Key challenges for the Swedish economy
Sweden enjoys excellent macroeconomic performance with high rates of growth and stable inflation expectations. However, tensions are visible at the margin. Joblessness is widespread among immigrants and youngsters, and disability and sickness rates are comparatively high. Combating exclusion both in the labour and housing markets is a key challenge for policymakers. Early steps in regulatory reform, taken in the 1990s are paying off in terms of productivity and GDP, but renewed regulatory reform is needed inter alia to address the low rate of business formation. Progress on this reform agenda – employment in particular – is vital also for the long-run fiscal outlook which is shaped by population ageing. This chapter identifies such key challenges after first assessing recent macroeconomic developments including the housing and construction boom.
Why has inflation been persistently low?
Average inflation in Sweden has been one of the lowest among European countries since the mid-1990s. Three supply-side factors help to explain this phenomenon, all related in some sense to increased global integration. First, a shift towards imports from low-cost producing countries has resulted in falling import prices. Second, deregulation and increased product market competition with foreign companies entering the market has led to price falls in some sectors, notably in retailing. Third, wage growth has lagged productivity and kept unit labour costs down. This chapter reviews these factors and analyzes the policy options for the central bank.
Making employment inclusive – for immigrants and natives alike
Swedish employment rates of prime-age men and women have not recovered to the level they were at before the deep crisis in the early 1990s. This is problematic because labour supply is crucial for long-run fiscal sustainability and because lower employment rates partly reflect involuntary exclusion generated by factors like taxes, benefits, labour-market institutions and attitudes. Policy reform is therefore needed. This chapter first assesses the ambitious initiatives concerning unemployment benefits, employers’ contribution rebates and in-work tax credits introduced from 2007. It then focuses on immigrants: some come from deprived backgrounds with limited skills while others are highly trained. Better integrating this wide diversity on the Swedish labour market is a key challenge. It requires attention to wage flexibility as well as employment protection rules that make it risky for firms to hire immigrants whose capabilities are often difficult to gauge. Finally, progress on reducing sickness absence is reviewed.
The housing market – better allocation via less regulation
While several sectors in the economy have been deregulated, the Swedish housing market remains distorted, hindering an optimal matching of supply and demand. In the rental market the rent setting framework with its focus on cost-based rents in the public sector prevents a price response, leading to long queues in some regions and vacancies in others. Many Swedes that would have preferred otherwise are driven into the owner-occupied segment, where prices are increasing strongly, and rising above an estimated fundamental value. The supply of new dwellings is made more difficult by an uncompetitive construction industry, coupled with cumbersome planning regulations and few incentives for municipalities to issue more land. On the fiscal side, real estate taxes are below neutral levels, implying an indirect subsidy to housing. This chapter presents a critical review of the recent steps to abolish real estate taxes and also proposes comprehensive reform of regulations in the rental housing sector.
How to obtain this publication
The Policy Brief (pdf format) can be downloaded. It contains the OECD assessment and recommendations but not all of the charts included on the above pages.
The complete edition of the Economic survey of Sweden 2007 is available from:
For further information please contact the Sweden Desk at the OECD Economics Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. The OECD Secretariat's report was prepared by Jens Lundsgaard and Felix Huefner under the supervision of Andreas Wörgötter.