The Nordic Model has become the intellectual battleground over which the big versus small state war has played out in the twenty-first century. Scandinavian countries have seemingly perplexed free market economists with their ability to achieve world-class competitiveness rankings and high per capita incomes, while at the same time operating very high tax and public spending levels as a proportion of GDP. But a close look at the evidence shows that the Nordic economies aren’t exceptional at all. They don’t defy the economic laws of gravity, they confirm them. When the size of government really started to grow in the 1960s and 1970s, there was economic stagnation. [...]
These economies offset the negative effects of large governments by applying market-friendly policies in other areas, such as trade openness. The Scandinavian economies have relatively high levels of economic freedom, and on some dimensions of economic freedom actually score higher than the USA.
Small homogenous countries, with high levels of trust, can get away with – up to a point – larger welfare states in a way that larger economies cannot. Trust also reduces “transaction costs" and therefore encourages greater economic activity. So powerful is the effect that some studies show that the positive effect of trust outweighs the negative effect of big government on growth. The danger, of course, is that the rise of the welfare state and a dependency culture undermines trust, makes the welfare state increasingly inefficient, and reduces growth prospects all at the same time.