What does it take to create a wider safety net? More confidence


At the end of November, The Atlantic published an article disturbingly titled “The End of Trust”. History is sounding the alarm on an unexpected consequence of the pandemic, and, more precisely, the shift towards remote work which has resulted for white collar workers: a drop in workers’ confidence in their remote colleagues, due to lack of face-to-face interaction.

This is in addition to an already existing decline in reported levels of trust in the United States: the General Social Survey (GSS) has, since 1972, asked participants the standard question of whether, in general, people “can be trustworthy ”or if“ you can’t be too careful. ” In 1972, 46% said people “can be trusted”; by 2018 (the most recent available), that figure had fallen to just 31%.

And this is important – for many reasons, of course, but, in particular, it is difficult to have public support for social insurance systems if they do not have confidence that they are administered fairly and that their fellow citizens are not playing with the system One way or another.

Consider, after all, the struggles over the child tax credit, or, more specifically, the proposed extension of the expanded, refundable version, in the now (probably) failed Build Back Better bill. Senator Joe Manchin, among others, wanted the benefit limited to those with a job, fearing that without this requirement it would not be put to good use.

Or consider the extended unemployment benefits that were offered based on a claimant’s claim that he or she was unable to work due to childcare needs, and the extended length of time that the unemployment benefits were Unemployment were available without job search requirements in many states.

The proposed paid vacation pay? Its provisions were extensive, allowing workers to claim benefits for the provision of care from anyone in a relationship which is “the equivalent of a family relationship” to the extent that it is “at the place of work”. It is easy to see unscrupulous individuals enjoying such an advantage.

And even benefits such as the “Social Security 2100” bill include the possibility of abusing the system: a guaranteed minimum benefit of 125% of the poverty line for singles removes an incentive for the self-employed to fully declare their income, s ‘they can instead report sufficient income to be credited with this year’s social security credits. The same would apply to other income-based benefits offered: a salary-based child care benefit, for example.

So let’s see some details.

A certain regional specificity

How and where exactly has confidence decreased?

The ESG divides the participants by region. In the early 1970s there were clear differences between regions – the South had much lower levels of trust than the rest of the country, the Great Plains States had much higher levels of trust than the rest of the country. , and besides, New England and the Mountain States finished second and third. In the last few years of the survey, the South remains the lowest, New England is by far the highest, and the remaining regions are all quite similar, with the Great Plains region in particular having lost its trust distinctiveness.

Overall, the most complete data comes from 2009, in a World Values ​​Survey (there is a 2014 version, but with fewer countries). Here are two versions of that data.

What should be done with it? It is clear that in many countries trust levels have changed dramatically, even in just a decade, but it is not clear whether this is real or just apparent based on the process of collecting survey data. (The survey also shows a significantly higher level of confidence for the United States than the GSS, possibly due to different answer choices.) What is more certain is that the three Nordic countries of the survey, Norway, Sweden and Finland have significantly higher levels of trust than even in Western / “WEIRD” countries. And, generally speaking, higher levels of confidence correlate positively with higher GDP per capita, although the cause and effect are not obvious.

(As a comment, the book The strangest people in the world by Joseph Henrich characterized the United States as having a high social trust score, but to be more specific, Henrich examined the relative difference between our willingness to trust people in our group versus strangers, and these studies examine social trust in general. )

Does this mean that we in the United States can just copy what the Nordic countries are doing, in order to increase our level of confidence? Superficially, these countries are known to have generous social protection systems – but this is hardly what creates high levels of trust and probably, on the contrary, at least to some extent, the result of existing or existing levels of trust. underlying conditions.

A 2004 academic article, “Social Trust: Global Pattern or Nordic Exceptionalism?” by Jan Delhey and Kenneth Newton, attempts to identify the underlying causes of high trust levels, not just the characteristics correlated with high trust companies.

By first evaluating simple correlations, they found that higher GDP per capita correlates with higher confidence and that a large agricultural sector is associated with low levels of confidence. Political characteristics such as political stability, political freedom, effective government and the rule of law are associated with high trust, as are “public spending on health and education”, and, not surprisingly, corruption. is associated with low confidence. The degree to which voluntary associations are prevalent in a country (a longstanding concern in the United States since the publication of Bowling alone by Robert Putnam) seemed unrelated, and the particular religion that prevailed in a country had no meaning except that Protestant countries were more trustworthy than Catholic countries.

But what is the cause, and which is the effect (or neither)? The article attempts to address this problem by examining potential factors that might have preceded others in time. Regarding Protestantism, for example, similar to Hendrick’s explanations of the WEIRD countries,

“The argument is not that Protestant theology or beliefs necessarily permeate what are today called Protestant countries, but that religion has left a clear cultural imprint over the past centuries which has shaped a very broad range of current characteristics of development and economic forms. government, attitudes towards equality and corruption. Protestant ethics facilitated the emergence of capitalism in the 17th century, and Protestant countries are still today among the richest, most democratic and least corrupt in the world.

Likewise, they examine the degree of ethnic homogeneity in a country because

“We are aware that rich countries that guarantee human rights to minority groups can attract immigrants, and therefore good government and wealth affect migration patterns, but ethnic makeup does not change much in the short term,” even in the modern era of mass movements of the population. . “

Based on these presuppositions, they then discover that these two factors are indeed the drivers of factors such as good governance and economic well-being, which in turn produce higher levels of social trust.

At the same time, however, the “Nordic exception” appears to lead to higher levels of social trust, as a sort of intensifier – but why that is, the authors do not claim to know.

And that brings me back to Atlantic article, which concludes discouragingly:

“A spiral of trust, once started, is difficult to reverse. One study found that even 20 years after reunification, half of the income disparity between East and West Germany could be attributed to the legacy of Stasi informants. Counties that had a higher density of informants who reported their closest friends, colleagues and neighbors fared less well. The legacy of broken trust has proven extremely difficult to shake. “

We in the United States cannot become ethnically homogeneous – at least not as traditionally understood. We cannot all convert to Protestantism to become more confident. It’s not even clear if there is indeed a path to rebuilding trust, but perhaps recognizing the problem is at least a first step.

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