In a European perspective, the Nordic countries are cases of successful industrialization and growth from the second half of the nineteenth century. This success has traditionally been ascribed to the performance of the export sector and open economy forces, but over the last thirty years internal factors have become more prominent in explanations and have even been suggested to offer the prime cause of the industrialization. In this paper, we will apply a comparative approach on the four Nordic countries
leaving out the fifth, Iceland. With only a few exceptions, the countries have been dealt with as singular cases but we think the comparison is useful, in particular when the aim is to distinguish between causal factors.
A very broad comparative approach was, however, provided in the literature on globalization where the Scandinavian countries figured as particularly successful upshots of open economy forces in the late nineteenth century.
While the export argument, and even more so the globalization thesis, tend to pass over what Abramovitz termed the problem of social capability
in the individual countries, proponents of the internal roots of development have sometimes forgotten about the broader context. In this article, we want to strike a balance between the role of internal factors and open economy forces, respectively, for the growth and modernization of the Nordic countries in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In short, open economy forces were crucial for the Nordic performance but, for example, the fact that imports exceeded exports during the industrialization should remind us that the full picture requires a closer look at what was going on in the interior. And differences are as telling as similarities in success.
The comparative approach seems to have been reserved for encyclopedias: Jörberg,
Dänemark, Norwegen und Schweden
(1992); Ljungberg, ‘
/Williamson, ‘Open Economy Forces’(1995) and ‘
Education, Globalization, and Catch-
(1995); for a critique and a mo
deration, see Ljungberg, ‘
’(1996) and ‘
Impact of the Great Emigration
’ (1997); Schön, ‘Internal and External Factors’
Abramovitz, ‘Catching Up’