Now that the overlapping crises are upon us and the banquet of consequences is being served, we’ll see just who our elites and leadership really are.
The erosion of trust doesn’t require intent, it only requires the blind pursuit of self-interest above all else. Trust is fundamentally reciprocity and honesty: to build trust, we must each perform our agreed-upon responsibilities and be truthful about our performance and actions.
Lies, obfuscation, misdirection and the sins of omission are all Kryptonite to trust. Those who put the pursuit of self-interest above all else like to think they can finesse their greed by omitting the truth rather than presenting a fabrication / lie. But being social animals whose survival ultimately rests on trust, humans are keenly sensitive to the difference between the truth / honesty and self-serving prevarications such as the sins of omission.
America’s elites and those living large in protected fiefdoms have persuaded themselves that their relentless pursuit of self-interest has no cost or consequence. Conveniently ignoring Adam Smith’s volume on the moral foundations needed to support capitalism, they think “the invisible hand” of the market is nothing more than a feeding frenzy of self-serving greed, and so their relentless pursuit of self-interest will somehow magically transform their looting and free-riding into a stable economy and society.
This is why trust has been lost in America. Everyone with any hold on power uses that power solely to benefit themselves and their cronies, under the tissue-thin guise of “serving the public” (or even more egregiously, “doing God’s work”–please hand me a barf-bag…).
When everyone is issuing an endless spew of BS to cover their own self-enrichment, trust is eroded and then lost. When everyone with any shred of power is scrambling to free-ride the system to serve their private interests above all else, the system itself can no longer be trusted.
This is why institutions have lost public trust. Those happily ensconced in a politically powerful fiefdom can increase their private gains at the expense of the public interest without any worries that the public can ever make it through the complexity thickets they’ve erected to ring-fence their fiefdom.
The elites rig the system behind flimsy legal screens and declare the system one of “endless opportunity” without mentioning some are more equal than others. Markets are rigged, politics is theater and those in the know gloat as their personal fortunes expand like clockwork.
All of this is betrayal of the public trust and the public interest, and betrayal has a cost and consequence: trust is lost. Betrayal hurts because we believed the pretenses and promises of the lying, cheating prevaricator. Once the truth seeps out, we’re done with the liar / free-rider / self-serving BSer.
This is where we are: trust has been lost and there’s no going back. As the first chart above illustrates, social trust–our willingness to trust strangers–has declined for decades. There are many threads in this decline, but one is that everyone has transmogrified into a scammer or grifter, trying to extract something from us while giving us nothing in return except empty promises, phony gratitude or the pretense of reciprocity.
What exactly is the difference between the beggar with a phony story, a politician “explaining” a new junk fee or a private-sector elite rigging the system to benefit their enterprise? There is no difference. All are masking their pursuit of self-interest behind a phony story. The beggar’s story of needing $10 for gas is obviously threadbare; so too are the stories of pickpocketing “leaders” and SillyCon Valley monopolists.
As the chart below shows, the middle class that once trusted markets, institutions and civic leaders has seen its share of the national wealth decline as the top 1%’s share increased. Wealth wasn’t “grown,” it was transferred. Eventually “investors” finally accept they’re nothing but marks for the financial elite to skim and scam and so they exit the fake 3-card-monte “market.” The skimmers and scammers, bereft of marks, whine and beg for a return to the good old days when they could exploit all the trusting marks.
Those who have looted the public trust for their own private gain now decry the loss of trust. Their tears are as fake as all their other stories. What they mourn is the marks awakening to their endless skims and scams, and the opting out of those who’ve finally had enough.
Everything’s gone so well that those with wealth and power have been able to pretend to be fantastic. But now that the overlapping crises are upon us and the banquet of consequences is being served, we’ll see just who our elites and leadership really are.
Pretending will no longer work, and all the self-serving prevarications in the world will no longer shield us from the consequences of a society stripped of public trust.
Once trust has been destroyed, there’s no going back.