Business as Usual: Nobility and Landed Estates in Sweden

Kathryn Gary, Mats Olsson

Abstract


The majority of European countries which have had an important tradition of manorialism have undergone profound land reforms, redistributing land from large landowners and giving small-scale farmers and the landless legal rights to land ownership, with the exceptions of Sweden and England. This article will outline the particular Swedish case, where large estates have been able to persist largely intact from the Middle Ages through to the current day, and explore possible reasons for Sweden’s failure to develop a substantial land reform.

We suggest that while there was not an absolute lack of opportunity for reform, a persistent lack of a critical mass of support has meant a failure of outright revolution, as in the French case, and split incentives from the eighteenth century have prevented successful reform through legislative processes. The barriers to reform have only become stronger with the development of perfect private property rights and of the complexities of European law, and recent Swedish parliamentary outcomes indicate that the case for land reform has expired.


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