In trust we trust

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“Corruption is a measure of trust in society, and trust, it turns out, should be essential to well-being.” Daniel Kahneman
International Monetary Fund profiled Nobel prize winner, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in their Financial and Development issue recently. Beside outlining his achievement in behavioural economics, they also cited his work in well-being research.
Continuing to tackle issues in human decision making, Kahneman now focuses on the study of hedonics—what makes experiences pleasant or unpleasant—and the development of a scientific measure of well-being. In one recent study examining money’s effect on happiness, Kahneman, and others, have found that people with a relatively high income, although more satisfied with their lives, are barely happier at any given moment than those with a significantly lower income. The age-old myth that money buys happiness needs to be refined, as does the competing myth that wealth does not matter.

What he’s found in comparative studies of nations is that both the level of corruption and the degree of trust in society are important predictors of well-being.
I've always found the level of distrust for the government displayed by some interest groups (including, notably, many gun advocates) in the States to be counterproductive to establishing a healthy society. What Kaheman found with his studies, though not particularly shocking, nevertheless reframed the sense of well being - on both personal and social level - to something resembling social faith (to be distinguished from spiritual faith, which exists on a somewhat different dimension). While lying makes the world go round, trusting makes the world grow. As babies, a sign of healthy attachment is our willingness to explore strange environment while trusting that our guardians will be there, at our base, to provide aid and protection, should we need them. Suspicion of others breeds the sort of paranoia that could cripple our relations with each other, and unnecessarily stressing our nervous system (not to mention brain cells spent building fences and elaborate ways to keep us 'safe'). On the macro level, it could lead to instability and possibly violence (McCarthy era was primed with much distrust).
Countries where the level of trust in society is very low have a lot of difficulty thriving economically—so you need a certain level of trust to get moving.
While it is tempting to draw some causal links between trust and well being, it should be footnoted that living in a community within which deception and corruption are a matter of course would make it much harder and perhaps even unrealistic to develop the same sense of trust that could be fostered more readily in a less blatantly corrupted community. Would it be all that surprising for a community (or a country) with greater international power and resources, along with fewer perceived threats to its identity and structure, to likely be populated with more trusting citizens? Nevertheless, debating which comes first, the chicken or the egg, will not bring us closer to happiness and/or contentment. Given that trust is associated with well being, perhaps we can start with whatever we can make changes to. It would seem the pursuit of happiness points in the direction of developing and maintaining social connections, to foster trust amongst individuals and institutions. Socialism is not as dirty as some parts of the 'free' world would like you to believe.
“If there is a way of encouraging increasing trust in society—and that should probably start with trust in institutions—that is going to make a contribution to GDP through the rule of law, respect for property, and so on. It will have an extra contribution to human welfare because happier societies are ones where people trust each other and spend a fair amount of time catering to social needs.”



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