Thursday, August 22, 2013

Trust and the Civil Society

I thought this post on trust, and how it relates to law and civil society, was among the best I've read in a very long time.  A teaser:
Trust is far more important than law.

Think of it: how many times have you sued somebody, or been sued? Have you ever been arrested? Each of us interacts with many others in numerous ways every day, and recourse to the law is exceptionally rare. Our actions may be constrained by certain laws; but usually they are far more limited by the expectations of those with whom we are dealing.

If you were unwilling to trust others, it would be next to impossible to accomplish anything. Once, when I was a young banker, I was asked to hand deliver a package containing $10 million in fully negotiable securities to a major corporate customer. Had I been of a mind to do so, I could have fled to some country that didn’t have an extradition treaty with the US, cashed in the securities and been quite wealthy. There were no safeguards, save my local ties and sense of honor.
Our society is remarkably law-abiding.

This generally law-abiding, or at least respectful-of-persons-and-property behavior, is not something to be taken for granted. We do not live in a police state, and the reality is that if those who are less well off routinely took advantage of their numbers to simply take what they don’t have, our lives would be very different. Under those circumstances we would certainly live in a police state, and we would all be much the poorer – both personally and financially – for the ways in which we would have to deal with each other...

Voluntary law-abiding behavior is, in a sense, the ultimate expression of the consent of the governed. Historically, the American view has been that We the People are sovereign, and the government works for us, so why wouldn’t we comply with the laws that we ourselves had made? My fear is that as the web of our laws and regulations becomes ever-more complex and overbearing – to the point where anybody could be convicted of crimes, and nobody can be sure where he or she stands, respect for and an instinctive obedience to the law is fading from our culture.
Go read the whole thing.  If you disagree with something in that article, please mention the disagreement in the comments. 

1 comment:

mjohnston said...

Thank you for the compliment.

When you have the time, I hope you'll check out some of the other posts on Trust was only one of the 65 I've written; most of the others are, similarly, meditations on issues I see as fundamental to how society works.