Ernst Wigforss

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Ernst Wigforss
Ernst Wigforss - Sveriges styresmän.jpg
Finance minister
In office
1925–1926
Preceded by Fredrik Vilhelm Thorsson
Succeeded by Carl Gustaf Ekman
In office
1932–1936
Preceded by Felix Hamrin
Succeeded by Vilmar Ljungdahl
In office
1936–1949
Preceded by Vilmar Ljungdahl
Succeeded by David Hall
Personal details
Born 21 January 1881
Halmstad, Sweden
Died 2 January 1977
Stora Hult, Båstad, Sweden
Political party Social Democratic Workers' Party
Occupation Docent

Ernst Johannes Wigforss (24 January 1881–2 January 1977) was a Swedish politician and linguist (dialectologist), mostly known as a prominent member of the Social Democratic Workers' Party and Swedish Minister of Finance. Wigforss became one of the main theoreticians in the development of the Swedish Social Democratic movement's revision of Marxism, from a revolutionary to a reformist organization. He was inspired and stood ideologically close to the ideas of the Fabian Society and the Guild Socialism and inspired by people like R. H. Tawney, L.T. Hobhouse and J. A. Hobson. He made contributions in his early writings about Industrial democracy and Workers' self-management.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in the town of Halmstad in Halland in south-western Sweden, Wigforss studied at Lund University from 1899, and published writings on political issues in this period. He completed a doctorate in 1913 with a dissertation on the dialect of south Halland, becoming docent in Scandinavian languages at the university the same year. He taught at the gymnasium in Lund (Lunds högre allmänna läroverk) 1911-1914 and as lecturer of German and Swedish at the Latin gymnasium in Gothenburg from 1914.

Political career[edit]

In 1919 Wigforss was elected a social democratic member of the First Chamber of the Swedish Parliament, representing Gothenburg, and he became a member of various committees. He was appointed a member of the third cabinet of Hjalmar Branting in 1924, and after Branting's resignation in January 1925, became a member of Rickard Sandler's cabinet. He was made temporary Minister of Finance on 24 January 1925 when Fredrik Thorsson fell ill, and succeeded him on 8 May of the same year, following his death. The Sandler cabinet resigned on 7 June 1926.

He was again Minister of Finance in the cabinets of Per Albin Hansson and Tage Erlander from 1932 to 1949.

Regarding the currency crisis of 1947, Wigforss became Gunnar Myrdal's main political opponent. Swedish historians tend to interpret this crisis as Myrdal's political failure, while the historian Orjan Appelqvist argue that it is Wigforss an Axel Gjöres who holds primary responsibility for this political fiasco.[1]

Some [who?] say that Wigforss' economic policies were strongly influenced by John Maynard Keynes, but he may have anticipated Keynes, because he proposed counter-cyclical economic policy before becoming minister of finance in 1932. But it is perhaps most accurate to claim that his main economic influences came from Knut Wicksell. He inspired younger economists like Gunnar Myrdal and the Stockholm school, who worked in the same direction as Keynes at the same time. John Kenneth Galbraith writes in his book A History of Economics: The Past as the Present, 1991, that it "would be more fair to say 'The Swedish Economic Revolution' than the 'Keynesian revolution' in economics, and that Wigforss was first in this transformation of thinking and practice about economy".

In his pamphlet Har vi råd att arbeta? (Can we afford to work?), widely believed to have won the 1932 elections for the Social Democrats, he made fun of the Liberal theory that budget cuts are the proper remedy for economic downturns. Although he is considered the creator of the Swedish high-tax economy, controversies with Minister for Social Affairs Gustav Möller (who would have preferred taxes to have been even higher) prevented both from being elected party chairman and Prime Minister at the death of Hansson.

Financing Hitler's war effort[edit]

Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish newspaper, and Iltalehti, a Finnish tabloid, report that a document has been found in a safe at the Swedish Finance Ministry pertaining to a significant loan Wigforss granted to support Nazi Germany's war effort. No official records were ever made about this loan, but Swedish diplomat Krister Wahlbäck stated that the loan was agreed to and authorised by Wigforss for the specific purpose of assisting Hitler's war effort.[2]

Later life[edit]

After his resignation, Wigforss continued until his death to write and speak on political issues and was considered one of the most innovative and daring Social Democrat politicians. He supported the anti-nuclear movement of the 1950s and contributed to the discontinuation of the Swedish nuclear arms programme in 1962.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Örjan Appelqvist (1999:1): "Gunnar Myrdal i svensk politik 1943–1947 – En svensk Roosevelt och hans vantolkade nederlag". NORDEUROPAforum, p. 33-51, http://edoc.hu-berlin.de/nordeuropaforum/1999-1/appelqvist-oerjan-33/XML/
  2. ^ http://www.dn.se/debatt/hemlig-svensk-kredit-till-hitlers-tyskland

References[edit]

  • Higgins, Winton. Ernst Wigforss: The Renewal of Social Democratic Theory and Practice. Political Power and Social Theory, vol 15, 1985
  • Newman, Michael. Socialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2005
  • Rothstein, Bo. Managing the Welfare State: Lessons from Gustav Möller. Scandinavian Political Studies, vol 8, 1985
  • Tilton, Timothy. The Political Theory of Swedish Social Democracy: Through the Welfare State to Socialism. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990
  • Tilton, Timothy. A Swedish Road to Socialism, Ernst Wigforss and the Ideological Foundations of Swedish Social Democracy. The American Political Science Review, 1979, pp 505–520
  • Tingsten, Herbert. The Swedish Social Democrats: Their Ideological Development. Totowa, Bedminster Press, 1973