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Trust and Self-Interest

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Whom Can We Trust?

Trust is all over the news these days. Do we trust our political parties and media? What about our financial institutions and insurance companies? Higher up: Can we trust our government? Can countries trust each other? Will the United States remain a trusted superpower? And finally – the holy economic grail itself: Can we trust our economic system: Capitalism?

With all the financial abuse of the last decade – obscene bonuses, fraud at the highest levels of business leadership, corporate benefits delivered by lawmakers who received financial contributions from these very corporations – trust has been eroded on every rung of our economic structure.

The fact is: money corrupts. Money is the epitome of self-interest. Self-interest – something no one is immune to – causes bias. And bias “blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the tongue of the righteous.” It is now very apparent that the economic meltdown was caused by greed, which led to bad lending practices, easy credit and quick money. For every mistake we are aware of, how many are we not aware of? What new revelations will the future bring?

If you think about it, financial meltdowns are inevitable. If personal gain and self-interest are the driving forces of capitalism, how much does it take to shift from personal gain to greed and to cutting corners for profit? And how far away is that from outright fraud and theft to enrich oneself at the expense of others? And once the greed and fraud reach a critical mass, what power can contain the rippling damage?

The conventional answer, of course, is that laws and regulation keep us honest. But what happens when the regulators fail, as they have so blatantly in the last few years? And what about lawmakers being handsomely rewarded by corporations who stand to gain from the way the laws are written? And who regulates the regulators?

Some say that we must demand total disclosure. But then, how do you prevent abuse of our cherished privacy? And can you really trust those that are enforcing transparency? How many elected officials are themselves corrupt, or become so once they have gained power, influence and money dangling before their eyes?

You get the idea. The fact remains that man-made systems will always be flawed. Let’s be honest: Despite all our checks and balances, given the right circumstances, self-interest can bring the house down. We may not like to entertain the thought, but once trust has been breached, promises broken and security betrayed, how much does it take to destroy the fragile structures that keep things together, tenuous as they are in the first place?

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