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 5: Public sector: libraries as facilitators of the use of social capital

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


Chapter 5 focused on the public sector, where libraries function as an important meeting place in the Scandinavian welfare state. Public libraries are eminent providers and facilitators of human and social capital, not least in small rural communities, where such meeting places are becoming scarce in many parts of the world. Drawing on data from a questionnaire survey, the chapter reported on social capital creation at branch libraries in 62 rural municipalities in Denmark, as reported by the municipal library managers. A main empirical result was the extensive collaboration between the branch libraries and other public institutions in the local area, which often also involved volunteers from the civic society. Hence it was demonstrated that, besides micro-level social capital, the use of valuable social capital was also stimulated at the meso level among public and voluntary institutions collaborating on local core and noncore library services. In this way, public libraries not only facilitate the use of two well-known types of social capital – bonding and bridging – but also stimulate a highly valuable third type, institutional social capital. The closing down of more than half of branch libraries in rural Denmark since 1988 is partly due to politicians being ignorant of the great socio-economic value of these “gracious spaces,” which have a strong capacity to foster “full-scale” community social capital consisting of all three types of social capital.

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