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Is trust an endangered species?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Robin Jourdan examines the contemporary status of trust in her fifth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Globally, self-serving politicians undermine trust in government. Is trust on the decline today? For a long time, trust has been imparted to CEOs, experts, academics, economists and the like. Now that’s being turned sideways, extending instead to individuals, “friends,” and peers. As children, we’re told to avoid strangers, yet today Uber, Airbnb rentals flourish.

 

By 2012, on average only four out of ten people in OECD member countries expressed confidence in their national government. Populism versus progressivism in any of their flavors is merely insufficient to the anti-politics conversations. Both rely on the fantasy of public interests’ importance. Broadly speaking, trust in government requires both: 1) social cohesion, citizens’ confidence in their communities and 2) political confidence, citizens’ rankings of government and its institutions.

 

The following is a series of mock interviews with representatives of three government systems. The question: “why should we trust you?”

 

Interview with Technocracy: why should we trust you?

Technocracy is essentially when political outsiders, technically skilled, become the leadership for society. It protects the interests of priorities in service of the many. In a true technocracy, the leadership is unelected. Still, it determines the path for the society to take, like a board of directors. Its best quality is competence to decide. Technical expertise becomes essential as our lives become increasingly joined with technology. Technology has nearly always improved the lives of humans throughout history. Why slow that progression?

 

Interview with Autocracy: why should we trust you?

What societies hunger for is security in this volatile and chaotic world. Maintaining order and stability are an efficient means to remain committed to custom and tradition. During the 20th century, autocratic leadership was often the norm in most administrations. Autocracy optimizes efficiency. Here, culture is often homogenous. Changing away from this system can be unpredictable. However, this governance model is very appealing when it builds inner confidence and serves its people. The deeper worry for trust is in countries where autocrats silence opponents, damaging cohesion. When an autocracy reinvents its future and governing persona with trust concerns safeguarded, its long-term success increases as is evidenced by Singapore today.

 

Interview with democracy: why should we trust you?

Accountability and growth are the hallmarks of this system. Here, leadership represents and works for the interests of the many. Society honors the rule of law, unambiguous and impartial. No one, including government, is above the law, where laws protect fundamental rights, and justice is accessible to all. Society can be either homogenous or heterogeneous by culture, creed, religion or other measures. Political leadership and stability are maintained mostly on an appeal to reason and experience. As of the end of 2016, a majority of nations were democracies, a post-World War II record. 

 

Besides freedom of speech, other human rights are no safer in democratic countries than they are in autocratic countries. The rights one enjoys in any country depends on several factors, but most importantly whatever rights a person has is at the mercy of the government in power at the time. There are very few if any pure democracies at this time in the world. As is often the case in our history - perfect democracy is an ideal.  In the cases where a government calls itself representative and simultaneously it does not serve its people, that condition speaks to a failure of the leadership not a breakdown of the governing methodology.

 

Finally, at the local level, trust in any government refers to its impact on people’s daily lives. Is trust an endangered species? It’s a complicated question. Confidence in governance reinforces the social contract between people and the state. As importantly, trust is like energy; it changes form rather than be destroyed. Like energy, it also means people have more influence in the trust pact than they may realize.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  confidence  rights  trust 

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