Trust, Social Capital and the Scandinavian Welfare State
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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’.
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Chapter 7: Conclusion

Gunnar L.H. Svendsen and Gert T. Svendsen


The wealth of the Scandinavian welfare states has puzzled social scientists for decades. How do we explain the, until now, rather successful flight of the Scandinavian “bumblebees” in spite of extremely strong free-rider incentives? One answer to the Scandinavian puzzle could be that the presence and use of trust and social capital in these universal welfare states enhances their economic performance. Metaphorically speaking, the Scandinavian bumblebee is able to fly because its “motor” of social capital is continuously lubricated by the oil of trust at the micro level. Using the case of Denmark, we undertook field studies at the micro level to uncover how the use of social capital actually takes place in situ. Our contemporary cases indicate that not only do free-riders and harmful “excessive” bonding social capital not seem to prevail in a Scandinavian welfare state like Denmark, but the number of defectors and free-riders has in practice been kept down through effective social sanctioning.

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