Sunni's picture

It was Billy Joel who wrote a song some time ago about love relationships ultimately being “a matter of trust”. While that’s true, the larger point—and the reason the song has been repeating in my mind for a few hours now—is that all relationships are built upon trust. Every contract, formal or informal, every market transaction, happens because there is some degree of trust between the participants. It appears to me that trust is such a deep, implicit part of that most of us probably don’t recognize its role, unless something happens to disturb it and therefore bring it to our attention.

The current financial crises come down to a lack of trust. When trust is present, banks make trades amongst themselves, and extend credit to businesses and individuals. When trust is absent, banks hoard their reserves; and that is the root of the current “credit crisis”. Banks have already received billions of dollars of capital injections from the Fed, in an attempt to get things flowing; they didn’t work, and they won’t work until bankers begin to trust each other again.

The banking bailout nationalization bill was a massive betrayal of trust. Rather than letting bad investment paper be labeled as such, and “marked to market”—which means that it is priced at whatever level a buyer will pay for it—so that the rot can be cleared out of the market and trust can start to be restored, the fantasy of claiming trash is worth billions continues. And therefore, the freeze will also continue.

Worse, the bill is a betrayal of individuals’ trust in the political system on an enormous scale. It is blatantly unconstitutional; it socializes an entire sector of the USSA economy to an unprecedented degree; it places a tremendous amount of political and economic power in the hands of a political appointee—at present, one who came from the very sector that created much of the mess in the first place; and it sidestepped any oversight that should exist under the constitution’s sytem of checks and balances.

Those of you who have faith in electoral politics: the politicians who voted for the bill betrayed the people they ostensibly represent—even though many of those voters called, faxed, and emailed their opposition to the “bailout” in unequivocal terms. Search for campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs and other banks to Obama, McCain, Pelosi, et al.—do you think those figures might explain anything? Do you think they might mean something?

Do those politicians deserve any trust?

Now, browse that site for other lobbyists. How much do they give, and to whom?

Has your trust in this form of government been well-placed?

While the grand march to fascism and economic ruin stepped up yesterday, the FDA was busy officially allowing melamine to be present in some foods. A revealing set of comments came from one of its healthocrats, emphasis mine:

"There are no approved uses for melamine to be added to food in the United States or anywhere else that I am aware of," [FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director] Sundlof said. "The fact that it was an intentionally added makes it even worse."

All of the information from China indicates that the chemical was intentionally added to milk and milk powder, Sundlof said. "It's a way of committing economic fraud. It is a way of taking milk and watering it down, then adding melamine to make it appear that it is milk," he said.

And he and the FDA have tacitly said that it’s okay for companies to commit this economic fraud, as long as they do it on a very small scale, and as long as it’s not done in infants’ foods.

A trustworthy action?

Maybe you think that’s an extreme example. Here’s another one, much closer to home. One of the things I am very strict about in making all the food I do, but especially in the candies I sell, is minimizing the amount of unneeded additives. I buy a lot of whipping cream; it’s a key ingredient in my caramels and truffles. I used to be able to easily buy plain old cream that was just pasteurized, as opposed to “ultra-pasteurized”. Now I can’t find non-ultra-pasteurized cream in the regular grocery stores here. In trying to decide whether ultra-pasteurization was worth avoiding, I picked up a carton of whipping cream and read the ingredients. Then I looked at another. Every brand I found that was not labeled “organic” had at least one of these additives in the cream: carrageenan; dextrose; mono- and diglycerides; polysorbate 80.

Adding insult to injury, each of these cartons carries that “real seal” logo, meaning it’s a real dairy product.

At a local farm that sells raw milk, I got a chance to speak with one of the owners; I asked her about their cream. She cautioned me that if I wanted to separate it so that I could make whipped cream, it would taste fine but might not whip to the same volume or stiffness as processed cream. (Gee, I wonder why not?) We can see the cows as we drive up the lane to the store, and most of their buildings have large windows or doors that are almost always open, so that we can see how the animals are treated and how the milk is handled as it’s bottled. Their bottles, however, do not have that Real seal.

Which source do you think I should trust?

Whether by genetics or early life experiences—or both—some of us are naturally more skeptical overall. Others are more trusting. But as the state and its bureaucracies and corporate interests increasingly meld, each of us would benefit tremendously from consciously examining where we place our trust, and why. Is that trust justified? Or has it become a habit? If you have a problem with a product or service, how is that handled? Does it enhance your trust, or diminish it?

I don’t currently see a way to completely opt out of the institutionalized, corporatized marketplace entirely. Becoming more agrarian and self-sufficient would require an enormous upheaval in my current way of living. I’m trying to evaluate the pros and cons of the two paths, before attempting to tweak my current balance. And I operate under no illusion that the local farmer’s market is automagically more trustworthy somehow than WalMart or Safeway. But, for good or for ill, I have always leaned toward trusting individuals and “the little guy” over the big guy.

All that said, I need to re-evaluate where my trust has been placed. Even so, I’m thankful that I had no trust in electoral politics and coercive government to be shattered by recent events.


Interesting subject. I just this morning listened to a podcast which sorta relates to this, but from a different angle. But I think it is worth the listen as different perspectives always add to the material. I'm not sure I know how to imbed the link, so I'll just lay it out and you can cut and paste: Relationships.

It's from The Conversations Network which is a wonderful repository of all kinds of cool cutting edge talks, seminars, interviews and such, mostly in the I.T. world, but not all. This is an interview with Bob Blakley: "He covers identity, privacy, security, authentication, and risk management."

This is a discussion from a techie security guy's point of view of the interelatedness of identities and relationships. He posits that you can't have (be a repository for) identity information without having a relationship with that someone. In fact, many people have found that they had a relationship with others only after having lost or revealed that person's identity information, then having to attempt to make that person whole again. And likewise, you can't have a relationship without identity information. This really does tie together for me with the whole banking thing. The financial wizards seemed to think they could separate the money and the income from the relationship with the borrowers. And now they are finding out the truth of the situation (as you pointed out.)

- NonE

[Edited by Sunni to make link clickable.]

I like that.

Thanks, NonE. For future reference, tags are in html format; look below the comment box to see what tags can be used here.

I’ve downloaded the podcast and will try to listen to it today, although I am way behind on other tasks (as you know!) and am also extremely short on sleep. Your trust as dance metaphor resonates with me, probably because I used a much more specific version once.

As an aside to your observation regarding the banks and trust, I read somewhere recently that some of the popular social networking sites—LiveJournal or Facebook or somesuch—have started asking individuals with unusual names for proof that it’s a genuine legal name. No gov-granted slip with the name on it, no account under that name. That alone makes the cost of keeping this site independent worth it, in my opinion.


There's something afoot called Open I.D. which is supposed to make life simple and such by giving us one place to make an I.D. which then can be used all over the web instead of having different I.D.s at different sites. This idea scares the hell out of me, just as "Real I.D." does. All of the techies I've heard talk about it seem to think it is a great idea, and from their perspectives I think it is, it's just that it appears they haven't thought of the downsides.

- NonE


OpenID is not government-imposed Real ID. Instead, it's a bottom-up technology that saves you from having to create a separate username and password at each website you visit. Although such a technology is usually called "single sign-on" or SSO, it's not truly "single" because you can have multiple OpenIDs if you please. And the whole technology is voluntary in the first place (you don't have to use OpenID if you don't want to, just keep on creating usernames and passwords at every site you visit). About the only thing OpenID and Real ID have in common is the last two letters of the name. Visit for more information.

No Place to Hide

Yes, Saint, I do recognize what you say, and what you say is true. But then, so often what is voluntary and private is co-opted by the government and used for control. The book "No Place to Hide" gives a very good description of how all of the private business databases (okay, maybe not ALL, but many) have been assembled by a few huge data mining companies and after 9/11 these companies "patriotically" opened all of their data to the government even going so far as to build special facilities at private expense so that government agents could have privacy and total access to all of the data these companies have acquired. Scary stuff.

I do appreciate the idea that one may have more than one "Open I.D." and that is a good idea to keep in mind.

- NonE

The music of trust

One more thought, perhaps more pertinent to the specifics of your quandary... I think that life is a dance and that there is nothing which is constant except the attempt to be inspired by the music and to inspire and simultaneously respond to your partner, who hears the music differently than you do and who has different referents and dreams. Trust, like all other things, is relative and is fluid.

We are about to go through a severe upheaval of all we've inagined to be solid in our silly little minds. I think that keeping an open mind and being fastidiously honest will probably be helpful tools. (But then, I'm often wrong which is why it's helpful to be open minded and honest.)

- NonE

Cream and other things

I have been using Organic Valley cream for a long time. I like it. However, your local dairy with raw milk probably rates as even better.

The "little guy" seldom has armed squads of thugs to enforce regulations which favor him. Corpocrats almost always do these days. Their thugs usually have flags, uniforms and/or badges; and get paid with tax money.

That’s the one.

Or at least I’m pretty sure that’s the same brand I’ve been buying.

The raw milk dairy was really good; unfortunately, they recently stopped producing and selling raw milk. Other options for it are still around, just not as close and not as cheap (if one considers $7/gal milk cheap).

The little guy

I operate under no illusion that the local farmer’s market is automagically more trustworthy somehow than WalMart or Safeway.

This is correct. The little guy is not more trustworthy than the people in a large institution. BUT, and this is the key, it is much easier to check out the little guy.

Several years ago I bought some cheese at a big (by CR standards) supermarket. The cheese was bad so I returned it. They gave me a credit and someone walked off with the bad cheese. The next day I was there again and I saw the exact same package back in the cheese section. This was a coincidence, under normal circumstances I would not have caught that. Under normal circumstance I would simply have to assume that the company’s internal procedures were good and that the people who worked there actually followed them.

OTOH, also a while ago, some of the milk I bought from the local farmer was a bit off. I took it back, the woman smelled it and poured it down the drain.

Does this mean the farmer will never rip off a customer? No, but it does indicate that they are much more likely to get caught. Therefore they are much more likely to act correctly.

When dealing with an institution, we are placing our trust in the system. If the system is a real free market, then we are pretty safe, if it is the quasi-free, mostly controlled mish-mash that we have today, significantly less so.

When deal with individuals we are placing our trust in them. This trust is easy to manage and revoke if necessary.

Systems and institutions versus individuals.

Thank you for highlighting that it isn’t just my preference, but there is actually some logic behind being more willing to trust individuals over aggregate entitites.

Trust is Personal

I think it's quite natural to trust individuals over systems and institutions. After all, in the eons when humans evolved, we dealt only with individuals, not with systems and institutions (which are relatively recent inventions). Interestingly, the most successful modern societies are those that have what's known as a large radius of trust, i.e., people are more likely to trust strangers than they are in societies with a small radius of trust, where people mostly trust only their own kinfolk (see the book "Trust" by Francis Fukuyama). In a society with a large radius of trust, people trade more freely, travel more widely, are more likely to solve problems and settle conflicts through non-violent means, and build stronger associations; in short, they have a stronger civil society (which I think is a precondition for a fully voluntary society where people won't turn to government to solve every problem that arises). I think that one of the big challenges we all face these days it not to trade locally but to build trading links and trust networks that span the globe over a medium (the Internet) that inherently has a small radius of trust (think spam, viruses, phishing, scammers, great firewalls, censorship, and other forms of attack). I think your agora is a step in the right direction. We need to use that as a model for an even stronger, wider, more vibrant space for the exchange of ideas, information, goods, and services. But more on that some other time. :)