Here in America, people (or at least Republicans and Libertarians) are conditioned to think that Big Government = Bad Goverment. One of the argument against Big Government is that a nanny state prevents a strong and vibrant society that takes care of itself through volunteerism.
But is that necessarily true? Consider the case of Sweden:
Sweden's vibrant civil society exists in a country with one of the world's most interventionist welfare states. Swedes' personal income tax can be as little as 29% of pay, but anyone earning over £32,000 will pay between 49% and 60% through a combination of local government and state income tax. The country's tax burden, at 47.1% of GDP, is the world's second largest, after Denmark.
In exchange, Swedes enjoy the benefits of arguably the world's most generous welfare state. Parents get universal nursery coverage capped at £130 a month, free schools, free health and dental care for under-18s, as well as generous personal benefits such as a child allowance of £1,070 a year per child. Most jobseekers can expect to receive 80% of their previous salary for the first 200 days of inactivity (dropping to 70% for the next 100 days). Couples can have joint parental leave lasting 480 days, which they can divide as they want, most of the time paid at 80% of their income. By and large, people are well taken care of.
Sweden's expansive welfare state helps to explain the vitality of the volunteer organisations in the country, says Svedberg. "The welfare state plays a very important part by giving people the practical and mental space necessary to be able to be active. It creates possibilities for citizens." Strikingly, the people who volunteer the most are those you might think have the least time available. "Most volunteers are working full time and have one or two children," he says. "They tend to be well educated and well connected. If you are connected to different social arenas, you are more likely to be recruited into volunteering activities."