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Uslaner, E. M. (2000). The Moral Foundations of Trust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The book is a study of the moral foundations of trust in other people, distinguishing between generalized trust and particularized trust. I begin with an examination of the standard view of trust, which holds that trust reflects one’s life experience. I suggest both theoretical and empirical reasons why this is an incomplete view of trust. The more interesting and consequential parts of trust stem from looking at the concept as a moral value. Generalized trust, as reflected in the survey question, "Do you believe most people can be trusted, or can’t you be too careful in dealing with people?" expresses faith in strangers. Thus, it cannot be based on experience. I show how generalized trust as a moral concept affects a wide range of actions, from everyday life to working in the community. Trust makes people more likely to endorse strong standards of moral behavior and to be willing to pay more in taxes to increase government spending (even though they generally don’t favor more spending). Trusters are less likely to say that you should obey a law without questioning it. Trusters believe that the country has a common set of values and that our educational system should be based on the classics. Generalized trusters believe that ethnic politicians should not serve ethnic interests. Even controlling for their fear of crime, trusters are less likely to lock their doors. They are also less likely tocall in sick for work when they are really well–and more likely to spend time helping relatives. The roots of trust are in an optimistic world view. Trust reflects this outlook more than it does real life economic conditions. And trust has been in decline for over 30 years. The roots of the decline in trust are traceable to declining optimism and increasing economic inequality. I find support for this by aggregate time series in the United States and cross-sectional data across market economies. Chapter 1 introduces the manuscript. Chapter 2 lays out the difference between strategic and moral trust. Chapter 3 takes care of some measurement issues (including defending the trust question against charges it doesn't measure what it purports to) and also shows that trust is stable over time. Chapter 4 shows that moralistic (generalized) trust doesn't depend upon experience, but on optimism and a sense of control (and comes from one's parents). Chapter 5 examines the purported linkages between informal socializing, membership in civic associations, trust in government, and personal experiences and trust in other people. In virtually every case, both informal socializing and group membership neither produce nor consume trust. The only types of civic activities that are strongly related to trust are volunteering and giving to charity, both of which link us to people who are different from ourselves. Neither trust in government nor trust in people we know leads to generalized trust in strangers. Chapter 6 focuses on how trust changes over time, both for individuals and in the aggregate. As people become more optimistic, they become more trusting. And in particular there are powerful effects for two forms of "collective" experiences, the civil rights movement (which increased trust) and the war in Vietnam (which lowered trust among opponents). Overall, the biggest single factor that has shaped the decline in trust in the United States is the rise in economic inequality since the 1960s. As inequality has risen, optimism has fallen, and so has trust. Chapter 7 summarizes the consequences of trust. There has been a general decline in many forms of civic engagement, but most (especially informal socializing, group membership, and political participation) are not linked to trust. However, the decline in the share of our national income going to charity (especially charity that benefits people who are different from ourselves), the smaller number of people volunteering for the Red Cross, and volunteer firefighters are all linked to the decline in trust. Trusters are more tolerant of people different from themselves and more willing to support government programs to help people who face discrimination. Chapter 8 is a cross-national examination of trust. As in the United States over time, the strongest determinant of trust cross-nationally for countries without a legacy of Communism is the level of economic equality. Countries with many trusters also have better functioning governments, stronger economic growth, and more open economies. They also pursue policies that redistribute income from the rich to the poor. The epilogue sums it up. And there is also a list of references.


Uslaner, Eric M.

Eric M. Uslaner is Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland--College Park, where he has taught since 1975. In 1997-1998 he was Distinguished University Research Fellow at the University of Maryland and in 1981-82 he was Fulbright Lecturer and Visiting Professor,...

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