Chapter 1: Social trust and its origin

"Trust is one of the most important synthetic forces within society."1

There is a general consensus among contemporary social scientists that social trust is important, for both social and political reasons. Unusually in the increasingly fragmented and specialised academic world, the interest in trust extends across many different disciplines, including sociology, political science, economics, psychology, history, political theory and philosophy, management and organisation studies, and anthropology. Social trust between citizens, it is said, contributes to a very wide range of phenomena, including economic growth and efficiency in market economics, stable and efficient democratic government, the equitable provision of public goods, social integration, co-operation and harmony. Trust is also said to be at the centre of a cluster of other concepts that are as important in social science theory as in practical daily life, including life satisfaction and happiness, optimism, well-being, health, economic prosperity, educational attainment, welfare, participation, community, civil society, and democracy. For example, there is evidence that trusting people are healthier and happier and live longer than distrusting people do. And, of course, social trust is a core component of social capital, and is normally used as a key indicator of it, sometimes as the best or only single indicator. If trust is indeed as important as this, then it should be extremely interesting to know more about the origins of social trust.

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