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It’s A Matter Of Trust

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Chris Cilliizza passes on this animated GIF showing the changing responses to a basic poll question — “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?”

Trust

As Cillizza notes, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture:

As Morgan notes in a fascinating Medium piece on our declining trust in one another: ”The percentage of all respondents who said that most people can be trusted dropped from about 46 percent  in 1972 to about 32 percent in 2012.”

Morgan doesn’t attempt to draw a single conclusion for the “why” behind  our erosion in trust.  And, there’s no way a single factor is responsible for such a large societal change. But, he does not that the ubiquity of television, the Internet and smart phones have fueled less direct human interaction and, therefore, perhaps also fueled a lack of willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not sure it’s fair or accurate to single out technology as the reason that our basic trust in our fellow Americans has declined over time, although it no doubt does contribute to it to the extent that human interaction is less common than it used to be. Perhaps it’s also just the case that we’ve become more cynical over time and that the pressures of rough economic times have hardened our edges.

To some extent, this lack of trust reflects itself in our politics, where people on both sides of the political aisle are far more likely to believe the worst about the people on the others side than they seemed to be in the past. It’s not enough that you might think your political opponent is wrong, but it’s almost now a requirement that such a person be classified as someone who is evil, has nefarious motives, is being duped by others into taking the “wrong” position, or is just plain stupid just because they disagree with you. And, yes, this is something that both sides do all to frequently. It’s not healthy for our political culture, or for the nation as a whole, and maybe it wouldn’t be so prevalent if we got to know our fellow Americans better and learned that they can be trusted.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    The problem is Doug we are genetically tribal creatures. Even though we may live in one country or even one state we are still members of individual tribes. We have the urban tribe and the rural tribe, The southern tribe, the Midwest tribe and the northern tribe. Here in Oregon we have the Western tribe, the majority, and the Eastern tribe. We have the social conservative religious tribe and the secular tribe. I am a member of the left of center independent tribe while you are a member of the Libertarian tribe. I’m not really sure that this is a situation that can be resolved. It might be interesting to see a Venn diagram of the tribes in the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Most people can be trusted. No, not people negotiating a Hollywood contract, but most people.

    But saying that and believing that isn’t cool. Cynicism is cool. No one wants to be a sucker. So everyone has to deny that they trust other people.

    Really we don’t trust? Because every day we all get on the freeway and drive 70 miles an hour surrounded by people who, by making a small error of inattention, can kill us. And yet, there we are, on the 101. Every time I see some spandex-clad weenie on a bike riding up to Marin Headlands on a narrow, winding road, I’m struck by how trusting they are.

    Short version: I call b.s. on the meaning of the poll.

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree with Michael. I think most people can be trusted and the proof is that we cross streets, drive cars, and ride in airplanes all of the time. We buy food we don’t grow ourselves, buy things from stores whose shopkeepers we’ve never met before, and use products whose manufacturers don’t even know the points of origin of its ingredients. Our children spend all day with people we don’t know and in the course of a day we brush shoulders with any number of people we’ve never met before and will never meet again.

    I think the critical problem is that our society, our way of life, requires an extremely high level of trust. When you’re at the far, extreme end of something even a little deviation can assume major importance. Even a little less trust means that the assumptions on which the society is based start to wobble.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  4. jomike says:

    It’s not enough that you might think your political opponent is wrong, but it’s almost now a requirement that such a person be classified as someone who is evil, has nefarious motives, is being duped by others into taking the “wrong” position, or is just plain stupid just because they disagree with you.

    Bitterness, vitriol, and mutual distrust have been the norm since colonial times (and before that, ancient Greece). By historical standards the last forty years of American politics has been a period of unusual comity, a D.C. gentle(wo)men’s club catered to by an discreet, compliant D.C. press corps. If our mutual trust has dropped from the highs measured in the early ’70s (which may represent all-time highs), that more likely represents a regression to the mean than an all-time historical low. Don’t believe me? Consider political discourse in late 19th & early 20th century labor-riot robber baron era. Or Reconstruction, or the run-up to the Civil War, or the Jackon era (talk about bitterness and mistrust!). Or, or, or. They did not pull punches back in the day.

    But even limiting the analysis to just the last 40 years, the speculation as to causes ignores an elephant in the room (well, maybe a loud braying donkey, too):

    the ubiquity of television, the Internet and smart phones have fueled less direct human interaction and, therefore, perhaps also fueled a lack of willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt.

    No mention of the middle class, members of which have always had far more in common with one another than not, regardless of party affiliation or ideological orientation along conservative – liberal lines. That great unifying force was at its peak in the early ’70s and has been under increasing stress ever since. I wouldn’t argue that television, the Internet, smart phones, and our cynicism and pettiness have had no influence at all — surely they have — but to speculate about those phenomena without giving a shout-out to the biggest socioeconomic factor of them all seems myopic, if not downright perverse.

    And, yes, this is something that both sides do all to frequently.

    Where one side consists of a few hosts on MSNBC and a handful of blogs read by maybe 1% of the internet, while the other has a cable TV and talk radio empire and a blogosphere with probably ten thousand times the viewership of their lefty counterparts. True, the kazoo and the brass band both “do it all too frequently,” but the suggestion that their partisan bleatings have had equal influence on (and therefore share equal blame for) the Dumbing Of Our Great American Discourse is absurd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  5. rudderpedals says:

    I’m not sure it’s fair or accurate to single out technology as

    That’s Cilizza. The author of the medium.com piece didn’t do any of this. Per the original article, generation, income, health and race have the greatest impact.

    The original article at medium is a must-read.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. CSK says:

    Are we talking about trust as a generalized concept or a specific one in certain circumstances? Would I trust a stranger with my wallet? Of course not. Do I “trust” that I won’t be killed in a terrorist attack when I go grocery shopping this afternoon? Sure. Do I “trust” that most of the people I’ll encounter won’t be psychos with a rifle? Yeah, I do. But I’m operating on statistical likelihood rather than trust…or blind faith.

    It’s interesting that Texas and the rest of the south, according to the graphic, have always been the least trusting parts of the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    although it no doubt does contribute to it to the extent that human interaction is less common than it used to be.

    Um, some cite for this very dubious claim? For most of recorded history, most humans lived in small villages of a few dozen people, and saw only as many people in their lifetimes as lived within a day’s walk of where they were. I see that many people by lunch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. anjin-san says:

    I trusted Bob Dole. I trusted Brent Scowcroft. Did not agree with them all that often, but they, along with a lot of Republicans back in the day, were solid guys of sober judgement who put country first.

    Sorry, but I don’t feel the same way about Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachmann.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    although it no doubt does contribute to it to the extent that human interaction is less common than it used to be.

    Again, I’ve got to call BS on this. Yes, yes, we have emails, FB, texting, etc. etc. But in my life at least, that stuff hasn’t replaced face to face interaction — it’s just caused me to interact with more people, the same people I used to see face to face, and more people I can now deal with via technology.

    I really, really doubt that “human interaction is less common than it used to be” — how much human interaction do you think farmers or fishing villagers or other manual-laboring peasants used to get, especially when they were snowed in half the year? Up until the last fifty years or so, for most of humanity you saw whoever was in your village or neighborhood, and that was it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  10. Tyrell says:

    @anjin-san: Back in the day, including the ones you are talking about, politicians might disagree in public, but after work would meet over drinks, cigars, and a good meal. That is where things got worked out. Also on the golf course and race tracks around D.C., and the gym. President Eisenhower spent a lot of time at the golf course and the poker table(one of the best poker players in Washington, and great at bridge also) .
    Give me the smoke filled rooms again. It worked.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  11. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    Quite true. Tip O’Neil & Howard Baker knew how to sit down and take care of business. They look like giants compared to the people on the hill now, and I include Pelosi, Feinstein, etc. Of course the Democrats in Congress may be raging mediocracies, but they are not crazy like their GOP counterparts.

    If the GOP ran a man like Eisenhower, I would vote for him in a hot city minute.

    When small men cast large shadows, it’s a sure sign the sun is setting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  12. jomike says:

    @CSK:

    It’s interesting that Texas and the rest of the south, according to the graphic, have always been the least trusting parts of the country.

    Yes, which suggests that poverty, race, and class divisions (which have always been wider and more sharply drawn in the South) are bigger drivers of mistrust than TV, the Internet, and smart phones. To the contrary, if those last three factors were as influential as Morgan suggests, we’d expect to see a narrowing of the “trust gap” between the South and the North over the last twenty or thirty years. Cable TV and (especially) Internet and smart phone use are more prevalent in the North, so if these were the distrust-drivers Morgan suggests they are, Northerners’ levels of trust should have been negatively affected more than Southerners’. But with the exception of blips in 1998 and 2002 that’s not what we see. The “trust gap” between North and South appears fairly consistent, ranging from about 10% to 15%.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. Matt Bernius says:

    @michael reynolds & @Dave Schuler:
    Generally speak I think you are entirely correct. That said there are two aspects that are worth exploring.

    First is the effect of media on our sense of trust/distrust. Urban legends are an excellent example of this. To @Ron Beasley’s point, our tribal wiring makes us expect attacks from “outside” the group — even when everyone in inside the group (see “The Monsters on Mulberry Street”). And while mass delusion has always been with us it’s been accelerated in the age of mass-media.

    We know from studies that after media reports of a certain type of attack (see “shark attacks” or “the knock-out game”), people believe that they are more likely to be attacked. Hence all the parents who check their kid’s halloween candy for razors (despite the fact that most people only trick-or-treat within their neighborhood). Or people circulating emails about AIDs needles hidden in car’s gas openings, etc. The more that these circulate through official or word of mouth media channels, the more people believe them.

    So while we may implicitly trust, that’s always bounded by a sense of existential distrust. And existential distrust, I’d argue, is a communicable disease.

    Onto the second aspect working against trust, which Michael nails:

    Most people can be trusted. No, not people negotiating a Hollywood contract, but most people.

    Generally speaking, we implicitly trust in most situations where everyone’s goals are largely the same. Beyond me wanting to get somewhere slightly fast than you, we’re all driving for largely the same reason.

    But if there is anything that economics teaches us, its that in capitalistic systems (or perhaps any system) them moment we more towards asymmetrical gain (where there’s the real potential for a winner and a loser) then everything goes out the window. Hence the issue of the prisoner dilemma. Or the Hollywood contract. Or why it’s necessary for certain health or financial regulations — because given enough time and enough possibility of profit, someone will invariably stop seeking mutually beneficial situations in order to maximize profitability for their side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  14. superdestroyer says:

    Does anyone really believe that the trust issues with government will get better as the U.S. moves toward being a one party state and politics is reduced to a fight over entitlements? When every political fight will be a fight among special interest inside the Democratic Party, will anyone trust the goverment? When politics is controlled by fixers and clouts and is not affected by the outcomes of elections, anyone who trusts the government will have to be a fool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  15. An Interested Party says:

    And, yes, this is something that both sides do all to frequently.

    Except for the fact that a big part of the problem with all of this is how so many people mistrust the government…it’s not enough to say that government bureaucrats make mistakes or do foolish things…no, the message is that government is EVIL and OUT TO GET YOU…and the fault for that way of thinking is mostly because of one side, not both…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:

    So. . . keep out the brown folk, and keep the black folk down, so we can have trust.

    Right. We have to give in totally to our mistrust of The Other in order to have trust. More mistrust = more trust.

    Did you also know that war is peace and freedom is slavery?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Does anyone really believe that the trust issues with government will get better as the U.S. moves toward being a one party state and politics is reduced to a fight over entitlements?

    Oh get real…as if two party government doesn’t involve fights over entitlements? You are completely delusional if you think that only Democrats and liberals worry about entitlements…get a clue Mr. One Party State…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. Matt Bernius says:

    @jomike:

    Yes, which suggests that poverty, race, and class divisions (which have always been wider and more sharply drawn in the South) are bigger drivers of mistrust than TV, the Internet, and smart phones.

    Generally speaking, most social scientists would argue that stress around changes in pre-existing divisions are the underlying drivers or distrust. Communication technologies — broadly defined — act more as accelerators/amplifiers or decelerators/coolers.

    The nature of a present moment is that we are living through a period of upheavals on multiple levels at once. The net result is a (most likely) temporary amplification and acceleration of general distrust. The issue is how long it lasts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:

    If you actually knew anything about politics and history you’d understand that there is never a one party state. Thesis creates antithesis. Within a given party factions will form. Over time rifts develop and competing sides (parties) take shape.

    You are under the laughable delusion that race = party. Check how many parties there are in the Netherlands or any other monoculture.

    Then explain how having a single race necessarily makes for fewer parties, or more races necessarily mean more parties. Your core premise is wrong, nonsensical, ahistorical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  20. Tyrell says:

    @anjin-san: Lyndon Johnson: probably the most masterful politician in modern times. I can’t think of another senator or president who was as skilled in behind the scenes deal making and influencing. He was one of the few (I don’t know right off of anyone else) who was a US senator, representative, vice president, and president.
    Most people today think that he would have lost the 1968 election if he had ran. I really doubt that. I think it would have been close, but he would have bested Richard Nixon. I do think that he would not have lived through another term. Just my thoughts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    We buy food we don’t grow ourselves, buy things from stores whose shopkeepers we’ve never met before, and use products whose manufacturers don’t even know the points of origin of its ingredients.

    And 100 years ago, the result was that we ingested deadly poisons, got ripped off, and had no recourse.

    As usual, I am stunned (in a good way) at how our interfering, meddlesome, paternalistic government has protected us so well and so unobtrusively that people are no longer aware they are being protected. The contrast between the days of Upton Sinclair and today could not be more striking, but the main result of that seems to be a resurgence in Libertarianism.

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  22. DrDaveT says:

    @anjin-san:

    If the GOP ran a man like Eisenhower, I would vote for him in a hot city minute.

    Me too — unless the Dems ran a man like Stevenson. Funny how we seem to be fresh out of statesmen of all flavors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  23. Dave Schuler says:

    @DrDaveT:

    If you’re looking to me for a condemnation of government at all levels, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’ve made the argument you’re making myself from time to time: we know what practical anarcho-capitalism looks like because we lived it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  24. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I have an abundance of trust in my fellow Americans.

    I trust them to keep and bear arms as they wish, without killing or wounding me.

    I trust them to make their own decisions, and not have me make them for them.

    I trust them to not run me over when I cross the street.

    I trust them to not run me off the road when I drive.

    I trust them to not assault and rob me when I’m out and about.

    I’m occasionally disappointed, but far less in meatspace than in cyberspace.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  25. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: Stevenson: this man said one of the most famous one liners in US history when he replied to the USSR at the UN during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – probably the scariest week in world history. Stevenson’s finest moment.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSV9_J8Csts

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. An Interesed Party says:

    I have an abundance of trust in my fellow Americans.

    I trust them to keep and bear arms as they wish, without killing or wounding me.

    I trust them to make their own decisions, and not have me make them for them.

    I trust them to not run me over when I cross the street.

    I trust them to not run me off the road when I drive.

    I trust them to not assault and rob me when I’m out and about.

    Funny how you trust them for all of these things but don’t seem to trust them at all if they are part of the government, particularly the federal government…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @An Interesed Party: You seem like a semi-intelligent person, IP. Look up “the tragedy of the commons.”

    I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have more faith in individuals than groups. You seem to want to have more faith in groups than individuals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

  28. Related news story:

    Sense of Obligation Leads to Trusting Strangers, Study Says

    Trusting a stranger may have more to do with feeling morally obligated to show respect for someone else’s character than actually believing the person is trustworthy, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

    If the reality is that we only trusted people before because we had to, rather than because we actually trusted them, you would expect trust to decline as people became less dependent on their neighbords for support.

    In modern society this is the case due to both increasing affluence and the shift of the “safety net” from our social networks to the government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I have more faith in individuals than groups. You seem to want to have more faith in groups than individuals.

    How many intentional murders were committed in this country last year? 14,173. How many were committed by individuals? 14,173.

    See also: rape, assault, drunken driving, child abuse, etc….

    I know you want desperately to strut around parading your rugged individualism, but it works so much better if you spend 10 seconds thinking about the rather obvious counter-arguments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  30. stonetools says:

    For the last 35 years, the right wing has been blasting 24/7/365 that government is the problem. Since January 2009, they turned up the volume to 11.
    And people are wondering why we mistrust government?
    Someone needs to be hit with a clue stick….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  31. DrDaveT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    If you’re looking to me for a condemnation of government at all levels, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    My apologies; I didn’t mean to give that impression. Your words were simply a powerful reminder that those kinds of trusts are not natural, but are paid for in sweat and vigilance and tax dollars. I wasn’t trying to rebut anything you personally had said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. anjin-san says:

    Jenos trusts individuals.

    He trusts gays and lesbian with the same marriage rights as the rest of us do.

    But not until the conservatives that despise gays & lesbians them say they can have them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  33. anjin-san says:

    I have more faith in individuals than groups. You seem to want to have more faith in groups than individuals.

    So you don’t have any need of say, the fire department. If your house is on fire, you can handle it yourself. Or let your next door neighbor take care of it.

    Got a life threatening health problem? You don’t need a modern hospital and a multi-discplinarty care team. Just go see ol’ Doc Smith. A good country doctor can handle anything by himself.

    And you don’t need anything from the US Armed Forces or intelligence services. Got a national security threat? Hire a bodyguard.

    The amazing thing is that you trot out your moronic little homilies as if they were the wisdom of the ages.

    Sometimes rugged individualism is just great. Sometimes the strength and collective wisdom of the group is much better. This is called flexible thinking. Apparently, being able to engage in it disqualifies you from being a conservative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  34. jomike says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    you would expect trust to decline as people became less dependent on their neighbords for support.

    In modern society this is the case due to both increasing affluence and the shift of the “safety net” from our social networks to the government.

    Need some evidence to establish the causal link you assert. The oft-repeated notion that gov’t programs crowd out private charitable spending — that every dollar collected by the gov’t for safety net spending is a dollar that can’t be sent to private charities — is intuitively appealing, but it’s not true.

    Over the last century there hasn’t been so much a “shift of the “safety net” (away) from our social networks (and toward) the government” as there has been a gradual augmentation of the comparatively meager services offered by the private social network of old with the more robust and widespread services offered by modern gov’t. The Salvation Army, Catholic Church, and so on offered services back when, spotty and uneven though they were (people in small towns and rural areas mostly just went hungry, sick, and homeless, especially in the South). Many of those old charitable organizations continue to offer services today to greater or lesser extent, often in partnership with gov’t. The introduction and expansion of programs since the New Deal did not for the most part come at the expense of existing private charitable spending. They mostly just expanded service quality and geographical availability.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  35. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Look up “the tragedy of the commons.”

    I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have more faith in individuals than groups. You seem to want to have more faith in groups than individuals.

    You need to look up the tragedy of the commons, it is explicitly about the failure of individuals and the need for group action.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  36. dennis says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Does anyone really believe that the trust issues with government will get better as the U.S. moves toward being a one party state and politics is reduced to a fight over entitlements? When every political fight will be a fight among special interest inside the Democratic Party, will anyone trust the goverment? When politics is controlled by fixers and clouts and is not affected by the outcomes of elections, anyone who trusts the government will have to be a fool.

    Oh, FFS, sd. Can you not come up with something new, exciting, different and ORIGINAL???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  37. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    You seem like a semi-intelligent person, IP. Look up “the tragedy of the commons.”

    AHAHAHAHAHA! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

    *wipes away tears of laughter*

    This idiot, always good for a laugh…taunts someone for being “semi-intelligent” for not knowing the tragedy of the commons, and then gets the whole meaning of the tragedy of the commons wrong.

    Here’s a hint, genius: the tragedy of the commons is caused by unrestrained individual actions. It’s specifically about the harm caused when everyone looks out for their own individual self-interest instead of engaging in coordinated group action for the common good.

    I love this guy. The smarter he tries to sound, the dumber he gets. He just desperately wants to be taken seriously, doesn’t he?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  38. Scott O says:

    @dennis: The answer to your question is no.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: And a few years ago, 19 people killed over 3,000 in a couple of hours.

    “The tragedy of the commons” says that when “everybody” owns something, “no one” has to take care of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  40. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    That is not what the tragedy of the commons says, it says that when a commons is not managed then everyone (or near enough to everyone) acts for their short term interest rather than everyone’s long term interest. You once again have it wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  41. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @michael reynolds: The irony is that we take our lives in our hands every time we go anywhere beyond walking distance, yet we have no faith in the ability of intelligent people to sit down and reason about anything of significance. The late quality guru J.M. Juran referred to our trust in technology as “living behind the quality dikes.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  42. dennis says:

    @Grewgills:

    I knew it. When I read Jenos’ challenge to read ToC, I knew — KNEW — he had no clue what its message is. I was going to bet him $50 that his understanding of ToC was all askew, as usual; but I left it alone. I knew I should have made that bet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  43. grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: Because the average American doesn’t realize the cocoon of safety that has been created for him. He thinks it’s “normal”. And then he runs up against one of the regulations, gets slightly disadvantaged, and suddenly is on the rampage about “those horrible rules!” and votes Libertarian at the next election.

    The fact that he can drink water from the tap without having to worry about typhoid he simply takes for granted…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  44. stonetools says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Jenos’ misstatement here is so epic it needs its own dictionary definition and Wikipedia entry, maybe entitled : Someone who misunderstands what he is arguing so much that he argues for what he intends to oppose.Jenos, here Is the Wikipedia entry on the ToC: read and learn.
    What’s interesting is that conservatives are usually the ones who oppose even the very idea of the “tragedy of commons”, since it contradicts one of the central tenets of conservatism: that free markets always work out for the best interests of the public. Circling back to the original post, it is precisely because the exploiter of the commons doesn’t trust the other exploiters to act in the long term interests of all that drives exploiters to maximize their short term interest by plundering the commons. That’s why government is needed to come in the manage the commons for the benefit of all. Examples of a “tragedy of the commons” : the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Once the most abundant bird in North America, it was relentlessly slaughtered in the 19th century by commercial hunters. Conservancy minded individuals sounded the alarm in the 1850s, but to no avail.

    In 1857, a bill was brought forth to the Ohio State Legislature seeking protection for the Passenger Pigeon. A Select Committee of the Senate filed a report stating, “The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”[63][80]

    Conservationists were ineffective in stopping the slaughter. A bill was passed in the Michigan legislature making it illegal to net pigeons within two miles (3 km) of a nesting area, but the law was weakly enforced. By the mid-1890s, the Passenger Pigeon almost completely disappeared. In 1897, a bill was introduced in the Michigan legislature asking for a 10-year closed season on Passenger Pigeons. This was a futile gesture. Similar legal measures were passed and disregarded in Pennsylvania

    Modern day examples of the ToC are overfishing of the oceans and climate change. One hopes we have learned our lesson from the death of the passenger pigeon, but we are still sending descendants of that abovementioned Select Committee to Congress, so I am skeptical.

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  45. Ken says:

    @superdestroyer: Does anyone really believe that the trust issues with government will get better as the U.S. moves toward being a one party state and

    One party state? What a new and interesting idea! Could you expound on it a bit – I don;t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned here on this site

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  46. jomike says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    tragedy of the commons says, it says that when a commons is not managed then everyone (or near enough to everyone) acts for their short term interest rather than everyone’s long term interest.

    With respect, Michael Reynolds and Rafer Janders are correct:

    The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.

    Bold added. The tragedy occurs precisely because they do not work together to coordinate their activities (i.e., act as a group). As Grewgills put it:

    it is explicitly about the failure of individuals and the need for group action.

    It isn’t that individuals are necessarily selfish, unintelligent, or otherwise lacking; the tragedy occurs because (and only because) they act rationally (i.e., intelligently) in pursuing their own interests. It’s not so much about individuals vs. groups as about coordinated vs. uncoordinated activities.

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  47. An Interested Party says:

    You seem like a semi-intelligent person, IP. Look up “the tragedy of the commons.”

    You showcase your own lack of even semi-intelligence by tossing out something that you don’t even understand…perhaps you should consult your betters so you can get a clue…

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  48. Matt Bernius says:

    @jomike:

    It isn’t that individuals are necessarily selfish, unintelligent, or otherwise lacking; the tragedy occurs because (and only because) they act rationally (i.e., intelligently) in pursuing their own interests. It’s not so much about individuals vs. groups as about coordinated vs. uncoordinated activities.

    Correct. And it’s important to be understood in the context of The Prisoner Dilemma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma) to appreciate how, among other things, the possibility of a loss/win scenario helps create the “tragedy of the commons.”

    This gets to the bigger problem that rational action radically shifts as one changes scale (whether we are discussion time-scale or group-size-scale). The net result is that a *rational* choice for a specific individual can ultimately produce an irrational outcome for the group as a whole.

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  49. Matt Bernius says:

    @stonetools:

    it contradicts one of the central tenets of [modern] conservatism: that free markets always work out for the best interests of the public.

    Fixed that for you.

    Radical (neoliberal) free markets are a modern conception (that you Milton Freeman). Classical Conservatives did not believe that the market led to unfettered public good. Again, if one actually goes back to The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith explicitly writes that markets needed to be regulated because individual actors could not be trusted to act in the public good.

    Marx later builds off of Smith’s point, writing that by its very inventive nature, capitalism will always finds a way around any regulations. Hence (though Marx did not go directly in this direction), actions must always be taken to improve regulations otherwise bad things happen (see the rise and spectacular crash of the mortgage backed security “products” market).

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  50. Rafer Janders says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Because the average American doesn’t realize the cocoon of safety that has been created for him. He thinks it’s “normal”.

    Like that idiot above who writes that: “I trust them to not run me over when I cross the street. I trust them to not run me off the road when I drive” and claims this as a sign that individuals are more trustworthy than the government, without realizing that the whole reason he has that trust is that we have a government that fairly and effectively legislates and enforces a whole host of traffic laws and driver and car safety regulations.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in the Third World, and in many places like India, Nigeria, Kenya, Venezuela, Thailand etc. you can’t in fact trust others not to run you over in the street or run you off the road. The only difference between here and there causing that is a capable government willing to take measures to protect its citizens. Turns out, when you leave it up to the individual, that individual will as often as not run you down if it means he can shave a few seconds off his commute.

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  51. jomike says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    understood in the context of The Prisoner Dilemma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma)

    Good one, I hadn’t thought of that in a while. Thanks.

    IMO the “individual vs. group” framing muddies (and often derails) the discussion because it induces people to frame the issue in terms of political ideology, where coordinated group action means “left” and individual activity means “right” (or libertarian). The “coordinated vs. uncoordinated” framing depoliticizes the issue (well, at least somewhat) and allows people to more clearly consider the matter without getting off into the right/left, conservative/liberal weeds.

    The tragedy of the commons and the Prisoner’s Dilemma apply to nations as well as to individuals — e.g., fisheries, CO2 emissions, even warfare. If each Western country had acted in its rational self-interest in the 1940s there would have been no coordinated Allied response. (That’s not to imply the Allies wouldn’t each have responded individually; surely they would have. But their responses wouldn’t have been coordinated, and the consequences of that lack of coordination might have proven fatal.) Neither liberals nor conservatives have any problem with coordinated military action (though doctrinaire libertarians might), yet when the “commons” happens to involve domestic policy we suddenly split along ideological lines.

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  52. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Another alternative than CONTROL!!!! is to turn the commons over to private ownership.

    The early colonials tried the whole collective thing, and they nearly died. It wasn’t until they instituted such ideas as private property and “he who will not work, will not eat” that they actually survived and prospered.

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  53. jomike says:

    The early colonials tried the whole collective thing, and they nearly died.

    And modern kibbutzim tried it, and flourished. So what?

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  54. Matt Bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    The early colonials tried the whole collective thing, and they nearly died.

    Ironically, Native Americans and First Nations people practiced it for centuries and flourished… until the Colonists, with their completely foreign understandings of extended private property, arrived and systematically began to “buy”/steal land from the Natives.

    It wasn’t until they instituted such ideas as private property and “he who will not work, will not eat” that they actually survived and prospered.

    BTW, this is absolute historical bullshit. I see your grasp of Colonial History was as good as your understanding of Philosophy and the science underlying Climate Change. None of the American Colonies were ever founded without a notion of private property (the Puritans agree before settlement to group resource pooling *until the colony was viable*) or “you didn’t have to work to eat.”

    Any close examination of the historical texts demonstrates how modern conservatives have reinterpreted history to meet their own predetermined outcomes. Here are *actual* historians take on this particular topic:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/weekinreview/21zernike.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    As usual, your so-called beliefs have no actual grounding in fact.

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  55. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I appreciate the way you can get everyone laughing. At you. Not many people are willing to sacrifice themselves that way for the common good. It borders on altruism.

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  56. Rafer Janders says:

    @jomike:

    And modern kibbutzim tried it, and flourished. So what?

    Why does Jenos hate Israel?

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  57. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Sigh…
    If this guy would actually read a history or economics book, instead of just regurgitate the outflow of the Right Wing BS Machine, we could possibly have an intelligent discussion…

    But I guess unintentional humor it is.
    At least, he now realizes that the tragedy of the commons doesn’t mean what he thought it did, and maybe the lurkers learned something.

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  58. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Aside from what has already been pointed out, how do you propose we divvy up the oceans into strips of private property and how do we then divvy up private ownership of all of the animals that roam from one parcel to the other? The libertarian answer to the commons is, as even a cursory look at a commons like the oceans shows, pure idiocy.

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  59. Grewgills says:

    @jomike:

    It’s not so much about individuals vs. groups as about coordinated vs. uncoordinated activities.

    Uncoordinated activities are individuals making independent choices with little or no constraints and coordinated activities are individuals coming together as groups to set rules of use, so I have to disagree, it is about individuals vs groups. I understand from your later comment why you are loathe to use those terms, but they are accurate.

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  60. jomike says:

    Uncoordinated activities are individuals making independent choices with little or no constraints and coordinated activities are individuals coming together as groups to set rules of use

    Yes, but the entities making “independent choices with little or no constraints” aren’t always individuals. They can be (and often are) groups themselves, cf. fisheries and climate change as mentioned upthread. I agree that in the real world the problem usually manifests itself in individual vs. group scenarios, but that’s not always the case; the ToC can just as easily occur in a group vs. group setting. That’s why the signal characteristic is uncoordinated activites vs. coordinated activities. The former, whether committed by individuals or by groups, can result in a ToC. The latter do not (assuming they are done intelligently, of course).

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  61. jomike says:

    if one actually goes back to The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith explicitly writes that markets needed to be regulated because individual actors could not be trusted to act in the public good.

    Yes. Edmund Burke took a similarly pragmatic & realistic view. As you noted, the economic neoliberalism now taken as holy writ by the modern Right is a recent invention. It certainly would have gotten the side-eye from old-school pragmatists like Smith, Burke, Hamilton, Adams, etc.

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  62. Matt Bernius says:

    @jomike:

    As you noted, the economic neoliberalism now taken as holy writ by the modern Right is a recent invention.

    To be fair, a *lot* of the American Left also buy into a LOT neoliberal theory as well.

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  63. jomike says:

    @Matt Bernius: True, dat. What’s called liberalism these days would’ve been considered center or center-right from Burke’s day up until forty or fifty years ago.

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  64. Rafer Janders says:

    @Grewgills:

    Aside from what has already been pointed out, how do you propose we divvy up the oceans into strips of private property and how do we then divvy up private ownership of all of the animals that roam from one parcel to the other?

    Or the air. How exactly are we going to divvy up the air so that you can pollute your private strip of air without it blowing over into my private strip?

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  65. jomike says:

    @Rafer Janders: The force field that makes the gulch invisible also keeps the pollution out. Easy peasy!

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