The Family That Finances Sweden
The Wallenbergs are both the benefactors and beneficiaries of Sweden’s political economy. Five generations in, they demonstrate the viability of dynastic owners in an age of managers.
Sweden has cultivated a reputation of being an economically egalitarian “moral superpower,”1 emphasizing the country’s progressive credentials on immigration policy, income equality, and a generous welfare state. This reputation has been validated by metrics like the Gini coefficient, which quantifies the level of income inequality in a country, and where Sweden ranks very well. According to the World Bank, Sweden had a Gini coefficient of 29.3 in 2019, one of the lowest in the world. For reference, Slovakia had the lowest measured income inequality at 23.2, while South Africa had the highest at 63.0. The United States, for comparison, was at 41.5, China at 38.2, and Russia at 35.3.2 But while Swedish social democracy has led to limited income inequality, concentration of wealth is extreme. In 2021, Sweden measured 87.2 on the wealth inequality index,3 higher than the U.S. (85), China (70.4), India (82.3), and just slightly less than Russia (87.8), the latter of which in particular is sometimes characterized as a rapacious oligarchy.4 Sweden ranks exceptionally high even among the other Nordic countries; Norway is the second highest at just 78.5. Contrary to its egalitarian branding, Sweden’s political economy is instead characterized by concentrated wealth within a small number of influential families and prestigious industrial groups. The vast majority of this accumulated wealth is held by as little as seventeen major dynasties and groups, among which fourteen are eminent families who can trace their riches to either the immediate postwar era or even further back to the late nineteenth century.