Learning not to trust each other in America, and not to trust America

Summary: Strong social cohesion distinguishes successful from failed States, and has long been a strength of America. A side effect of the 1%’s successful programs to build a New America on the ruins of the America-that-Once-Was is erosion of our social cohesion. From that, should it continue, we can expect bitter fruit. Today we look at three telling articles about this evolution.

Conservatives fret that we will get inflation and devaluation — like Argentina. In fact Argentina’s fall came from its plutocracy’s greed, the loss of social cohesion, and the resulting social conflict.
Perhaps we should worry about becoming like Argentina.

Trust

Contents

  1. America’s system of High, Middle, & Low Justice
  2. Trust no promises by institutions in America
  3. Falling apart: decreased social cohesion
  4. For More Information
  5. Wide circles of trust make strong nations

(1) See America’s system of High, Middle, and Low Justice at work

Kozlowski Is Granted Parole“, New York Times, 3 December 2013 — 100 months served, the last six were at home. Excerpt:

Come January, L. Dennis Kozlowski’s long tenure in New York State’s penitentiary system will near its end. The state’s Board of Parole granted parole to Mr. Kozlowski, the former chief executive of Tyco International …

Now the onetime multimillionaire will take another step toward freedom, more than eight years after he was found guilty of essentially using Tyco as his own piggy bank. His conviction in 2005 of grand larceny, conspiracy and fraud cemented his status as an symbol of corporate greed and earned him a sentence of 8-1/3 to 25 years in prison.

… In July of this year, Mr. Kozlowski’s status was upgraded to “day reporting” status, which required him to briefly report to Lincoln twice a week. Since then, he has been sleeping at his home and going to work every day, though his lawyer declined to identify his current location or job.

Parole still carries some restrictions for Mr. Kozlowski, including regular check-ins with his parole officer, a curfew and refraining from alcohol. But he can apply for permission to leave the state, among other things.

(2)  Trust no promises by institutions in America; get what you are owed in cash now

Many State and local governments have underfunded pension plans. Now we learn how some will solve the problem: “Detroit Ruling on Bankruptcy Lifts Pension Protections“, New York Times, 3 December 2013 — Excerpt:

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In a ruling that could reverberate far beyond Detroit, a federal judge held on Tuesday that this battered city could formally enter bankruptcy and asserted that Detroit’s obligation to pay pensions in full was not untouchable.

The judge, Steven W. Rhodes, dealt a major blow to the widely held belief that state laws preserve public pensions, and his ruling is likely to resonate in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and many other American cities where the rising cost of pensions has been crowding out spending for public schools, police departments and other services.

The judge made it clear that public employee pensions were not protected in a federal Chapter 9 bankruptcy, even though the Michigan Constitution expressly protects them. “Pension benefits are a contractual right and are not entitled to any heightened protection in a municipal bankruptcy,” he said.

James E. Spiotto, a lawyer with the firm Chapman & Cutler in Chicago who specializes in municipal bankruptcy and was not involved in the case, said: “No bankruptcy court had ruled that before. It will be instructive.”

… Bruce Babiarz, a spokesman for the Detroit Police and Fire Retirement System, was blunt in his assessment. “This is one of the strongest protected pension obligations in the country here in Michigan,” he said. “If this ruling is upheld, this is the canary in a coal mine for protected pension benefits across the country. They’re gone.”

We have seen hundreds of large corporate pension plans fail — dumped on the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, with pensions reduced to retirees (see the list here). The decision about Detroit is a pathbreaking decision for the many failures of public pension plan coming during the next two decades. For details see About the coming crisis in public pensions, 8 January 2010.

(3)  Falling apart: decreased social cohesion (the glue that holds America together)

In God we trust, maybe, but not each other“, AP, 30 November 2013 — See the AP-GfK Poll. Excerpt:

These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question. Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say “you can’t be too careful” in dealing with people.

… Does it matter that Americans are suspicious of one another? Yes, say worried political and social scientists. What’s known as “social trust” brings good things.

  • A society where it’s easier to compromise or make a deal. Where people are willing to work with those who are different from them for the common good. Where trust appears to promote economic growth.
  • Distrust, on the other hand, seems to encourage corruption. At the least, it diverts energy to counting change, drawing up 100-page legal contracts and building gated communities.

Even the rancor and gridlock in politics might stem from the effects of an increasingly distrustful citizenry, said April K. Clark, a Purdue University political scientist and public opinion researcher. “It’s like the rules of the game,” Clark said. “When trust is low, the way we react and behave with each other becomes less civil.”

There’s no easy fix.

… University of Maryland Professor Eric Uslaner, who studies politics and trust, puts the blame elsewhere: economic inequality. Trust has declined as the gap between the nation’s rich and poor gapes ever wider, Uslaner says, and more and more Americans feel shut out. They’ve lost their sense of a shared fate. Tellingly, trust rises with wealth.

“People who believe the world is a good place and it’s going to get better and you can help make it better, they will be trusting,” Uslaner said. “If you believe it’s dark and driven by outside forces you can’t control, you will be a mistruster.”

(4)  For More Information

Some posts about New America:

  1. Why Americans should love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – we live there, 13 December 2011
  2. We’ve worked through all 5 stages of grief for the Republic. Now, on to The New America!, 8 January 2013
  3. How do our leaders see us? Don the shoes of the 1%. Look down on the 99%. Describe the view., 5 February 2013
  4. Compare our New America to the America-that-once-was (a great nation), 12 June 2013
  5. Glimpses of the New America being born now, 18 June 2013
  6. Glimpses of the New America being born now, 18 June 2013
  7. An Independence Day special report: I have seen the New America!, 5 July 2013
  8. A tale of New America: a billionaire plays with his employees & shareholders, 19 July 2013
  9. Billionaires mold our schools to produce better help in a New America, 20 July 2013
  10. Another view of New America: inequality, low social mobility, rising heroin use. Fun, but not for all., 28 September 2013
  11. Why don’t we see the New America being built around us?, 1 December 2013

(5)  Wide circles of trust make strong nations

Graphic from The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey (see the website):

5 Waves of Trust
From Stephen M. R. Covey’s “The Speed of Trust”

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15 thoughts on “Learning not to trust each other in America, and not to trust America

  1. Great piece, as usual, Fabius. Since you talk a bit about pension funds getting the shaft, I feel obliged to mention Taibbi’s piece from a couple months ago: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-the-pension-funds-20130926
    There are a few follow-on posts as well. And, yes, I’m fully aware that Matt has a particular ‘slant’ to regard as a filter, but his research is usually pretty good.
    Sadly, this Michigan ruling, combined with the Rhode Island situation, only causes me to trust – ever more firmly – that the proverbial ‘rug’ will be pulled out at every opportunity…

    1. That was a good piece. gives an interesting perspective, And points very clearly to the ways in which we are being misled.

  2. One would hope that as a condition of his parole Kozlowski would be required to work 28 hours per week at McDonald’s. Not as management either.
    But my guess is he will show up as a guest commentator on one of the 24/7 news networks.

    1. Thomas,

      GreT! Thank you for posting this.

      The General Social Survey is a great use of govt funds, making us smarter and giving a unique perspective on ourselves.

  3. Loss of trust reminds me of a story I read a few days ago, a staggering breach of trust in multiple ways(hat-tip news.ycombinator.com and reddit): “Government Chemist Tampered With 40,000 Cases, Locking Countless Innocent Americans in Prison

    Perhaps not the best source, here are two more (Interesting differences between each version)

    Indicted drug analyst Annie Dookhan’s e-mails reveal her close personal ties to prosecutors“, Boston Globe, 20 December 2012

    Crime Lab Scandal Leaves Mass. Legal System In Turmoil“, NPR, 13 March 2013

  4. A classic text on how to deal constructively with distrust is Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.

    A Roman living in the late 5th / early 6th century AD, he worked as an official for Theodoric, one of the early German chieftains to rule after the empire’s fall. Falling out of favor, Boethius was imprisoned and ultimately bludgeoned to death. While in prison awaiting his fate, he wrote his consolation. Wikipedia entry for Beothius

    His Consolation describes a dialog between him and Lady Philosophy, who tells him that worldly affairs are governed by capricious Fortune, who spins her wheel and distributes good and ill arbitrarily. The term “Wheel of Fortune” comes from Boethius.

    Although largely forgotten today, the Consolation of Philosophy once was essential reading for every educated European.

  5. Another classic text on how to deal with distrust:

    Plutarch’s How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend

    Contents

    1. Self-esteem is the beginning of the flattery, irreligious practice par excellence.
    2. The flatterer, this parasite of noble natures, is attentive to the dark side of fortune.
    3. It is difficult to distinguish the highly skilled flatterer from the friend.
    4. The most skillful flatterers are those who know how to hide: they are difficult to identify.
    5. Tricks of the flatterer: the flatterer imitates the qualities and advantages of the friend.
    6. The similarity of tastes is the origin of friendship: the flatterer conceals it.
    7. But it is essentially changing.
    8. How to detect the flatterer: first sign of recognition, variations.
    9. The second sign: the flatterer confuses all moral values.
    10. Third sign: the flatterer let surpass.
    11. The aim of flattery: please at any cost.
    12. The danger of praises that give to vice the name of virtue.
    13. The artifices of flatterers to disguise the praise.
    14. The praise on the contrary: flatterer criticises virtues which do not have those whom he flatters.
    15. The silent flattery.
    16. The flatterer can simulate the outspokenness.
    17. The outspokenness can turn into indirect praise.
    18. The flatterer blames the opposite of real defects.
    19. Our only defense is to be aware of our weaknesses.
    20. Received helps: the flatterer is recognized by his obsequious devotion.
    21. Reckless promises.
    22. The flatterer provides services without any regard to morality.
    23. The flatterer seeks to exclude the real friends.
    24. The dangers of self-love.
    25. The frankness must be devoid of self-interest.
    26. The frankness must be exerted on favored person of the sort.
    27. The frankness must consider the opportunity.
    28. But also particular occasions.
    29. Discretion is necessary for frankness.
    30. It is necessary to include in the criticism which is formulated.
    31. Avoid controversy.
    32. Reserve criticism for exceptional cases.
    33. Let us be sympathetic in the criticism.
    34. It is necessary to solace the mind after a frank criticism

  6. Consider a hypothetical poll with two questions: Rate on a scale of 1-10 the degree to which you trust Google with your most personal information. Rate on a scale of 1-10 the degree to which you trust the NSA with your most personal information. I suspect Google would come out way ahead, especially with younger generations. I would not be surprised if the results would be reversed with seniors.

    A good portion of popular youth fiction is in dystopian settings: the Divergent series,the Uglies series, Hunger Games, etc. Just today I was asking a friend’s daughter why these books were so popular. “Well, because of government these days…” she said. “That and the love triangles, of course”. David McClelland did some interesting research in the 50s/60s about children’s literature and how it was useful in predicting a nation’s future path. He called the rise of Japan a couple decades before it happened based on that work.

    I hesitate to mention Martin Armstrong here because he is WAY into cycle theory, but his model is one of multi-decade waves of confidence in public vs. private institutions. He predicts the end of the current public confidence wave to be replaced with rising confidence in private institutions.

    1. Bonesetter,

      “I hesitate to mention Martin Armstrong here because he is WAY into cycle theory”

      To call his work “theory” is quite an exaggeration. Fiction or fantasy is more accurate.

    2. Those who trust Google may be as deluded, given Google’s (now diminishing, admittedly) collusion with the State.

      Plus, Google and similar private sector participants are not “our” friends. They have their own purposes, which may not be as immediately dangerous as the NSA, may still have significant and serious impacts. On employability, on credit ratings, etc.

    3. Brian,

      That’s a fascinating subject — the role of mega corps like Google, in the center of the info superhighway.

      Google has already gone far from their motto of not being evil. Whether to ally with the govt, perhaps an evil agency of the govt, is a problem that seems inevitable in hindsight.

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