National Wealth and Income in the Land of the Poor: A Conceptual History of Economic Growth in Finland from the Late 19th Century until the Second World War

Heikki Mikkonen

Tutkimustuotos: VäitöskirjaMonograph


This dissertation departs from a field of academic inquiry that has sought to examine how economic growth emerged as a dominant scientific and political paradigm after the mid-20th century. The dissertation focuses particularly on Finland from the late 19th Century until the Second World War. The analysis has been conducted through three research questions: first, when and why did economic growth emerge in Finland as a field of study in economics and as a political objective? Second, how can ideas that resemble economic growth be studied before the emergence of economic growth as an explicit concept? And third, can an analysis of the interwar period help to explain why Finland was so receptive to post-war growth policies promoted by international organizations such as the UN and the OECD?

The methodology of the dissertation has to a large extent been derived from conceptual history. The concepts of economic growth or the GDP did not emerge until the 1940s. It is not self-evident how to approach a conceptual history of economic growth before the emergence of explicit concept of growth and its measures. This dissertation has sought to address the issue by focusing on two concepts that were used before the Second World War, albeit not necessarily in the same contexts as they were later understood: national wealth and national income. By addressing the research problem through a conceptual history of national wealth and national income, the dissertation also examines the idea that economic growth is inextricably linked to growth of the national economy in contrast to individual- or firm-level bookkeeping and business practices (i.e., capitalism).

The analytical lens of the dissertation is focused particularly on two Finnish economic associations (Kansantaloudellinen Yhdistys and Ekonomiska Samfundet i Finland) and their publications. Founded in the late 19th century, both economic associations were not solely research organizations, but also forums of public debate and political discussion. In many instances, Finnish economists had dual roles as scholars and politicians or entrepreneurs. Although economic journals produced by the two Finnish economic associations provide the backbone of this study, the analysis is expanded with other source materials such as contemporary academic textbooks and monographs, newspaper articles, government programmes and committee reports.

The dissertation is structured to three main chapters that to a large extent follow a chronological order. The first chapter examines Finland as an autonomous Grand Duchy that was a part of the Russian empire. The second chapter examines Finland as an independent republic after 1917 until the Great Depression. The third chapter focuses on events during and after the Great Depression until the Second World War. The results of the dissertation suggest that there was no strong orientation towards economic growth in Finnish economic scholarship and politics in the era of the Grand Duchy. The situation changed during the interwar period, however, in national accounting, in economic theory and in economic policy.

On a more general level, the dissertation identifies and analyses five types of growth conceptions: classical liberal, agrarian conservative, social liberal, social democratic and communist. Each conception provided a different political framework for economic growth. The findings of the dissertation suggest that during the period of the analysis, there existed capitalist conception (classical liberal, agrarian conservative) that were indifferent to growth and had more fundamental principles in monetary and cultural stability. Further, during the interwar period, there emerged non-capitalist growth conceptions (communism, social democratic) that were explicitly oriented towards growth, although for different reasons.

The results of the dissertation suggest further that it does not seem like a major political change that Finland adopted international standardization in the system of national accounting and growth policies promoted by the UN and the OECD after the Second World War, because there had already been both scientific and intellectual shifts towards planning of growth. The results of the dissertation also indicate that further research would benefit from approaches seeking to move beyond an analysis of the growth paradigm to typologize and analyse types of growth conceptions.
TilaJulkaistu - 2023
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Monografiaväitöskirja


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