Maddy Savage and Benoît Derrier, “Why the Swedes love doing something that Americans hate,” BBC Reel , Jan. 6, 2021

In a BBC video (at 4:55) on why Swedes are OK with paying taxes, “… in general, there’s a high level of trust in Swedish society, so we trust that the public sector will do, long term, good things with our money.” Part of a BBC Reel series on the “Nordic Way.” Quoting Per Clingweld, 32, “father of two, married … day job is business lead at a tech agency” (at 2:02)

Link here (quote at 4:55):


Richard Wike and Kathleen Holzwart, “Where Trust is High, Crime and Corruption are Low,” Global Attitudes Project, Pew Research Center, April 15, 2008

Excerpts from report by Richard Wike, Associate Director and Kathleen Holzwart, Research Analyst, Pew Global Attitudes Project:

“Among the 47 countries included in the 2007 poll, China had the highest level of social trust: Almost eight-in-ten Chinese (79%) agreed with the statement “Most people in this society are trustworthy.” Although no other Asian nation matches China’s score, levels of trust are relatively high in the region, with majorities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and India saying most people in their respective countries can be trusted.

“Swedes (78%) came in a very close second to the Chinese on the social trust scale. The results from elsewhere in Western Europe indicated something of a north-south divide — while most Swedes, Brits, and Germans said people in their countries are generally trustworthy, fewer than half in France, Spain, and Italy agreed. Meanwhile, Eastern Europeans tend to resemble their more southern neighbors on this issue. At 50%, Russians exhibited the highest level of trust among the Eastern European countries included in the study.


“Since Harvard’s Robert Putnam advanced his “bowling alone” thesis in the mid-1990s, numerous researchers have found evidence suggesting that America’s social capital has declined over the last half century.3 However, as the Pew survey demonstrates, when it comes to social trust (one indicator of social capital), Americans still compare quite favorably with other publics — 58% believe others in this society can be trusted. Only the Chinese, Swedish, Canadian, and British publics express greater levels of social trust.


Ulf Andreasson, Trust — The Nordic Gold: Nordic Council of Ministers Analysis Report (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2017)

Nordic Council of Ministers report, page 15:

Rasmus Fonnesbæck Andersen and Peter Thisted Dinesen at the University of
Copenhagen reviewed a number of studies, and reported that the Nordic societies
probably showed high levels of social capital from an early stage. In other studies,
attempts have been made to confirm this by, for example, examining Swedes who
emigrated to the US and took trust with them: even after several generations,
Americans with a Scandinavian background show higher levels of social trust than
other Americans. [22] Researchers have, for example, identified the introduction of
Protestantism in the Nordic countries as an important explanation for early high
levels of trust. In particular, it has been argued that the non-hierarchical nature of
Protestantism allowed the social trust to develop. [23] Others looked further back,
to Viking times, proposing early systems of governance and trading networks as
important explanatory factors. [24]

In purely methodological terms, it is difficult to determine the extent of this early
Nordic trust. The levels we can measure today probably bear little relation to the
trust we can find historically. It is also highly probable that, in a long historical
perspective, trust in the Nordic societies has varied over time. However, levels of
trust have increased in modern times, while in many other non-Nordic countries trust
has fallen, particularly in recent decades. [25] Consequently, the interesting question
is how levels of trust have come to be so high in modern times. More specifically,
the question is how did the early forms of trust in the Nordic region deepen as the
countries developed into modern societies, and why has trust increased in recent
The (relatively) modern history of the Nordic trust took off with the rise of the major
popular movements in the second half of the 19th century. ‘Popular movements’
is the common generic name for the people’s movements in society, such as the
sobriety, revivalist and worker movements. The foundation of these movements
largely coincided with a comprehensive restructuring of the Nordic societies.26
The structure and function of the associations that grew out of the popular
movements were very significant for the association tradition in the Nordic region. [27]
Compared with other countries, the Nordic associations were much more often
voluntary, local and member-based, with democratic decision-making processes.
The voluntary association culture held society together, promoting strong local
norms of trust and respect that supported and facilitated collaboration. This
important aspect was given an extra dimension in the Nordic region through the
structure of the associations.

  1. L. Trägårdh, “Den dumme svensken och allemansrättens magi”, in L. Trägårdh (ed.),
    Tilliten i det moderna Sverige. Den dumme svensken och andra mysterier (2009).
  2. For a discussion on this, including references to other research, see C. Bjørnskov,
    “The Determinants of Trust”, in Ratio Working Papers (2005).
  3. G.L.H. Svendsen & G.T. Svendsen, “How did trade norms evolve in Scandinavia?
    Long-distance trade and social trust in the Viking age”, in Economic Systems 40 (2016).
  4. See Andersen & Dinesen (Forthcoming).
  5. For a Swedish discussion on the structural transformation during the 19th century, the
    popular movements and relationship to trust, see G. Svedin, “En ohyra på samhällskroppen”:
    Kriminalitet, kontroll och modernisering i Sverige och Sundsvallsdistriktet under 1800- och det tidiga 1900-talet (2015).
  6. B. Rothstein, “Social Capital in Scandinavia”, in Scandinavian Political Studies 26 (2001).


Lars Trägårdh, “The Swedish model is the opposite of the big society, David Cameron,” Guardian, Feb. 10, 2012

But behind the appealing robustness of an “economy as strong as Pippi Longstocking”, as the OECD secretary general José Angel Gurría said, is a social contract and moral logic that, one imagines, would startle most rank-and-file UK British Conservatives.

The linchpin of the Swedish model is an alliance between the state and the individual that contrasts sharply with Anglo-Saxon suspicion of the state and preference for family- and civil society-based solutions to welfare. In Sweden, a high-trust society, the state is viewed more as friend than foe. Indeed, it is welcomed as a liberator from traditional, unequal forms of community, including the family, charities and churches.

At the heart of this social compact lies what I like to call a Swedish theory of love: authentic human relationships are possible only between autonomous and equal individuals. This is, of course, shocking news to many non-Swedes, who believe that interdependency is the very stuff of love.

One thought on “Misc. notes & quotes: ‘Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden’ (high-trust society)

  1. I guess I am old enough that I have never resented taxes except the amount that has gone to needless wars. I grew up knowing that all of our taxes put together paid for schools, roads, etc.


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