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Does Big Government Prevent Volunteering and a Vibrant Society?

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."


I don't think it is ever correct to compare governments of two different countries. I think this because the U.S. is a BIG country, Sweden is much smaller. The proportions are way different. Maybe I am wrong in this, but the usage of Sweden as an example can only go so far.
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"conditioned to think" Nice.

(cuz they can't really "think" can they?)

And hey, huge chronic unemployment (more than in the US), conformity, deference to authority, hostility to immigrants, near universal military conscription, scarcity of entrepreneurship, heavy government meddling in media, cultural stagnation, and political stagnation - in short, a lack of freedom - are well worth the benefits of welfare! Hey, it's free!
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If you read the full article it states that the rate of volunteerism between Sweden and the US is virtually THE SAME. How does that show that big government promotes volunteerism?
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Sweden has a huge government that advances the social causes of well-educated, well-connected, well-off white people.

Sweden also has a huge non-profit sector that advances the social causes of well-educated, well-connected, well-off white people.

Sounds like a great place to be - if you're a well-educated, well-connected, well-off white person. Not so much for the rest of us.
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Wow. Just judging from these comments, I'd say this post is a bad-intentioned misfire.
I hope you're just trying to open a debate on this topic, Alex, and not incite anger and impose judgments on people who have a differing attitude on this subject than you do.
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The two are unrelated. Charity involves many individuals giving of their own and of their own free will. Government is the use of coercion by a few powerful people to "do good" and "be generous" with other people's money. Another simple test is: were these resources used to start wars, reward cronies,create dependency etc.--or taken by force?
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I think it's great how the article mentions "free schools [and] free health and dental care" right after explaining how the government takes half of everyone's income. Perhaps the author should look up the definition of the word "free".
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@secret asian man
"Sounds like a great place to be - if you're a well-educated, well-connected, well-off white person"

Hey, I am those things, I should move to Sweden! Except I've been there and it's pretty, um, well cold, not weather but emotionally. I understand it's a culture thing but blah, it's like trying to make friends at a med school during finals or something.
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As a conservative I have never had a problem with the government helping out people who can't help themselves. I draw the line at helping those who can. When I go to the store and see someone in line paying for their food with food stamps and then loading their bags into a lifted
f-350 with nice rims, something is out of whack. What is the money really paying for?

Bottom line...the bigger the government the smaller the citizen.
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Ok Guys, lest's see another exemple, Brazil.

Here we have a Government bigger than Sweden, we work 5 months per year to pay Taxes, but with a goverment so huge we can not supervise it.

On big countries (USA, China, brasil, Russian) big govenment mean huge corruption.
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Oh dear, poor Alex. You've made the mistake of posting an article that could potentially be interpreted by the ignorant and painfully insecure as suggesting that there are some aspects of the U.S. and it's citizens that are not absolutely unquestionably the best at absolutely everything in every conceivable way. Clearly you are a traitor who makes the baby Jesus cry!
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You know, my brother is also one to cite Sweden as an example of a country where they can make all he wants in a government work, and work well. He even looked into moving there. Why didn't he go? Because it turned out he couldn't possibly afford to live there. But still he doesn't let a little thing like prohibitive cost of living interrupt his paeans...
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You forgot to mention that Sweden benefits from a stable global system, without paying the price of membership. Name one country Swedes have died to liberate. Like Switzerland, Sweden collaborated with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, while others did the heavy lifting (and dying).
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Income tax as low as 29%? Naah, add a 25% VAT to that, and you're up to over 50%. Then, add all other taxes that the governments of our wonderful Scandinavian natoions have put in plance, and then consider excactly how easy it is for a person who does not make a lot of money to get by without begging inhuman bureaucrats for handouts. Scandinavia is designed so that everyone is on welfare all the time.
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Yeah, 50% tax rate sounds pretty oppressive.

You know what else is oppressive?

U.S. higher education costs
U.S. healthcare costs
U.S. transportation costs
U.S. childcare costs
U.S. retirement costs

A 50% tax rate sounds pretty high until you realize that the average American pays substantially more for the same services enjoyed by
other citizens in the western world through their governments.

Entrepreneurship is a wonderful thing, but the conservative, low tax vision for this country doesn't leave much room for it. Low taxes mean
fewer government services. Fewer services means that citizens must rely on the private sector for basic services like healthcare, etc. The private sector, by definition, is motivated primarily by profit, meaning that the private sector has substantial incentive to keep pay and benefits low to keep profits high (and bargaining power to keep those benefits low, since every worker is under the same stress).

This isn't a recipe for entrepreneurship; its a recipe for producing a vast underclass of scared, docile workers too terrified of losing their benefits to even attempt to make their fortunes.

Wise government spending doesn't oppress the average worker--it liberates her from penury. Just imagine how much more entrepreneurial Americans would be if they could graduate from college without $30-100k in student loan debt, or worry about paying for healthcare, childcare, and retirement.

The limited government crowd isn't interested in helping those making
under $100k per year survive, and they certainly aren't interested in
entrepreneurship and "free markets". They're interested in maintaining a pliant, desperate workforce scared shitless at the prospect of losing
what few benefits they have. A scared workforce serves the interest of corporate America much more than a healthy, confident, debt-free workforce.
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Sweden doesn't have the large low IQ genetic underclass that we do. As long as social policies on the right (everyone in the world wants democracy!) and the left (any child from the ghetto can be a rocket scientist because IQ doesn't matter!) are based on blank slate egalitarianism, then the results will continue to be disasterous. Why would anyone in the US look to a country full of Swedes for social policies to implement here?
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This dubious claim about Swedish volunteerism is based on a single study by simeplace called Ersta Sk├Ândal University College. What was the sameple size and protocols? What is the definition of volunteering?
I question the statistical validity of this silly and self-justifying claim. Nevertheless, despsite my skepticism I remain willing to volunteer my services to the Swedish Bikini Team.
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To #15: Weird. Back in 2002 I only had $12,000 US at my disposal for the year and I could handle it. I was going to stay. Went to Swedish For Immigrants classes, looked into finding work but in the end like a previous poster my husband found the people too cold and wanted to head back to Chicago. Maybe Ironic as he IS a swedish citizen and lived there until his early teens. And I always tell people this because it cracks me up, in SFI they had a video on how to interact with the native Swedes. It was a bus stop scene. A middle-eastern immigrant was attempting to make conversation with a fellow passenger he'd never met before. DON'T DO THIS! Was the lesson. Swedes don't like chatting with strangers at bus stops. Makes them uncomfortable. We were all laughing in class because it was so ridiculous, but I guess that's their culture.
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Big government doesn't make them that way. It is because they are big volunteers that they have big government. 90% of them are white and 75% are the same religion. People are more willing to let the government tax them heavily when they know that the money is going to people much like themselves. They are also more willing to volunteer for the same reason.
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Seriously, anyone thinking that you can compare Sweden (sociatally orientated welfare state) to the US (corporate driven profit whore) is both ignorant to the goal of a welfare state and indoctrinated by the misconceptional ideology of the American Dream. The purpose of government (especially DEMOCRATIC government) is to:
1 Protect their citizens against wrongful and unjust actions by internal or external factors
2 Promote the improvement of each citizen's value of existence through education, medical support, civil support structures, working transportation systems, etc
3 Provide platforms for individuals to live a wholesome, fulfilling life (which extends beyond just earning large sums of money)

To be honest, I think that the ideology of the American Dream is more real in Sweden than in the States. Here people work to add value towards the greater community out of choice (proving it's place as a charity/welfare state), as opposed to working purely to pay the bills and maximize profit margins.

Also, one comment mentioned how charity is based on individualist involvement and not so much governments; as someone that's spent a large chunk of his life in the NonProfit sector I can promise you welfare is firstly the responsibility of state, secondly of private industry (vecause they are usually the causes of massive inequalities in profit states) and LASTLY the responsibility of individuals.
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I'm from Minnesota...
Many Scandinavians here, my self included.
I find it terribly funny, more so sad, that most of the people who volunteer in MN are white folk and you hardly ever see "people of color/people on welfare" volunteer.
Why that's sad is, if you're on welfare and not looking for a job (most are like that here) have more time than anyone else to volunteer?
So, with that logic...I say the more government assistance you get the less you volunteer!
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This isn't Sweden this is America
Just because something works for some small country does not mean it will work here.
A society that coddles the weak breeds the weak!
If the government is doing everything for me why would I want to get up and do anything? I know too many damn lazy people who collect welfare and disability (note not all disabled, just saying a FEW here I know personally) who COULD work but do not contribute anything to society, while I have to break my back just to scrape by. This is obviously a leftist blog judging by the first page of posts. Don't you guys get it, theres a reason we're conditioned to think big goverment is bad government, the founding fathers warn of it. And we can see with our own eyes what it does. The goverment needs to get the hell out of my business. Period. Aron makes a good point, you're simply pointing out it's not perfect, of course it's not perfect but what would you perfer? If you like the way another country operates nothing is stopping you from hoping on a plane.
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Look guys, its as simple as this. I don't WANT to live in Sweden, I want to live in the USA! So lets keep it the USA, with traditional American ideals. That means small government.
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"That means small government." - since the mid-late 1980s, sure, but when was government small in the US small in the 20th century before that? In fact, you might easily correlate the eras of growth and prosperity in the US with the upper tax rate (which was in the 70% range for most of the century).

Now we have a country dominated by financial institutions with ever decreasing social mobility. What I'd call 'stagnation', that's where capitalism always leads.

Unlike Sweden who with their small 9-10 million population dominate the world with such innovative companies as some of the worlds largest drug and pharmaceutical companies (e.g. AstraZeneca, 3H Biomedical), telecommunications (e.g. Ericsson), and other household brands (Electrolux, ) and industrial giants (Saab, Volvo, even Tetra Pak).

Sure, the US has had the luxury of being bigger and better than everyone else for a while, those wide open spaces and limitless resources have helped, but they do comparatively little compared to what they put in to doing it. They're way down in league tables for income per capita and even number of millionaires per capita, as for access to healthcare ...

As for restrictions on your lifestyle, just try getting in to debt with serious health problems.

And which country holds the most prisoners per capita in it's Jails? China? Russia? Chechenia? Nope, the good old USA! So much for land of the free!
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