In the mid-90s in the wake of The End of History and the Last Man Francis Fukuyama wrote Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity. Trust to some extent has a chicken & egg problem. High trust societies can overcome coordination problems which block social and economic development. A high level of social trust often results in positive spillover effects, which generate economic growth and broad based prosperity, which then boosts the levels of trust even further. In 2008-2009 I suggested that the biggest long term impact of the late great “financial crisis” is that many Americans no longer believe that doing well is an outcome of doing good. More accurately perhaps in many corrupt societies the presumption is that the path to wealth is itself a venal journey where all moral principles must be devoured by the will to power.
As a practical matter I understand and accepted the need to dampen the shocks of the impending financial doom in the wake of the 2008 crisis. But my attitude toward American capital has changed irrevocably. I know others who have experienced the same emotional flip. But it isn’t just a specific lack of trust. I feel personally much more open to conspiracy theories and have a general skepticism of all institutions and authorities. My model of how the world works is that we live by Hobbes in practice and give a nod to Locke on paper. There are no rights, no justice, only “you eat what you kill.” What is best in life? Never be prey, always be the predator! No one is watching.
All this went through my mind as I read this account of the marginality of the Irish working class, After Bust in Ireland, Ordinary People Make Do With Less:
Carless, Mr. Condra spends an hour on the bus each way to and from his job in Dublin; when he sees a politician in a shiny black sedan through the window, he fights back his gall. He has not bought a pair of jeans in a year, and Mrs. Condra has taken the pragmatic step of wearing her flat wedding shoes around the house.
Nearly everyone they know is underwater on their mortgage; one neighbor expects to be foreclosed on in two weeks. And last month, eight homes in their otherwise quiet working-class neighborhood were burgled.
Mrs. Condra agrees that Ireland has to make good on its debts. “But they’re debts from the banks that we didn’t even know we had,” she said. “And the people least able to afford it are paying for everything.”
The prey are for the compost heap. The predators live to hunt another day. I hope one day to be amused by my morbid pessimism!
Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson