Saw this interesting article this morning on Project Syndicate.

Others argue that Western democracies have the opposite problem: a surfeit of narrow, politically assertive interests leads to underinvestment and poor tradeoffs between present and future opportunities and performance.

This brings us to a crucial obstacle: Government, business, financial, and academic elites are not trusted. Lack of trust in elites is probably healthy at some level, but numerous polls indicate that it is in rapid decline, which surely increases citizens’ reluctance to delegate authority to navigate an uncertain global economic environment.

The conclusions of this article seem fairly obvious to me, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that our real problem is that the institutions of government are no longer trusted.

Claims that our leadership, institutions, analyses, or policy instruments are inadequate to the task at hand surely contain a kernel of truth. But the deeper problem is a breakdown in precisely such values and goals – that is, a weakening of social cohesion. Restoring it will require analysts, policymakers, business leaders, and civil-society groups to clarify causes, share blame for mistakes, pursue flexible solutions in which costs are shared equitably, and, most important, explain that hard problems cannot be solved overnight.

Government requires trust. Citizens must trust government officials and institutions, government must trust citizens, and political parties must at some level trust each other. I’m not talking blind “Charlie Brown, Lucy, and a football” trust, but some level of trust. Many of the players have done quite a bit to lose our trust. Many elements of our system are not trustworthy. But it hasn’t been completely driven from our ideologies yet. Conservatives trust corporate entities and the “invisible hand” of the market to deliver positive outcomes (bizarre, I know, given their distrust of government to behave in a similarly ethical way, but it’s still there). Liberals trust people to largely behave in moral, ethical ways and not abuse various social programs and power structures.

It seems fairly obvious to me that Reagan trusted the Soviets more than the modern GOP (and their base) trusts Democrats. And it is true that I would argue that on balance the right has a bigger problem here than the left does, but I think we all could (I can’t believe I’m about to quote Reagan) stand to have a little more “trust, but verify” in our government.

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  • Dmoore

    When you have to pass a law that prohibits members of Congress from engaging in insider trading it says a lot about the lack of trust you’re talking about.

  • You are right. It’s a good law, but a shame we had to pass it. Public trust in our institutions has been terribly eroded, but not without cause.

    I don’t think the right’s current approach – calling our current President a secret Muslim socialist from Kenya (which is clearly *without* cause) – helps.

  • Dmoore

    The fact that half of the members of Congress are millionaires and the rest are not far behind tells a big story. More and more people are beginning to see that we are being ruled by rich people who have no clue as to how the rest of us live and couldn’t care less. The very people who are screaming for deficit reduction are the ones who spent this country into oblivion to begin with. Paul Ryan’s own record is a blatant contradiction to what he is preaching. The interim State Superintendent used his previous district’s credit card repeatedly for personal use then tried to make it look like a simple mistake saying the colors of the two card were the same. C’mon man. We’re supposed to trust that lame explanation. That’s something a teenager would say not someone in a high profile leadership position.

  • Well written Brian. I dare say there are some very profound things to contemplate in your assessment.

    There is a particular phase that I have always remembered that is just
    as profound as what you have written and actually expands the concept
    beyond politics and government.

    “Harmony is the strength and support of all institutions”

    This phrase can be applied to just about any aspect of our daily lives
    if you think about “institutions” in a general way. Marriage is an
    institution, as well as any organization.

    What is the opposite of harmony?

    Discord and distrust. What does discord and distrust beget? Division and weakness, hence, “Divided We Fall”

    How do we achieve “Harmony”?

    It has to begin with trust…………..

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