at-risk-of-poverty threshold (although this is under the EU average of 10 percent). 

According to Statistics Sweden, 184,000 people were estimated to be in severe material deprivation in Sweden last year, meaning they couldn’t afford vital things like rent, a car, or telephone. This is still lower than nearly all other countries, but doesn’t square with the idea of folkhemmet, a welfare state for the people. Yet it has one of the world’s most extensive welfare systems, funded by government wealth (and debt). 

How did Sweden get so rich? 

Sweden only started to really accumulate wealth as it started to industrialise sometime in the mid-19th century. Before then, it was suffering from a period of relatively slow growth that forced more than one million Swedes to emigrate to the North America before the turn of the century. 

Through luck and well-placed geography, Sweden had the kind of natural resources (iron ore and wood) needed when countries like Britain and Germany industrialised.

“The industrial revolution made the iron in our ground very important,” Waldenström told The Local.  

The last time Sweden took part in a war was 1814. Benefitting from relative peace for more than 200 years, it also profited from exporting its iron and other raw materials to Germany during the Second World War. 

While Sweden struggled to rebuild along with the rest of Europe post-war, compared to the belligerent countries, Swedish industry was not destroyed. 

After the 1930s there was a long era of almost unbroken rule by Social Democratic governments, and according to a 2016 paper by Waldenström, this “paved the way for the emergence of one of the world’s most extensive welfare states”.

Benny Carlson, professor emeritus at the Department of Economic History at Lund University, describes Sweden’s modern-day economy as following “the middle way”.

“On the one hand the deals between well-organised employers and trade unions create fairly peaceful labour market conditions, on the other hand the welfare state guarantees social security and reasonable income equality,” he told The Local. 

Basically, Sweden is wealthy thanks to relative peace, social security, and a bit of luck. 

Member comments

  1. It is this timely distance to catastrophic events that lead to “lagom”. As an international expert who is trying to make a life for a family, it is surprising how little swedes work, to maintain this wealth. I would like to point out, that I am talking about innovation in Technology. This my and my peers experience.

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ENERGY

What rules are there for wood burners and fireplaces in Sweden?

With the price of electricity and heating going up, many people in Sweden have turned to wood burners and fireplaces to help heat their homes and lower their heating costs. What rules do you have to bear in mind?

What rules are there for wood burners and fireplaces in Sweden?

What fuel can I use?

As a general rule, you should only burn dry wood. Guidelines from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency state that your wood must have dried for at least 6 months, in a covered outdoor location.

Once you’ve brought it inside, try to use it within two weeks – otherwise it can dry out too much, meaning it burns more quickly, produces less heat and more soot.

On the other hand, if your wood is too wet, this can also cause issues. It will produce a lot of smoke, will not burn well and will emit a larger amount of environmentally hazardous substances.

It is illegal to burn rubbish such as milk cartons or plastic, as well as impregnated or painted wood, chipboard and plywood.

Coal is rarely used for heating private homes in Sweden due to the environmental impact, although there are no official bans on burning coal in indoor fireplaces.

Keep in mind that many modern fireplaces or wood burners are not designed for burning coal, and older fireplaces may only be approved for burning wood, so make sure you check the recommendations for your heater if you plan on using coal.

On the topic of older fireplaces, make sure you check with your council or building owner whether you are permitted to use your fireplace before you light a fire. If it hasn’t been used for a number of years, you may need to schedule an inspection, where an expert will inspect your fireplace and chimney for any cracks or areas that need repairing.

When can I light a fire?

Depending on where you live, there may be rules on when you are allowed to light a fire if it is not your primary source of heating. This is usually referred to as trivseleldning – lighting a fire for cosiness or comfort, rather than necessity.

In Malmö, for example, you are only allowed to light fires in tiled chimneys (kakelugnar), open fireplaces or woodburners between October 1st and March 31st. Some municipalities – Malmö included – also recommend lighting a fire no more than twice a week, for a maximum of four hours at a time.

Anna Nordkvist, a chimneysweep in Västerås, prepares to swing a chimney brush into a chimney. Photo: Per Groth/TT/Scanpix

Stockholm and Gothenburg have no rules on what time of year you are allowed to light a fire, or how often, but all three city councils underline the importance of considering your neighbours and only lighting a fire on days where it is windy enough for the smoke produced to be sufficiently dispersed.

If you live in another area, try searching for elda inomhus, plus the name of your local municipality, to find out the rules where you live.

If you burn wood in a way that causes irritation to your neighbours, they have the right to complain to the local council’s environmental department, who have the power to issue you with a ban on using your fireplace.

How often should I clean my chimney?

Depending on whether you live in a house or apartment, you may be responsible for organising chimney-sweeping yourself, or this might be the responsibility of the owner of your building.

Usually, if your fireplace or wood burner is not your primary source of heating and you only use it occasionally, your chimney won’t need to be swept more than once every three years.

If you’re not sure when your chimney was last swept (either because you don’t use it very often or because you recently moved into your property), try contacting your local council or searching for sotare (chimney sweep) or sotning (chimney-sweeping), plus the area where you live for advice. Most councils have a list over the properties in their area with chimneys and when they were last cleaned, or they will refer you to their approved contractors who should be able to help you.

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