The Low-Trust State, by The Zman

Trust in the government is vanishing, undoubtedly because the government lies so much. (“If you like your medical plan, you can keep your medical plan.”) From The Zman on a guest post at

Social trust is one of those things that we know is important to economic growth, sound government and social stability. When the people of a society generally trust one another and wish to be trusted by others, their society prospers. The question that always arises is over causality. Some would argue that altruism is a biological trait that scales up to social trust. Others would argue that good government and the rule of law encourages positive economic growth, which in turn increases social trust. It is one of those topics that keeps academics busy.

The distinguishing characteristic of low-trust societies is a near total lack of trust in the state by the people. Russians, during the old Soviet Union, understood that everything that was said by the state was a lie of some sort. In fact, the only thing they could trust from the Bolsheviks was that whatever they said was untrue. This amplified the natural distrust of Russians as they did not have an authority to which they could appeal in order to arbitrate disputes. Contracts have to be enforceable before anyone will enter into them.

The point here is that you can debate the causality of social trust, but a society with a corrupt and untrustworthy state is going to be a low-trust society. Alternatively, to use the language of the pseudo-sciences, social trust correlates with public corruption. The causal arrows may point one way or both ways, but public corruption is a good proxy for social trust. There are measures of public corruption and the most popular is from these guys, who publish downloadable statistics every year for the pseudo-sciences.

Trust in the state is always going to drift over time, but you can spot some trends. Just take a look at the US over the last few decades. In the 1980’s, the savings and loan crisis put a lot of people in prison. Even some politicians got dinged for getting too cozy with the crooked bankers. A decade later we had the dot-com bubble and the accounting scandals, but no one went to jail. They just lost money. Less than a decade later we had the mortgage crisis and the crooks got bailed out by the government with taxpayer funds. This is a trend worth noticing.

Now, look around at what we are seeing today. The Clinton e-mail scandal is so outlandish, it is now threatening the rule of law. In the 70’s, Nixon was run from office from 18 missing minutes of tape. Clinton erased 17,000 emails, some may have been under subpoena. It is blazingly obvious that she and her cronies violated Federal law by mishandling classified information. The most logical explanation for all of this is they were selling it for cash through that ridiculous charity they run. A charity that has systematically violated the law with regards to accounting for donations.

How is it possible that this woman and her flunkies are not in jumpsuits waddling around Danbury FCI?

The first problem is the head of state appears to be a pathological liar. This Iran story is the sort of thing that used to bring down governments. It was certainly the sort of thing that should have administration officials hiring lawyers in preparation for the FBI visit. That would require an FBI that is not equally corrupt. Of course, the FBI is a product of the political class and ours is proving to be astonishingly corrupt. Today we learn that the politicians are conspiring to rig public hearings, which are the bedrock of popular government.

To continue reading: The Low-Trust State


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