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.
A certain amount of public corruption is to be expected. Politics will always attract shady characters, but it should also attract honest characters too. These are the folks that enjoy the boring work of good government. They police the system, enforce the rules and make public appeals for cleaning up the problems. Today, those people either do not exist or they have become too afraid to speak up. The American political class looks a lot like a corrupt police precinct. The crooks are in charge and they have inverted morality so that the honest fear detection by the corrupt.
It is not unreasonable to think that we may have passed the point where the political class can be expected to reform itself. Their unwillingness to even try to thwart the rise of these vulgar grifters from the Ozarks suggests the the political elite has lost the capacity to feel shame. Anyone willing to defend Hillary Clinton to the public is someone, who will lie about anything, violate any law, violate any taboo. That is a person lacking in anything resembling a soul. A political class populated with such people is a ruling class at war with itself, the very definition of a low trust state.
The truly frightening thing is that the only institution the public trusts is the military. Take a look at what is happening with the sports ball players protesting during the national anthem. This coming Sunday is 9/11 and even the most reptilian of Progressives are saying such a protest on that day would be a slap in the face to the men and women who serve the country. When no one trusts the ruling class, and the military is the only institution in which the public has faith, there is always one result. It does not have to be that way, but that’s the way it has always been.
At some level, some portion of the public understands this. The Trump phenomenon is not about Trump in the conventional sense. There’s a lot not to like about the man, but he is honest, he loves his countrymen and he is not doing this for the money. Whether or not he understands his role and the movement he is leading is unknown. Maybe his election will just be a false dawn and what follows is what always follows the onset of a low-trust state. If things are going to turn out different for us, Trump will win and usher in an era of reform.
Otherwise, what comes next will be much worse.