Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Göteborg Papers in Economic History,
University of Gothenburg, Unit for Economic History

No 41: The Quest for Bureaucratic Efficiency - Sweden’s Rise and Fall as an Empire

Jari Eloranta (), Henric Häggqvist, Petri Karonen and Land Jeremy ()
Additional contact information
Jari Eloranta: University of Helsinki, Dept. of Economic and Social History, Postal: Finland
Henric Häggqvist: Uppsala University, Dept. of Economic History, Postal: Sweden
Petri Karonen: University of Jyväskylä, Dept. of History and Ethnology, Postal: Finland
Land Jeremy: Unit for Economic History, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University, Postal: Box 720, SE 40530 Göteborg, Sweden

Abstract: The prevailing literature on global state capacity suggests that: 1) Europe was pulling ahead of other regions in the early modern period, and 2) state capacity in this period was mostly dedicated to the purposes of centralizing state power and increasing military power. The interplay of institutions needed to expand military power and fiscal expansion was a fundamental factor in these processes. We examine an unlikely candidate for an empire and expanding state, namely early modern Sweden, where the construction of bureaucratic structures and the development of the military went in parallel during the 16th and 17th centuries. Sweden had scarce financial and human resources, so its expansion was based on an offensive strategy to capture territory and resources, i.e. that "the war had to pay for itself." The military burden of the expansion was, in comparative European terms, manageable, and it went hand-in-hand with the development of an efficient state bureaucracy. The strategy worked well until the early 18th century, when confronted by more powerful enemies and inept domestic leadership. From the 1720s onwards, military expenditures began a slow decline. The Swedish state was often forced to rely on revenue from trade to finance wars. However, a centralized state remained as a long-term structural element for Sweden, even though it had to eventually open up to trade, commit to political neutrality, and implement a democratic system.

Keywords: state capacity; Sweden; military spending; empire; early modern

JEL-codes: H11; H20; N20; N23; N40; P16

Language: English

35 pages, April 25, 2024

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