Who knew Swedish finance could be so sexy? The late, great Stieg Larsson’s best-selling The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — the Hollywood version hit North American theaters this week — was the first to tap into a hitherto undiscovered global fascination with Nordic number crunching.

Following gingerly in his footsteps, I’d like to report on a fascinating discussion at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington this month, where the Scandinavian story was center stage.

The conference, where I moderated a panel, was organized by the European Corporate Governance Institute and Columbia Law School. The theme was the involvement of shareholders in the companies they own.

Americans like to think of themselves as the world’s archcapitalists, especially compared to Europeans, whose fondness for a social safety net often earns the label, applied on this side of the Atlantic as an insult, of ”socialist.” That’s why the message from many of the speakers at the SEC discussion, particularly the visitors from Europe, would come as a surprise on Main Street, USA.

The United States, they argued, has created a system of capitalism without capitalists, of private sector companies whose owners have abdicated responsibility for the companies that belong to them.