Three main factors have accelerated the rhythm of trust destruction. First of all, the globalization of trade, capitals and to a certain extent of labor, have opened not only opportunities, but also many threats. The competition between workers is more than ever happening completely across boundaries, since most of the goods produced can be easily shipped across the world, as long as their price is competitive, or subsidies make them attractive, in the case of Western agribusiness for instance.
Secondly, the post-9/11 rise of terrorism, or at least the rise of the rhetoric around terrorism, has exacerbated mistrust across the planet. Groups and societies of all kinds use and abuse this rhetoric: it seems the easiest way for their leaders to reinforce their power over their own group. From Sri Lanka to Iraq, through Somalia, Israel and Palestine, a number of conflicts have degenerated proportionally to the rhetoric used by war-mongers, who often times seem to not understand that they are just pouring oil on fire, giving the best ammunitions to their enemies, and getting in return the opposite of what they expected. Beyond the conflict-afflicted countries, a quick look at Europe shows that populists are everywhere on the rise, not only because of the threats posed by globalization, but also thanks to their ability to raise the worse fears of their electorate.
Thirdly, the acceleration of communication, combining the two previous factors, brings bad news on a global scale to societies that are already under the pressure of economic globalization (virtually all societies) and the threat of terrorism (many of them). Pretending to make sense of the global disorder, the media is very quick to bring the most sensational news, often the most fearful, in order to increase their audience. The sharp increase of conspiracy theories on all kinds of topics is one of the worse trust-destroying mechanisms: to name but a few societies that I know, in the United States, in France, in Italy, polarization has increased year after year, with increasing opposition between religious factions, between the rich and the poor, or even between North and South. And what is true within nations, is certainly even more true across them: suspicion and real threats raised between Russia and its neighbors have never been as strong since the end of Cold War; the suspicion between the US and the rest of the world is at its zenith; beyond its opposition with the US, France has raised distrust with an increasing number of countries in Africa, despite the mutual benefits that could be generated by better relationships; there is not even a need to mention here the level of trust in the Middle East…
In front of this gloomy beginning of a century, do we have good examples of trust being built? To name just one of the most positive: the Nobel Prize given to Mohamed Yunus for his pioneering work in microfinance. By trusting the capacity of micro-entrepreneurs to reimburse loans, microfinance institutions have increased for tens of millions of families worldwide their trust in themselves. Despite the increased competition between them, many of these families have also been able to increase trust among themselves, by providing guarantee to each other for their loans, and/or by creating joint business ventures; under the pressure of globalization, these micro-entrepreneurs not only generate some wealth that was not expected from them, but they also generate more capital of trust, benefiting to their country by generating more growth in turn.
Rather than the usual focus on the increase of GNI - Gross National Income, why should we not also focus on a more intangible value that we could call the GNT – the Gross National Trust? If, like Putnam and others, we believe that trust is at the basis of progress, it is high time to pay attention to this GNT, and to its international equivalent, that we might want to call the ICT: the International Capital of Trust (not to mix up with the International Criminal Court). But then the hardest questions come: how to maintain or increase this capital of trust? Can we even reverse the on-going deadly trust-destroying dynamics? Who is in charge of doing this hard work?
As an editorialist taking the risk of such a topic, I am asking myself these questions: what about this article? is it itself fueling fear by naming it so forcefully, or can it create a space for some readers to take the issue of trust more seriously? Or will this article simply make you smile? Or leave you indifferent to such esoteric acronyms and questions?
Anyhow, for this first editorial of 2007, I personally want to believe that in the face of worldwide raising fears, due to the irresponsibility of a number of individuals and organizations, it is a responsibility to mobilize ourselves for trust, at least in our immediate surroundings, to fight back against wide-spread cynicism, individualism and fears. Luc Roullet Washington/Paris
Luc Roullet is member of Newropeans' CD