Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Americans (Including Some Who Might Surprise You) Are Losing Faith in All Major Institutions

At first blush, this seems like one of those opinion polls quantifying the obvious, but it's actually more interesting than getting confirmation of what we already knew.
Americans have grown less trusting of business in the past year, bucking a global trend of rising confidence in companies, governments and other institutions, according to data to be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Just 46 per cent of Americans last year said they trusted business, down eight points from 2009, according to research by Edelman, a communications consultancy, which will be presented on Wednesday. Global trust in business was up two points to 56 per cent, by contrast...
This left the US public more sceptical about business than people in Germany or France, both of which saw big rebounds in trust in the corporate sector.
The US also showed increasing mistrust of government, non-governmental organisations and the media, leaving it as the only country polled to see an across-the-board fall in trust.
Again, there's nothing surprising about these findings. An inherent distrust of government is part of the American creed, we lionize business in a way that the citizens of other advanced countries do not, and especially since the 1980s, the corporate right has relentlessly emphasized that "free enterprise" is good and government is the problem.
That's led to our having one of the least regulated economies. Business being what it is, that in turn means our companies are freer to create negative externalities, and they do -- just look at the mortgage mess.
And because our public sector doesn't provide an effective check on private enterprise, people tend to blame all of the institutions that shape our society, and with good reason.
So what's so surprising about these results? The sample. This was a poll that posed these questions to "5,000 educated, wealthy and “well-informed” individuals in 23 countries." In other words, the American elite jas also lost faith in our major institutions. And as Yves Smith (who caught this item) put it over at Naked Capital, "If the people who are likely to be beneficiaries of the status quo aren’t too happy with it, imagine what the average Joe thinks."

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