Who Do You Trust? A Snapshot in Time

That’s the title of a recent blogpost  by Barry Ritholz, in his delightfully eclectic blog The Big Picture: Macro Perspective on the Capital Markets.  (Though, as one of his commentators snarkily reminds us, it should be “whom” do you trust).

Together with forty-odd literate comments, this post provides a perfect snapshot—a social Rorschach test—of the application of trust, the nature of trust, and the state of trust in business today. (Plus, it’s a fun read).

The application of trust.  As Barry points out, we apply concepts of trust to personal and business relationships alike. He implicates trust in the decline of mainstream media readership. “Trust” in the comments gets applied to products (ETFs over mutual funds), broadcasters (Kudlow, Kramer), directors (Spielberg), institutions (the IRS more than the Fed), and even “humanity” or “myself.”

Much of his post—and the comments—focus on the notion of trusting companies—as in, “I trust Amazon and USAA,” or “I don’t trust Microsoft.”

In turn, reasons for trusting (or not trusting) companies include:

• concerns about data security leading to identity theft
• customer service
• attention to customer experience, e.g. spam prevention
• reputation, e.g. linkage to one’s past.

Barry neatly sums up the range of trust applications in a series of questions:

Who do I trust? Who can I rely on, confide in, bank on, have faith in?
Who do you read? Who do you let get inside your head? Who do you believe? Who are you sure about?
What companies do you entrust with your personal files and passwords? Your social security number, bank account data, personal financial info, data?
Who do you trust?

The nature and state of trust. A blogpost is the furthest thing from a statistical study; then again, we’ve just seen the feet of clay of polling statistics.

The post and comments are more like a focus group; they have the ability to state a particular insight "just so." 

Barry says, “I am naturally sceptical. I see too much bullshit everywhere,” and his commenters continue the tone. One says, “People are, by nature, liars, thieves, and fast buck con artists.”

In other words, truth-telling is an indicium of trust—and the general view is bearish on truth-telling these days.

Barry says, “Yahoo (YHOO) still has some residual trust — but its waning fast. I still use Yahoo as a home page, but their inattentiveness to some of their properties is shameful.”

In other words, trust is about taking responsibility.  And how Yahoo isn’t doing it, nor is Dell, nor AIM. 

He also doesn’t trust social networking sites, because they abuse data—in turn, either because of sloppiness, and/or venality.  Trust is about motives, and about focus on something other than oneself.

One commenter says he trusts someone through their blog. Another says it amounts to risk management. One talks about trusting a very small circle of friends and family. Another talks about the essential role of trust in capitalism.

And many have hilarious lists of who and what they trust and don’t trust.

All in all, a rich real-world sample of the meaning of the word trust; not in a dictionary sense, but in an active, anthropological, here-now on-the-street sense.

It’s a great snapshot of trust in America circa January 2008. Thanks to Barry for posting.