A Critique of Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity

Essay by hablaF, May 2005

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A Critique of Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity

Why are some countries richer and more prosperous than others are? Francis Fukuyama argues, in his book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, that some societies are able to develop cultural norms, such as hard work and mutual trust, more than others. Fukuyama maintains that economic activity represents a crucial part of social life and is knit together by a wide variety of norms, rules, moral obligations and other habits that together shape the society. His notion is that a nation's well being, as well as its ability to compete, is conditioned by a single, pervasive cultural characteristic: the level of trust inherent in society. Fukuyama's claim that trust is the major determinant of economic performance is displayed through his masterful analysis and detailed examinations of specific societies. After finishing this book, I can not help but agree with Fukuyama that trust is the major factor determining prosperity.

When people trust one another, they obviously will work more easily and efficiently with more people. This ease of cooperation will, without a doubt, lead to comparative success. Fukuyama makes his argument through numerous elaborate examples, and though I can not say that I completely agree with every analysis, I support and agree with Fukuyama's central theme.

Fukuyama begins with a general argument about the importance of cultural factors in economic growth, namely trust. He defines trust as "the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community"(1). Trust, he teaches us, qualifies as a social virtue because trust allows people to spontaneously organize themselves into innovative institutions. Fukuyama defines this social virtue as social capital, which is the ability...



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