- Inequality and fake news are undermining trust worldwide. Notably, however, Chinese trust Beijing more than Americans trust Washington
- Out of the coronavirus crisis will come the winners – the institutions able to inspire trust
With the coronavirus outbreak now spreading faster outside China than in it, there is a sense around the world that things are seriously not OK. As the world moves from a unipolar order to a multipolar order, it is hitting a difficult patch. When everyone is being bombarded every day with unpredictable man-made and natural disasters, or fake news, small wonder that there is a serious trust deficit worldwide.
The nation-state was created when people came together to form a collective bulwark against common and unpredictable threats. Generally, individuals put their trust in others on the assumption that someone will take care of the known and unknown risks they face.
Trust takes the form of private or social contracts. When the state loses public trust, the consequences can range from social protests to civil war to a wider conflict involving other states " as amply demonstrated in Syria.
Elsewhere, whenever social capital fragments, trust breaks: people are reduced to either trusting no one, or trusting only groups they have family, ethnic or religious ties with. Some individuals protest, others vote for change, while many more vote with their feet, migrating or simply running away.
The US communications company Edelman, which has measured trust in core institutions in various markets for 20 years, reports the world's changing sentiment. Economic growth engendered trust in the past, but now growing inequality is undermining trust.
According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, 83 per cent of respondents surveyed around the world are worried about job loss, 76 per cent worry about fake news, and 56 per cent believe that capitalism in its current form is doing more harm than good.
There also seems to be a trust divide around the world. In the United States, Pew Research Centre reports: "Only 17 per cent of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right 'just about always' (3 per cent) or 'most of the time' (14 per cent)." This contrasts with the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, when more than 70 per cent trusted Washington always or most of the time.
The upcoming presidential election will determine whether Americans can trust the next government: will it be a president-led government, or will constitutional checks and balances hold up and ensure accountability?
In China, the government has taken unprecedented action to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease Covid-19, locking down cities and confining people in their homes. That this could happen without panic or protest " that those at home could depend on continued supplies of electricity and water, and uninterrupted telecommunications services " speaks volumes about public trust in China.
China is at the top of Edelman's Trust Index, with 82 per cent of the general population having faith in the government and other institutions. This compares with 47 per cent in the US, and 30 per cent in Russia. In Hong Kong, the figure is 50 per cent, down from 55 per cent last year.
In Malaysia, a week of dizzying political shifts resulted in the resignation of prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his appointment as interim premier. However, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in Malaysian institutions has risen from 48 per cent in 2017 (before Mahathir was returned to power in elections in 2018) to 60 per cent this year. While there has been political squabbling over the pace of succession and whether Malaysia is moving towards a race- and religion-based political structure, rather than a multiracial "Malaysian Malaysia", perhaps Malaysians will be able to figure things out through the next elections.
However, as Edelman CEO Richard Edelman correctly points out: "Trust today is granted on two distinct attributes: competence, delivering on promises, and ethical behaviour, doing the right thing and working to improve society. It is no longer only a matter of what you do " it's also how you do it."
Electoral democracy promises a lot, but it does not always deliver in a world that is becoming much more complex.
Don't be so quick to mock Hong Kong's misfortunes, Singapore
This is how policies like "America First" have changed the game. The old unipolar order has been buttressed by a set of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which provide global public goods to help safeguard global security and global health. But as rich countries got hurt in the global financial crisis and their debt ballooned, there has been less and less generosity in contributing to global public goods.
Thus, excessive consumption around the world is resulting in increased carbon emissions and therefore global warming, and the world is being hit by natural disasters that have been compounded by man-made factors such as corruption and incompetence.
Businesses used to be all about management by objectives. Today's global governance seems to be all about "management by accidents": each event is dealt with too little, too late. Problems like growing social inequality " a large proportion of the population living precariously on the edge of poverty " could and should be prevented in an age of plenty.
One thing is clear. Business as usual no longer works. Governance in unusual times requires better listening " for example, getting feedback on what is happening on the ground during the Covid-19 epidemic. No manual can prepare any country or government for disease transmission on such a large scale.
On a somewhat positive note, out of all this turmoil should come big losers and big winners. Those who are able to inspire trust " whether they are individuals, corporations or states " will be the big winners when the dust settles. The world has too many leaders and not enough statesmen. In this age of confusion, those who can rise above individual or factional interests will be the real winners.
Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective. The views expressed are entirely his own
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.查看原始文章