Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Matter Of Trust

Recently I was reading the book, The Social Animal, by David Brooks.

It's a fascinating read. He refers to study after psychological study, in an attempt to explain our behavior as individuals. And also society as a whole. It's a fabulous read.

One reference he makes is to the book, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, by Edward C. Banfield.

Summarizing Banfield, Brooks notes that in Southern Italy, very few people trust anyone outside of their immediate family, or kin. As a result, the businesses in that area, are all, as a result, very small. By contrast, Germany and Japan are safe societies where there is a lot of inherent trust. Accordingly, large corporations can and do thrive in Germany and Japan.

This concept really struck me: to see our lives in terms of trust. I began to think in terms on many levels.

I thought of a long list of people and entities, of who and what I felt I could, and could not, trust.


Software and Websites:

Just in software and the internet alone, what can I trust? There are a lot of scams on the internet now. I started hunting down and reporting email spammers way back in 1996. I'm very aware of all kinds of scams that occur through the internet: email spam, phishing, spyware, viruses, trojans, Nigerian 419s, etc.

Ebay: Can you trust the Ebay seller to give an accurate description and ship the goods? Can you trust the Ebay buyer to send the money? Can you trust the buyer to give accurate and honest feedback? Can you trust the seller not to respond with false negative feedback in retaliation?

BTW, one tactic I like to use on Ebay, is to ask the seller a simple question. If they aren't motivated to answer the question, why would they ever ship the goods?

Paypal: Paypal, interestingly enough, is a huge business that was developed because of the trust issue. If buyers and sellers can't trust each other, there would be a lot less online commerce. Because the seller is ensured payment, they will sell over the internet. Because the buyer's financial information is kept confidential by Paypal, the buyer doesn't need to worry about a stranger attemping fraud with it.

Privacy Policy: Can you trust a website with your privacy and information?

Lately, I've been noticing how much tracking so many websites do to my web browsing behavior. What are they doing with that information?


Friends And Family:

There is a simple test I've heard of for trust in friendship. If you suddenly needed a ride to the airport, or had to be picked up, who could you call and rely on? Or, as one of my friends asked me to do, if you had to leave town for a two week vacation, who could you ask to take care of your pets while you were gone?

As I look back, my best friends have been the ones that I could trust the most.

Can you trust your friends with things you would like to be kept secret and not broadcast?

Remember the scene in The Shawshank Redemption?  "Can you trust your wife?"


Neighbors and Personal Business:

Landlord/Landlady: Will they provide good housing, and take care of it?

Tenant: Will they take care of the property and pay the rent on time?

Neighbors:  Will they be good neighbors?

Government officials.
Insurance Agent.

Local Stores with enough of your personal information. Will they keep it safe?   How about national chains, such as Target?


Work and Business World:

Customers: Will they pay their bills? On time?

Suppliers: Can you trust your suppliers? To tell you the truth? To do a good job? To bill a fair rate? Doctor, Dentist, Car mechanics, Housing contractors such as electricians and plumbers.

What level of trust can you give your: Employer, Employee, Manager, Coworkers?


Corporate World:

Think of some scandals that have occurred in recent years. Bernie Madoff. Enron and Arthur Anderson. WorldComm. The US real estate bubble was fueled in part by untrustworthy evaluations of the mortgage backed securities by ratings agencies. There are lots more that could be mentioned. Underlying all these scandals, is the issue of trust.

Accountants are supposed to be the guardians of trust in the financial markets. The Enron, Worldcom, and Bernie Madoff scandals should have been stopped by the accountants. Had investors been able to trust the accountants to give the correct numbers, rather than a corrupted "opinion", the investors would not have lost their money, as the company executives got rich at the same time. It turns out that there have been many accounting scandals.

Many recruiters use tactics that render them most untrustworthy. See the article on Black Hat Recruiters.



Top 10 Political Scandals in the United States

Many politicians, violating the trust they were given.



Can you trust the media to be accurate?  And report on the real issues?

To read about bias in the media, see:


National Security: Since September 11th, 2001, there is so much less trust in society, at many levels.


Because of the trust issue, I find a lot of my energy being drained.

For instance, just with my computers. Defending against hacking. Protecting against a breach. Backing up the data, in case of failure.

Unfortunately, it's only defense, not offense. All the effort protecting myself, is not advancing my career, or making me richer. Only protecting me from identity theft, and losing money, time, reputation, etc. So, it's not very "productive". Were I putting the same amount of effort into a  business, there would eventually be some income, and return on investment.

What's aggravating, is that there are armies of independent people and organizations working very hard on their scams. And, in addition to their own effort, they employ all the computing power at their disposal. Decades ago, they needed to use a lot more effort, such as their dialing telephones manually, and smooth talking people out of their money. Now, they use automatic dialers, and play you a recording, even when you are on the Do Not Call list. The swine.


The lack of trust in society these days is a huge drain on resources. Emotion. Effort. Time. Money. But the lack of trust gives little real Return On Investment. What a bother.

Thinking of Banfield's writing, I prefer the trustworthy societies he described.  Not a society of many small distrustful "families" as was the case in Southern Italy.

How we make a more trustworthy society?

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I agree that lack of trust is definitely a big issue nowadays. Thanks for sharing. :)