One of the most important books of recent times was a book by the American intellectual Francis Fukuyama, called Trust. Its thesis was that trust is a highly important social good, with vast economic effects. He compared the United States and Germany, which are high-trust societies, to France and Italy, which are low-trust societies. In short, he argued that the scale and size of an enterprise, but not its commercial success, depended upon the amount of trust in a society. Low trust societies turned to the state to manage large-scale enterprizes, because on the whole, the citizens of low-trust societies looked to the state to be a more neutral arbiter among class interests than the bosses and unions could accomplish by themselves. Thus Boeing in the States is privately owned whereas Airbus Industrie in Europe is para-statal.
China likewise was a low trust society. The one social institution on which Chinese people may rely is their family, whereas the state is a capricious enemy most of the time.
Low trust societies, said Fukuyama, are the products of tyrannies. Capricious rule, and the lack of regular access to honest courts of law, produce over the long run societies where people cannot afford to trust one another. Southern Italy would be a prime example. The Mafia and other criminal societies are remnants of local resistance to tyranny. Apparently it is rare for unrelated children to play with one another in Sicily, he reported.
His major recommendation was that, because strong bonds of social trust were easy to destroy and very difficult to generate, America had to be careful to maintain its wellsprings of social trust. He was alarmed by the decline of social trust in the United States, at the time of writing- 1996.
As you might guess, the level of trust among Americans continues to drop. In 1972, half of Americans said they could trust one another. By 2013 only one-third felt that way. Trust is lower among blacks than whites. Trust is lower among the poor than among the well-off. Is it income differentials that are creating this growing lack of trust?
Despite what the article suggests, I would like to propose two obvious factors for the decline of trust in American society.
1) Mass third world immigration. The US is conspicuously less white than it was forty years ago, less Protestant and less influenced by its founding ethnic groups. These immigrants come primarily from parts of the world that are characterized by tyrannies, capricious rule, and violence: Africa, Latin America, and southern and eastern Asia. So many newer Americans bring their lackof trust with them.
People have a harder time trusting obvious ethnic strangers than they do their own kind, and no amount of preaching about cultural enrichment will change people’s instinctual feelings of caution about people who are conspicuously different. This is not a white-brown thing; it is a phenomenon that works between Ecuadorians and Tamils, Turks and Nigerians, as well as between European whites and others.
2) More importantly, I think, levels of trust are going down because of arbitrary and capricious laws, enforced by arbitrary and capricious authorities, are creating a state of uncertainty regarding who can be trusted, when, and with what. Americans talk grandly of a nation of laws but it is actually a nation under the rule of law enforcement officers and ambitious prosecutors. There are so many laws, so badly written by lobbyists, so vague in their intentions, so fulsome in their length, that lawyers play a much greater role in society than they do even in somewhat over-lawyered Canada. Americans cannot be certain of anything in relation to their neighbours, employers, employees, or strangers.Lawyers and law-makers are working day and night to make it that way.
Did you know that in the United States, legislators, and their lobbyist lawyers, actually draft legislation? Thus the chief counsel for Verizon, say, drafts a section of a telecommunications bill alongside a bunch of other high-priced telecom lawyers, who thrash out the meanings and the drafts in late-night sessions, and then present the whole bill to the House or Senate Committee, which then goes through it, and sends it up to the whole Senate or House, but at no time is there a central legislative drafting unit capable of assuring common meanings, common terminologies, or a common style in drafting. A long Canadian statute might be thirty to fifty pages long (saving the Income Tax Act). US statutes are thousands of pages long, written hurriedly by many different pens, frequently with no common purpose among the authors, and no oversight in the legislative process to assure intelligibility, consistency, and brevity. Then the whole mess is sent to a series of appeals, where judicial politicians parse the meaning according to their best reading of conflicting sections and their personal interpretive ideologies. I know this is High Tory dudgeon, but the thought of legislators actually writing legislation without supervision is frightening.
That trust is going down is not to be wondered.