Trust, Social Capital and the Scandinavian Welfare State

Trust, Social Capital and the Scandinavian Welfare State

Explaining the Flight of the Bumblebee

Gunnar L.H. Svendsen and Gert T. Svendsen

Denmark exemplifies the puzzle of socio-economic success in Scandinavia. Populations are thriving despite the world’s highest levels of tax and generous social benefits. Denmark would appear to be a land of paradise for free-riders and those who want ‘money for nothing’. However, the national personality is characterized both by cooperation in everyday life and the numerous ‘hard-riders’ who make extraordinary contributions. Applying Bourdieuconomics, the authors focus on contemporary case studies to explain how social capital and trust are used to counteract free-riding and enable the flight of the Scandinavian welfare state ‘bumblebee’.

Chapter 2: Bourdieuconomics

Gunnar L.H. Svendsen and Gert T. Svendsen

Subjects: economics and finance, evolutionary economics, public choice theory, politics and public policy, public choice, public policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, sociology and sociological theory, welfare states


As argued in Chapter 2, free-riding and defection do not escalate because of social sanctioning systems, resulting in win–win outcomes among agents when cooperation succeeds. High trust means that the risk of being cheated is low, as it is possible to predict the behavior of the other agent in relation to a norm. Arguably, a sufficient number of norm enforcers facilitate this unique collective insurance system. Measuring bridging social capital as social trust, our ranking of 86 countries showed that the Scandinavian welfare states (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) top the list. Based on Bourdieu’s approach to intangible capital, we derived a theoretical framework of Bourdieuconomics encompassing trust, social capital, and symbolic, cultural and physical capital that could all be converted to economic capital. Hence we argued that Bourdieu’s (1986) seminal idea of mutually convertible forms of tangible and intangible capital (economic, cultural, social, symbolic) can be united with a rational choice framework. The latter should however take seriously into consideration the high risks of labor time investments made by the single actor in complex situations rich in socio-economic considerations and strategies. Our contribution in this book was to fill a gap in the literature by focusing on real-life capital strategies in the universal welfare state of Denmark at the micro or local level, that is, in situ.

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