Restoring Trust: In Markets and Politics

It’s common knowledge that human societies work most effectively and harmoniously where there are high levels of trust – in each other and our institutions.  Markets cannot operate without trust.  Wall Street is learning this as I discussed in Electronic Bulls, Bears & Pigs.  Confidence among retail investors has dropped since the 2010 Flash Crash and 16% of small investors have fled.  Hearings in the US Senate June 17, on investor loss of confidence, conflicts of interest, high-frequency trading and maker-taker models saw even insiders calling for reforms.

Today, trust is breaking down in many societies around the world.  Populist distrust of governments, elites, corporations, media, finance, academia, science, churches, is evident in protest groups, movements, whistle blowers and public demonstrations.  New questions arise in the age-old human conflict between individual rights and those of communities and the public interest.  Our fearful quest for certainty leads to dogmas and ideological conflict.  In all human history, life has always been dangerous and precarious; our “fight or flight” responses predominated.  Yet, humans have always bonded in social groups for survival.  Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was wrong when she claimed there was no such thing as society – only individuals.

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