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  • 1.
    Lantz, Gunnar
    Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Enheten för ekonomisk historia.
    An indirect route to equality: taxing consumers to build the Swedish welfare state2019Doktorsavhandling, monografi (Övrigt vetenskapligt)
    Abstract [en]

    The question of who paid for the welfare state in postwar Sweden has been subject to extensive debate. Many have focused on the comparatively high, and steeply progressive, taxes on income. Others have claimed that low and middle earners paid disproportionately more, pointing to the comparatively high revenue share of value added tax (VAT) for instance. No convincing assessment has been made of the extent to which consumption taxes counteracted the progressivity of income taxes. The thesis presents new estimates based on tax assessments and household surveys, which show that consumption taxes did offset tax progressivity considerably. Moreover, they were important even before the VAT. There was not a sharp break, but a gradual transition from excise and customs duties to general sales tax to VAT. The VAT meant a shifting of the weight more towards the lower end of the income distribution.

    This insight begs the question of what caused such a fiscal arrangement. What made postwar Sweden’s labour governments favour a tax that fell disproportionately on low earners, a core part of their constituency? Through an analysis of policy documents, the author shows that the governing Social Democrats were well aware of the dilemma. The party leaders used general consumption taxes explicitly as a ‘lesser evil’ component in a strategy for expanding the public sector and welfare systems. That aspect has previously been neglected when telling the story of this formative era. The thesis demonstrates that it deserves to be brought into a central place in that story.

    Corporatism remains a valid explanatory factor. The business community had an influence on determining the details of the general sales tax, albeit not the overall level. Tax reliefs on certain important inputs such as building materials and were granted after a series of appeals. The author argues that the transition from sales tax to VAT can be seen as a final solution to these protests about business inputs being unfairly taxed. The will of the domestic business community was of a more immediate importance for the switch to VAT than any potential tendency of compliance towards supranational organisations such as the EEC pushing the government to follow their edicts concerning VAT, as has otherwise been suggested.

    The political left in Sweden was initially against the general sales tax because of its burden on low earners. The political right opposed the general sales tax because it would increase the overall tax take, and risked becoming an all too convenient revenue machine for the government. The left changed position and began framing it as a tool for realising welfare state expansion. The right reframed it as a tool for keeping the progressivity of taxation down.

  • 2.
    Lantz, Gunnar
    Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för geografi och ekonomisk historia.
    How They All Came to Love the VAT: Consumption Taxes, Big Business, and the Welfare State in Sweden2018Ingår i: Worlds of Taxation: The Political Economy of Taxing, Spending, and Redistribution Since 1945 / [ed] Huerlimann, Gisela; Brownlee, W. Elliot; Ide, Eisaku, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, s. 49-72Kapitel i bok, del av antologi (Övrigt vetenskapligt)
    Abstract [en]

    Several studies emphasize the importance of value-added tax (VAT) for financing extensive Scandinavian-type welfare states. This questions common perceptions of labor parties’ preference for taxing the rich. This chapter examines how Sweden came to adopt VAT, and its precursor the sales tax, in the 1950s and 1960s. The conclusion is that labor governments intentionally used this fiscal measure to achieve a comprehensive welfare state. Resistance was answered with promises of compensation for low-income households. The influence of international organizations for choosing VAT is not supported. Concerns voiced by the domestic business community about keeping up with international competition are given more weight as an explanation. Repeated appeals for reliefs from taxation of business inputs were another decisive factor in the transition from sales tax to VAT.

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