Published in Dagens Nyheter
Capitalists! Unite and thank the wage earners! Thank the many people who have given up almost everything so that we could receive far too much. Now, the party is most likely ending for capitalists, and we’ll probably never experience anything like it again.
In the past 20 years – through the 1980s and 1990s – the Swedish economy has grown on average less than 2 percent per year. That is how much this country’s “pie” has increased. During the same period, the stock market increased 16 percent per year, adjusted for inflation, including dividends. That was 10 times as much as the whole pie grew. In contrast, wage earners received an average of about 0.5 percent more each year, adjusted for inflation, or about one-quarter of total growth.
As a result, after 20 years one Swedish krona in the stock market became SEK 20 (again, adjusted for inflation). One krona for a wage earner became SEK 1.20. In other words, the “stock market krona” increased about 100 times more than the “wage krona” did, and that’s after tax. But taxes have also benefited us grateful capitalists. The wage earners’ proportion of total tax levies during this period increased, from about 35 percent, to 45 percent. Capital has often been shielded from excessively high taxes. Volvo is a good example. In the past 10 years, its Swedish operations have paid tax at a rate of roughly 2 percent. The double taxation that we investors dislike has, in Volvo’s case at least, not hit us all that hard.
Inflation has been successfully fought and has fallen, with interest rates, to rock-bottom levels. In the past 20 years, events have largely played into the hands of the capitalists, with no money as yet trickling down to the wage earners. Of course, this is a simplification. Reality is more complex. We are, almost all of us, both wage earners and owners of assets. Pensions, retirement savings, strike funds, and much more have grown during these years for the benefit of everyone, but not at all to the same extent for everyone.
So despite all the myths, we capitalists ought to be more than satisfied with our share of the pie. Never in the history of capital has the division been so much in our favor. Right now is an excellent opportunity for us to unite and give thanks.