Modern Scandinavian Economic History- The agrarian transformation                                        INTRODUCT ION   T...
Modern Scandinavian Economic History- The agrarian transformation   In conclusion, the outcomes of Wiking-faria(2010) migh...
Modern Scandinavian Economic History- The agrarian transformation                                         CONCLUSION   In ...
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The agrarian revolution in scandinavia


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The agrarian revolution in scandinavia

  1. 1. UNIVERSITY OF GOTHENBURG SPRING TERM 2011 THE AGRARIAN REVOLUTION IN SCANDINAVIA An overview of the evolution of agriculture in Scandinavia through time isprovided here. This paper focuses on the main changes which led to today’seconomic success of Scandinavian countries. The evolution is tackled into twoseparate parts: one considering Sweden and the other is about Denmark’sdevelopment. Finally, a brief conclusion is provided in the last section. SOCIAL CHANGE SEMINAR – MODERN SCANDINAVIAN ECONOMIC HISTORY
  2. 2. Modern Scandinavian Economic History- The agrarian transformation INTRODUCT ION The agrarian revolution in Scandinavia took place during the 18th and 19th century but it hasstrong roots in the previous centuries. On the contrary of what could suggest the word“revolution”, it was rather a transformation, i.e. a slow and long-term change more than asudden breakthrough. Indeed, Scandinavia witnessed political change in parallel witheconomic development, which resulted in the evolution of the peasants’ mentality and a shiftof their role in the society. Previously to the period so called “the agrarian transformation”, Scandinavian agriculturewas merely done following the roman system. The inefficiency of this one has been provenseveral times through many famines who led to important increase in mortality rate. Theagrarian transformation is a rupture with the past in the sense that it is a period of increases inper capita food production and production surplus which permitted to avoid cyclical crises.(Magnusson, 2000) According to Magnusson, “rising per capita production will in the longterm create the conditions for a more extensive division of labour, increased marketproduction and a process of social differentiation in the agricultural sector”. In other words,the consequences of agricultural transformation shaped the entire Scandinavian societythrough many aspects such as politics and do not only involve the agricultural sector. THE CASE OF SWEDEN : Sweden has always been a world of freedom for human being, but even if serfdom did notexist, there were social barriers and classes. In fact, before the year 1700, people could beclassified following distinctive categories. Firstly, there were the king, the nobles and thepriests. Then there was a lower class composed of agricultural workers such as freeholders(who paid taxes to the crown), tenants of crown land (who paid rent to the crown), and tenantsof land owned by the nobility (who paid rent to the nobility). Despite the heterogeneity ofpeasantry; at least freeholders and tenants of crown lands were represented in parliamentwhere they could defend their interests. In 1701, the opportunity given to peasants to become freeholders by buying crown land wasone major step towards an increased political influence of the farmers (Winberg). Moreover,in 1789, the peasant representation took even more importance thanks to the removal ofrestrictions on ownership. This could have been a major reform leading to a radical change inpeasants’ mentality but, according to Winberg, the progress in agricultural method came morefrom progressive noblemen and middle-class persons. This idea is emphasized by Heckscherwho states that “the advancement of the peasantry” was only due to political issues more thanany economic development. Nevertheless, all historians do not agree with this pessimistic vision of conservativepeasants. According to Gadd, the new ownership conditions, i.e. which including moreprotection for the freeholders, led to several improvements such as iron ploughs andcultivation of potatoes. These had a major influence (such as crop rotation previously) on theproductivity in the 1770’s and offered the possibility to create even more surplus. p. 2
  3. 3. Modern Scandinavian Economic History- The agrarian transformation In conclusion, the outcomes of Wiking-faria(2010) might be a good way to look at thedrivers of the Swedish agrarian transformation. According to him, the most constructivedevelopments were the possibility to buy freeholds and secondly the settlement of peasant-friendly policy. These two key points have led Sweden on the path of economic success byencouraging the improvement of farming methods. THE CASE OF DENMARK 1: In Denmark, agriculture had a dominant place in the economy and was characterized byhigh productivity levels. Nevertheless, this high productivity is to be put in relationship with ahighly commercialized economy rather than a higher share of total labour which was in realitylower than the European norm.(Henriksen) One of the major drivers of Danish development between 1870 and 1970 could be related toRicardo’s law of comparative advantage. According to Henriksen and the comparativeadvantage theory, the Danish farmers had incentives to export their production in UK. Forsome particular products such as butter or pork, this proportion represented more than 90% ofthe total production. Secondly, Denmark owes also his success to a favorable international trade policy. The freetrade agreement allowed peasants to get really specialized in a certain task and thus increasethe productivity by the mean of economy of scales. Even if liberalism had proven its benefits,there were several cases where farmers, represented by the Danish Royal Agriculture Society,tried to impose tariffs in order to protect one particular business. The third driver of the agrarian revolution in Denmark is co-operatives and thetechnological change that they induced. Co-operatives had a strong impact on the agriculturallandscape by re-organizing the share of lands in a more equal way. In parallel, it gave rise to ahomogenous part of the population which began to organize itself in a more complex way.This is illustrated by the opening of saving banks and the promotion of new farming methodsinside the co-operatives. These associated with technological innovation such as creamseparator or cold storage increased dramatically the production. Contrarily to what could be thought, co-operatives did not mean more fairness foreverybody. As an independent farmers not belonging to a co-operative, your investmentpossibilities and the opportunity to benefit from economy of scales were strictly limited. Theprohibitive cost of transport and the limited access to capital led to the replacement of littleenterprises to the benefit of co-operatives. Finally, like in Sweden, there was a favorable educational background to support theagrarian transformation. Since 1814, instruction in reading, writing and religion wasmandatory but took really effect later. In 1849, the new constitution stated that the state willtake in charge de educational fees for people of limited means. These were the first stepstowards the development of several institutions which led research in Denmark and increasedproductivity by spreading innovations through the country. 1 This section about Danemark is based on Henriksen : The transformation of Danish Agriculture 1870-1914. p. 3
  4. 4. Modern Scandinavian Economic History- The agrarian transformation CONCLUSION In summary, the agrarian revolution is a necessary step for traditional economies to evolvetowards modernity. The role of this transformation is often underestimated and credits aregiven to the industrial revolution. Nevertheless, the changes induced in agriculture created therequired conditions for industrial change. These conditions do not only include technicalinnovations but also social changes, a shift in mentalities, new educational policy and politicaltransformations. Finally, one crucial point to keep in mind is that the agrarian transformationwas a really slow process taking part during the 18th and 19th century which settled the basisof prosperous Scandinavian economies for a long time. BIBLIOGRAP HYLiterature:Magnusson, Lars: An Economic History of Sweden (Chapter 1 & 2 pp. 1‐56)ArticlesHenriksen, Ingrid : The Transformation of Danish Agriculture 1870 -1914Winberg, Christer: Another Route to Modern Society: the advancement of Swedish peasantryThesisPablo Wiking-Faria: Peace, freeholding and iron ploughs. Motivating forces and processes ofchange during the agricultural revolution in Halland, 1700-1900. p. 4