Agencies of Trust

Yesterday the discussion following my article, “The Good News” wandered way off topic, but into very interesting territory. What started as a typical lib/con tit-for-tat over personal responsibility versus division of labor ventured into a deeper matter: Trust.

For people to cooperate they must trust one another, or, at the very least, understand what they gain by their transaction. That is a simple statement of fact. I have been amazed in the past to read the comments of liberals such as WatchBlog's own Paul Seigel as they held that liberalism was fundamentally about cooperation and that was necessarily antithetical to conservatism's competition. Such a notion is fundamentally flawed.

Watch the college football BCS "championship" * game tonight. Will you see a melee of individuals competing against one another? Of course not. You will see two organizations engaged in tightly controlled internal and external voluntary cooperation, competing over specific, agreed, goals. They submit their contest to supervision, even against the possibility of loss of advantages to penalty or referee error, in order that the team that triumphs in the competition will have done so because it best exemplified, in the eyes of the assembled witnesses, the athletic and mental disciplines of the game of Football.

That competition represents a microcosm of the kind of competition any clear-thinking conservative desires, with some caveats, in economic matters. It is a competition founded in trust. People within teams develop a trust in each other. From team to team there must also be a trust that the organization that binds them all together and defines the game is not operating out of a desire to favor one team over another, but to make the game itself as satisfying as possible. Right there one begins to detect the conflict that creates problems for both liberalism and conservatism. It appears to many that the rules are designed to choose winners or multiply referees rather than define a satisfying "game".

To quote from one of my posts yesterday-

The fact is that people left to their own devices among people they trust will cooperate on many things. Yes, government is necessary for many forms of public work, for law enforcement, and for ensuring an educated populace, but liberals little understand how government intrusion can foment the very distrust that makes government necessary in the first place.
For example, government inevitably enacts a general interpretation of morality, meaning it must compete with minority religious views. In this case that means ANY religious view, since all religions in America, taken individually, are a minority. If we allow government to trump (A better word would probably be 'overthrow'.) religious views, then, we sow distrust among all religious communities.
Education must make interpretations on matters of cultural values. It can’t be helped. When it shows signs of being dogmatic in such interpretation it will inevitably sow distrust in other portions of the community. One can go point by point through every possible governmental function and find ways in which the stronger (more assertive) government grows, and the more influence we permit it to have, the more distrustful people become, not just of government itself, but of each other.
The real goal of the organization of society is TRUST. That is what money is for. It is what religion is for. It is what organizations in the private sector are for, and, finally, it is what government is meant to stand in the breach for when we can’t seem to get it any other way. Government operates, though, by coercion.
Obviously such organizations as crime syndicates are not intended to sow trust in the larger society but, seen another way, they can be viewed as competition for ineffective governmental organizations. There is also an interesting general similarity between mafias and governments. Both types of organization depend on internal cooperation to coerce a given utilization of the surplusses of society at large. How they use these surplusses (as opposed to how they claim to intend to use them) determines whether the organization is good or bad. That will materially effect how much trust the organization engenders.

Elaborate government as we know it is not really necessary in human societies when the society enjoys a generalized trust. The Caddoan Confederation of Eastern Texas, Arkansas, and Western Louisiana needed little or no law enforcement, had no stockades, and was held in high regard by neighboring societies. While the society is said to have been highly stratified it clearly was not beset by internal strife.

What societies can't live without is trust, some assurance that one's efforts are not in vain. Our organizations and institutions are the tools we use to leverage that trust. Formal government is only one of those tools.

* Which, to Texas fans, is no such thing, of course.

Posted by Lee Emmerich Jamison at January 8, 2009 11:36 AM
Comment #273326


Trust builds with time and oversight, i.e., footballs teams in the early years were poorly supervised and pretty much unregulated. Players consistently ignored the rules of the game. It took years to develop the trust in the game you speak of…and, now we can’t trust it because the moneyed few have taken it over, so it will start downhill soon.

Trust cannot be built where money is the measure…only where value is the measure.

Posted by: Marysdude at January 8, 2009 1:05 PM
Comment #273342


Those who watched the SEC deal with Bernie Madoff over forty years might disagree with you. The illustration from sports, however, is probably a good one. The development of sports oversight, both on the collegiate level and the professional level seems to show the importance of a third ‘overseer’ of some sort.

It was not enough for the institutions (schools, baseball owners, etc.) who sponsored sports to want good rules and enforcement for the sake of the game. The fans were clearly a part of the enforcement regime. Otherwise it was possible for someone with predatory interests, like gamblers, to APPEAR to infiltrate the game. (No one, for example, has really proven the 1919 White Socks threw the World Series. Just the taint of it was enough to threaten baseball, though.) The fans serve as the honest broker in this instance.

Government can serve that role in many instances, but there must also be an avenue for imposing honest oversight on government as well.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 8, 2009 4:49 PM
Comment #273356

“Elaborate government as we know it is not really necessary in human societies when the society enjoys a generalized trust.”

Um…. I think we had a generalized trust in our financial institutions and regulatory practices.

I wish we had more elaborate government structures, because I had trusted that the free market would not allow us to be in the current state of affairs.

Oh and I’m all for competition, and fully support your analogy. We need it to be there and it needs to be fair and safe.

Lets call the rules that make it fair and safe regulations.

Posted by: 037 at January 8, 2009 9:38 PM
Comment #273359


Let’s suppose for a moment your statement is true:

“Trust cannot be built where money is the measure…only where value is the measure.”

The problem with this statement is that our values system has changed. The established values that man has used for centuries have been replaced with a “if it feels good, do it” attitude of today. When I was a kid, a man’s hand shake was his word, but not so today. Most older universities were started by religous organizations and public shool houses were local churches and pastors were the teachers, but not today. Today we feel we must deny any religous experience and deny God. We must seperate ourselves as far as we can from any morality or value that can even be associated with God. This is why “traditional christians” are the focus of attack by the left. How many articles were written, making a mockery of the religious beliefs of Sarah Palin?

We can trust our government, and more so as the days pass, about as much as the the colonists trusted the british crown.

Posted by: Oldguy at January 8, 2009 10:59 PM
Comment #273363

Some statements are just too stupid to comment on…and, I’m too old and crotchety to worry about it any more.

Posted by: Marysdude at January 9, 2009 6:01 AM
Comment #273366


Um…. I think we had a generalized trust in our financial institutions and regulatory practices.
Actually, you’re making my point for me. We DID have a trust that the S.E.C., a governmental organization, possessed the competence to see through the reputation of a person very highly regarded by people in finance- regardless of political affiliation. We DID have a trust that securities founded in home loans issued by Government Sponsored Enterprises would be sound. We did have a trust that Government provided transparency in the marketplace.

So what you seem to be saying is that we can’t really trust institutions. O.K., what I’m saying, in something of a fit of humor, is that we can’t trust institutions. We’re just choosing different ones, and different reasons, to mistrust.

Over and over I’ve said I don’t trust corporations. I don’t trust for-profits. I don’t trust non-profits. I don’t trust governments. What I keep trying to find is a way to impress on people why I think there is at least, in the for-profit world, a somewhat effective “honest broker” of the sort played by the fan base of football in the illustration above. On the other hand I see no such effective honest broker for government.

So far, apart from assurances that the new people running the place are better people than the old people running the place, no one who supports expanding the use of government as a system can show me such a control mechanism. And when they target a specific act of deregulation as a bad act they almost invariably draw a bead on Graham-Leach-Bliley, a bill championed by the financial wizards of this very group of people!

Since the new people running the place effectively ARE the old people who embarrassed the hell out of slightly more than half the population eight years ago those assurances give me little comfort.

Out trust should not merely be a form of idolatry. Throwing up the golden cow of government and bowing to it is not a reasoned approach to government’s organizational shortcomings. We have to be able to assure that failed units or programs of government DIE.

No one on the left is making any effort to provide for us that very basic element of trust.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 9, 2009 10:12 AM
Comment #273371

The founding fathers were very wary of a republican form of government. They decided on three branches so that we could have checks and balances. THEY didn’t even “trust” government, at least without checks and balances.

It seems to me you are saying government is a bad thing. On the contrary, without a federal government the union would have split up into several tiny “nations” or federated states. You seem to be preaching Jeffersonian principles while maintaining Hamilton leanings….very interesting.

Posted by: Tom L at January 9, 2009 12:03 PM
Comment #273373

Tom L,
If it sounds like I’m saying government is bad(especially in light of the football referee part of the illustration above) I’m not communicating very well.

Yes, indeed the founding fathers put checks and balances in place. Some of them, though, have been far less effective than anticipated.

Impeachment is very much in the news these days, for example. The founders anticipated it would be a much-used weapon of the Legislative Branch against the other two branches in a tug-of-war over ultimate power, but it has gone virtually unused as political parties trumped rivalries among the governmental branches. (Washington was prescient in his distrust of parties, possibly because he anticipated just this sort of problem.)

Government is, in fact, a GOOD THING, when it works. To maintain that good thing, though, we really must find a way to reinstate the effectiveness the founders sought in applying the checks and balances they so brilliantly invented years ago. The “concentration of power faction”, (to coin a phrase) has evolved very effective countermeasures for the existing set of controls.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 9, 2009 1:08 PM
Comment #273374

The problem with the handouts to the banks and tax-cuts for the people is that no one in their right mind would spend right now. It simply isn’t prudent. I think for banks to trust they won’t collapse they will have to be partly nationalized. For people to spend, they will need the security of a job.

Posted by: Max at January 9, 2009 1:11 PM
Comment #273377

Lee, the larger, more diverse, more complex, and more populated a society becomes, the greater the potential for the untrustworthy to take advantage of very large numbers of unsuspecting in that society. Ergo, the need for more sophisticated and complex monitoring of the actions of specialists in such a society who, by virtue of their specialization, have a very real unfair advantage to potentially take advantage of those seeking their expertise.

This applies to all areas of specialization, engineering, contracting, medicine, financial matters, etc. We have witnessed horrendously expensive acts to society of unethical and illegal behavior in these, and other areas of specialization.

Our society absolutely requires more oversight, transparency, and enforcement of these over specialists in all areas of our society’s professions from prostitution to politicians, and every level in between in which specialists provide public needs and solicit public trust.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 9, 2009 1:38 PM
Comment #273412

Anyone notice Mr. Obama is backpeddling BEFORE he has even been sworn in?

I seem to recall he said HE will CREATE 5 MILLION jobs…now he is going to ‘create or save 3 million jobs’.
That does not sound promising to me.

Posted by: Dawn at January 10, 2009 12:27 AM
Comment #273414

You might have noticed there have been some economic changes in the time period between Obamas statements.

Again,unless you are on a septic tank when you flush you can reasonbly expect, even trust, that that local manifestation of government will perform and the poop will go away. Likely there is federal money involved in the constuction of the sewer plant as well as local. You can mail a letter and trust that it will get delivered. You can usually trust that the bridge you drive over will not collaspe or that if you call the police,they will respond. Its fun to talk about ethereal concepts of governance but competance has its due. There is often what amounts to simple denial of government’s usefulness from conservatives, perhaps an attempt to justify squawking about the need to pay for them like spoiled children.

Posted by: bills at January 10, 2009 7:19 AM
Comment #273471


Trust may seem etherial to those who attempt to avoid an understanding of fundamental concepts. To those who really want to get to the bottom of why some systems work and others don’t, though, seeking a comprehension of basic trust in systems is important. What I’m trying to do here is point out a basic cultural difference in liberal and conservative thought. Liberals appear willing to make a profession of quasi-religious faith in the operation of government. Conservatives CAN’T. This article is intended to help liberals and even conservatives understand why this is so.

Government does very poorly at some very basic functions. Many programs have administrative costs as high as 60%, for example, and many others, like the tax system, burden private industry with compliance costs that have little or nothing to do with their putative functions. Real, functioning government is too important, though, to either eliminate, Anarchist or Libertarian style, or despair of rationality and blindly trust, liberal style.

For that reason liberals and conservatives need to recognize each other’s reservations at a fundamental level so they can answer those reservations not with prejudice, but with understanding and, where it is appropriate, compromise.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 12, 2009 9:06 AM
Comment #273475


Such compromise could and was achieved right up until the time the religious right took over the Republican party. Now compromise is scarce, to say the least…I wonder why that is…?!?

Posted by: Marysdude at January 12, 2009 11:05 AM
Comment #273478
What I’m trying to do here is point out a basic cultural difference in liberal and conservative thought. Liberals appear willing to make a profession of quasi-religious faith in the operation of government. Conservatives CAN’T.

What a bunch of hogwash, Conservatives (pick your own slant and what this means for you)/Republicans want larger/intrusive government in areas such as the bedroom, personal freedoms, privacy, education and foreign policy. Your statement is a broad brush, that ignores where Conservatives are quite willing to support how and where governance is expanded.

Posted by: Cube at January 12, 2009 1:15 PM
Comment #273512

Marysdude and Cube,
Those represent two excellent attempts to get the subject back on your version of prejudice. As though the “Religious Right” was attempting to do anything that people in both parties had not done in the past… Have I not been told here that the Republican Party of the teens and twenties was the more ‘progressive’ of the two? But was it not in an era controlled by that once more progressive party that John Scopes was convicted of teaching Evolution in Kansas?

(Mr. Scopes, by the way, was my father’s boss when I was a small child.)

Gee, that’s peculiar. Were there not sodomy laws in the old days? In ALL the old days? When was it the Religious Right RECENTLY imposed laws against abortion, or adultery, or prostitution, or loitering for that matter?

Much of what you’re complaining about as recent inventions of the right are nothing of the sort.

On the other hand, the capacity of the Internal Revenue Service to know every significant thing about your life is a product of ever and ever more intrusive use of income tax laws. It is one of the very reasons the IRS is a key component of governmental power.

Why should the government know all about my medical records? It is a hell of a fight keeping them out of that area of our lives, in spite of the possibly nefarious uses of it.

You fear the capacity to eavesdrop on electronic broadcast communications, a capacity developed to a high degree of sophistication during the Clinton Administration. Well, thank goodness there is some form of the nanny state and the onset of Big Brother to which you object!

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 12, 2009 6:56 PM
Comment #273515
Much of what you’re complaining about as recent inventions of the right are nothing of the sort.

I never said these were recent inventions of the right. However Barry Goldwater would have objected to how his ideal of conservatism has been hijacked. It is now used in a manner as to interject more government intervention in our lives rather than less. The banner of Conservatism is now more of a reflection of Ronald Reagan than Barry Goldwater.

That I recognize hypocrisy in your statements is not prejudice. My recognition derives from the realization that government can intrude in many different forms.

Posted by: Cube at January 12, 2009 8:10 PM
Comment #273521

Quasi-religious faith in government. Hogwash. There are some things government does better and there are things it does not do so well. Example of the former: Fire departments. One must be very wealthy indeed to afford a private fire department. Most of use pay taxes on the chance that we may need their services. It makes little sense for us to employ our own.
The founders provided for a postal service,knowing full well that the task could never be done as efficiently by the private sector and it is a legitmate function of government. Today,although not perfect the Postal Service delivers a huge amount of mail quite reliably and inexpensively. Its the envy of much of the world. SS is another example. Comparable private annuities have a whopping overhead of about %20. SS fuutions with an overhead of about %2.
There are other areas where the private sector has failed ,most notably healthcare delivery. Clear evidence of this is our shameful infant mortality rate. Higher than Cuba,about like Latvia. Government intervention of some sort is needed. This is not a religious notion but a recognition of facts and an awareness that government is the only instituion powerful enough to attempt corective measures.
A dictionary definition of Conservative as resisting change and liberal as seeking it. There is merit to both. What is needed is a forthright recognitions of problems and an efficient approach to solving them. Sometimes that is government, sometimes not. Practicality should be the rule.

Posted by: bills at January 12, 2009 11:17 PM
Comment #273525


Blue laws were in place because many leaders of the day were Christian, and becasue many times their wives convinced them it was necessary. In those days, if an atheist or someone of a different religion spoke up they were immediately ostracized.

Over time, those antiquated laws were either ignored or overturned (many times because ‘business’ wanted them changed for reasons of profit), and we were becoming a nation of inclusion.

That is when the religious right began its quest to take over the country, and the Grand Ol’ Party was its best and easiest conduit.

We have silently begun to ‘exclude’ again, and that is shameful.

The difference between then and now, is then it was rather innocent belief that blue laws were needed. But, now it is an intrusive group, cheating the system, and demanding outrageous compliance with dogma and church doctrine.

What a bunch of wimps the Republican Party was to allow such a take-over.

Posted by: Marysdude at January 13, 2009 9:56 AM
Comment #273542

What is usually the reaction from the hometown crowd when a bad call or decision goes in favor of the hometown team or boxer?

Considering the government we have had for the past 30 years or more and considering the incumbency rate, one could argue that the people have far to much trust, at least in their politicians.

Posted by: jlw at January 13, 2009 4:32 PM
Comment #274203

Trust evolves with mutual respect. Mutual respect
is not present in government in the 21st century.
But it must be restored. Now as far as the game.
Every four years there is a game called an election. This game the Democrats won. Do you pretend your in overtime, usethe same playbook.
Or do you play together as all Americans in the
off season? Come up with a new strategy for the next time around?

Posted by: Bob Henry at January 23, 2009 7:51 PM
Post a comment