Trust in Government is Necessary for a Stable Economy
A 2005 letter in premier scientific journal Nature reviews the research on trust and economics:
Trust ... plays a key role in economic exchange and politics. In the absence of trust among trading partners, market transactions break down.
In the absence of trust in a country's institutions and leaders,
political legitimacy breaks down. Much recent evidence indicates that
trust contributes to economic, political and social success.
Forbes wrote an article in 2006 entitled "The Economics of Trust". The article summarizes the importance of trust in creating a healthy economy:
going to the corner store to buy a carton of milk, only to find that
the refrigerator is locked. When you've persuaded the shopkeeper to
retrieve the milk, you then end up arguing over whether you're going to
hand the money over first, or whether he is going to hand over the
milk. Finally you manage to arrange an elaborate simultaneous exchange.
A little taste of life in a world without trust--now imagine trying to
arrange a mortgage.
Being able to trust people might seem like a
pleasant luxury, but economists are starting to believe that it's
rather more important than that. Trust is about more than whether you
can leave your house unlocked; it is responsible for the difference
between the richest countries and the poorest.
"If you take a
broad enough definition of trust, then it would explain basically all
the difference between the per capita income of the United States and
Somalia," ventures Steve Knack, a senior economist at the World Bank
who has been studying the economics of trust for over a decade. That
suggests that trust is worth $12.4 trillion dollars a year to the U.S.,
which, in case you are wondering, is 99.5% of this country's income. ***
Above all, trust enables people to do business with each other. Doing business is what creates wealth. ***
distinguish between the personal, informal trust that comes from being
friendly with your neighbors and the impersonal, institutionalized
trust that lets you give your credit card number out over the Internet.
Similarly, market psychologists Richard L. Peterson M.D. and Frank Murtha, Ph.D. wrote in October:
Trust is the oil in the engine of capitalism, without it, the engine seizes up.
Confidence is like the gasoline, without it the machine won't move.
is gone: there is no longer trust between counterparties in the
financial system. Furthermore, confidence is at a low. Investors have
lost their confidence in the ability of shares to provide decent returns
(since they haven't).
Two professors of finance write:
drop in trust, we believe, is a major factor behind the deteriorating
economic conditions. To demonstrate its importance, we launched the
Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index. Our first set of
data—based on interviews conducted at the end of December 2008—shows
that between September and December, 52 percent of Americans lost trust
in the banks. Similarly, 65 percent lost trust in the stock market. A
BBB/Gallup poll that surveyed a similar sample of Americans last April
confirms this dramatic drop. At that time, 42 percent of Americans
trusted financial institutions, versus 34 percent in our survey today,
while 53 percent said they trusted U.S. companies, versus just 12
As trust declines, so does Americans’ willingness
to invest their money in the financial system. Our data show that
trust in the stock market affects people’s intention to buy stocks,
even after accounting for expectations of future stock-market
performance. Similarly, a person’s trust in banks predicts the
likelihood that he will make a run on his bank in a moment of crisis:
25 percent of those who don’t trust banks withdrew their deposits and
stored them as cash last fall, compared with only 3 percent of those
who said they still trusted the banks. Thus, trust in financial
institutions is a key factor for the smooth functioning of capital
markets and, by extension, the economy. Changes in trust matter.
They quote a Nobel laureate economist on the subject:
every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust,”
writes economist Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel laureate. When we deposit money
in a bank, we trust that it’s safe. When a company orders goods, it
trusts its counterpart to deliver them in good faith. Trust facilitates
transactions because it saves the costs of monitoring and screening; it
is an essential lubricant that greases the wheels of the economic
And a distinguished international group of
economists (Giancarlo Corsetti, Michael P. Devereux, Luigi Guiso, John
Hassler, Gilles Saint-Paul, Hans-Werner Sinn, Jan-Egbert Sturm and
Xavier Vives) have written a brief essay arguing:
Public distrust of bankers and financial markets has risen dramatically with the financial crisis. This column argues that this loss
of trust in the financial system played a critical role in the
collapse of economic activity that followed. To undo the damage,
financial regulation needs to focus on restoring that trust.
is crucial in many transactions and certainly in those involving
financial exchanges. The massive drop in trust associated with this
crisis will therefore have important implications for the future of
financial markets. Data show that in the late 1970s, the percentage of
people who reported having full trust in banks, brokers, mutual funds or
the stock market was around 40%; it had sunk to around 30% just before
the crisis hit, and collapsed to barely 5% afterwards. It is now even
lower than the trust people have in other people (randomly selected of
Time Magazine notes:
Traditionally, gold has been a store of value when citizens do not trust their government politically or economically.
In other words, the government's political actions affect investments, such as gold, and thus the broader economy.
Partly because the government has been repeatedly caught lying.
government repeatedly said about the subprime crisis, banking crisis,
debt crisis, mortgage crisis, and other economic crises:
- "It's contained"
- "We've got it under control"
- "We're going to fix it".
It wasn't, and they didn't ... and so people have lost trust in the government.
But it's not just the economy. The government also got caught making false claims that:
- Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, had a hand in 9/11 (and see this) and carried out the the anthrax attacks
- 9/11 wasn't foreseeable
- That the government doesn't spy on Americans (it did even before 9/11), Americans don't torture, etc.
there's another important reason for Americans' lack of trust in our
government and our economy: the failure to prosecute the criminals.
Prosecuting the Criminals and Launching REAL Investigations Is Necessary to Restore Trust
One of the leading business schools in America - the Wharton School of Business - has written an essay
on the psychological causes and solutions to the economic crisis.
Wharton points out that restoring trust is the key to recovery, and that
trust cannot be restored until wrongdoers are held accountable:
According to David M. Sachs, a training and supervision analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia, the
crisis today is not one of confidence, but one of trust. "Abusive
financial practices were unchecked by personal moral controls that
prohibit individual criminal behavior, as in the case of [Bernard]
Madoff, and by complex financial manipulations, as in the case of AIG."
The public, expecting to be protected from such abuse, has suffered a
trauma of loss similar to that after 9/11.
"Normal expectations of what is safe and dependable were abruptly
shattered," Sachs noted. "As is typical of post-traumatic states,
planning for the future could not be based on old assumptions about
what is safe and what is dangerous. A radical reversal of how to be
now feel more gratified saving money than spending it, Sachs suggested.
They have trouble trusting promises from the government because they
feel the government has let them down.
He framed his argument
with a fictional patient named Betty Q. Public, a librarian with two
teenage children and a husband, John, who had recently lost his job.
"She felt betrayed because she and her husband had invested
conservatively and were double-crossed by dishonest, greedy businessmen,
and now she distrusted the government that had failed to protect them
from corporate dishonesty. Not only that, but she had little trust in
things turning around soon enough to enable her and her husband to
accomplish their previous goals.
"By no means a sophisticated
economist, she knew ... that some people had become fantastically
wealthy by misusing other people's money -- hers included," Sachs said.
"In short, John and Betty had done everything right and were being
punished, while the dishonest people were going unpunished."
an individual recover from a traumatic experience provides a useful
analogy for understanding how to help the economy recover from its own
traumatic experience, Sachs pointed out. The public will need to "hold the perpetrators of the economic disaster responsible and take what actions they can to prevent them from harming the economy again." In addition, the public will have to see proof that government and business leaders can behave responsibly before they will trust them again, he argued.
Note that Sachs urges "hold[ing] the perpetrators of the economic disaster responsible." In other words, just "looking forward" and promising to do things differently isn't enough.
Many high-level economists agree.
Economists such as William Black and James Galbraith have repeatedly said that we cannot solve the economic crisis unless we throw the criminals who committed fraud in jail.
Nobel prize winning economist George Akerlof has demonstrated
that failure to punish white collar criminals - and instead bailing
them out- creates incentives for more economic crimes and further
destruction of the economy in the future. See this, this and this.
Nobel prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and George Akerlof agree.
Indeed, polls show that:
- Most Americans believe that the Iraq war was a mistake. At least half of all Americans wanted Congress to impeach President Bush if he lied about the Iraq war
- Hundreds of millions of Americans think that there was a cover up about 9/11, and want a thorough investigation
- Americans want those who committed financial fraud to be prosecuted
Remember, distrust in the political actions
of those in Washington D.C. undermines the economy. Therefore, the
economy will not recover until the economic criminals are prosecuted,
and there are real investigations into 9/11 (even the 9/11 Commissioners
themselves think there should be more investigation: see this and this), the Iraq war, torture, spying on Americans and other government failures.