Swedes are entitled to six months' leave to start a business, look after a sick relative, or study

Sweden consistently ranks as one of Europe's most innovative and entrepreneurial nations, and one of the most obvious explanations for this is the country's generous leave policy, which entitles salaried, full-time workers to six months' unpaid leave to start a (noncompeting) business, look after a sick relative, or go back to school.

It's hard to overstate how tightly economic security is tied to entrepreneurship: if you have to be rich to take time off to start a business or get retrained to advance your career, the wealthy will always have an edge (over and above the advantage of being able to tap relatives for contacts and seed capital).

The apologist's explanation for inequality is that it's just separating the excellent from the average (or the big cornflakes from the crumbs), using the market to ensure that capital accrues in the hands of those who can put it to best use in creating jobs and prosperity. According to this explanation, we should abandon any thought of building guillotines because the super-rich got that way by benefitting us all.

But what if the tipping point in inequality attained in the late 1970s and the subsequent starving of the public coffers, destruction of the social safety net, and doctrine that says we have no duty to one another has meant that only the people who are already rich can afford to do the things that make one richer, like start a new venture or get a better education?

What if the 1%-99% split means that 99% of the people whose ideas could create jobs, increase productivity and create prosperity are doomed to shitty gig-economy jobs, economic precarity, and debt-haunted anxiety that prevents them from realizing their potential, depriving all of us of the benefit that potential would bring?

"To my knowledge this is the only country that offers a legally-enshrined right to take a leave of absence for entrepreneurship," explains Claire Ingram Bogusz, apost-doctoral researcher in entrepreneurship and information systems at Stockholm School of Economics.

"You meet a lot of people who've got permission from their employer to start up something in such a way that it doesn't interfere with their employment, and once that business is up and running, then they take a leave of absence to see if they can actually make a go of it," she says.

"It's very common, particularly among highly-skilled entrepreneurs who build high-tech firms."

Sweden's surprising rule for time off [Maddy Savage/BBC]