What Is Good for Society Is Good for Business? Values and Public Trust in Swedish Business since the 1970s

Ann-Kristin Bergquist and Magnus Lindmark

This paper seeks to explore why public trust in big business in Sweden appears to have steadily fallen between the 1980s and the present day. Despite a strong tradition of social democracy based on egalitarian values, there has been a well functioning relationship between the large corporations, business groups and the political sphere. However from the 1980s studies have indicated that average confidence in big manufacturing firms and banks has deteriorated. In this paper we discuss the drivers of this deterioration in trust levels. One factor has been that the incomes of the business elite have increased significantly compared to other social groups over this time period. This reflects worldwide trends in executive remuneration, but in Sweden this trend may have had especially negative connotations because of the long-established egalitarian social contract in the country. Another explanation is the increasing household exposure to fluctuations in the stock market. Finally, a number of domestic corporate scandals since the 1980s, including a recent corruption scandal in one of the leading business groups, seems to have impacted public trust, even though these scandals have rarely involved criminal activities, unlike the case of the United States. Rather, corporate behavior has been criticized on moral and ethical grounds.