For Janos Kornai, Susan Rose-Ackerman, and Bo Rothstein, eds., Creating Social Trust: Problems of Post-Socialist Transition.
Trust is a blessing. As an ideal that leads us to believe that people who are different from us are part of our moral community, trust makes us more willing to deal with people who are different from ourselves and holds us to high standards of honesty and fairness. Trust provides the foundation for a rule of law and for policies that benefit the less fortunate.
Corruption is a curse. It flouts rules of fairness and gives some people advantages that others don’t have. Corrupt institutions cause people to lose faith in government.
It should hardly be surprising that where there are high levels of trust, there is less corruption.1 Across 51 countries, the simple correlation between trust and corruption is .711 (see Figure 1). The Nordic countries are the most trusting and the least corrupt. The countries with the highest levels of corruption - Colombia, the Philippines, Turkey, and Brazil - have the least trusting citizens.
So it seems that where trust in others is low and corruption is high, as in former Communist countries, we can increase the level of trust by reducing corruption. So argues Bo Rothstein (2001, 479, 491). Rothstein suggested that Russians could become more like Swedes if they could reduce the level of corruption in their society, creating trust “from above” (see also Cohen, 1997, 19-20; Levi, 1998, 87; Misztal, 1996, 198; Offe, 1999; Pagden, 1988, 139) A strong legal system would create a sense of social insurance for ordinary citizens: Neither their fellow citizens nor the government could exploit them if there were an independent and honest judiciary that ensured compliance with the law. Trusting others would be less risky.
In the West, so the argument goes, where there is relatively little corruption, people see their societies as honest and therefore trust each other and their governments more than in more corrupt societies. In the formerly Communist societies, people see corruption all around them and lose faith in others and their system. The Communist regimes created much distrust from above (see below), so there is more than a bit of evidence that elite malfeasance sends a powerful signal to the mass public. Crime rates are higher in societies with lower levels of trust (Uslaner, 2002, chs. 7 and 8). And there is at least a modest correlation between trust in the legal system and faith in other people in Sweden (Rothstein, 2001, 492).
As compelling as Rothstein’s argument seems, it is misplaced. Rothstein’s evidence for a linkage between trust in the legal system and faith in others comes entirely from one rather atypical Western democracy, Sweden. Sweden has the highest level of trust of any country surveyed in the World Values Studies and is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. The Swedish model may not transfer to formerly Communist nations. Even if there is a connection between a strong legal system and trust in fellow citizens, the causal direction is more likely to go from faith in others to confidence in the law (Uslaner 2002: 243-245). Swedes and other Westerners can develop strong legal systems because people trust each other. Trusting people endorse strong standards of moral behavior and say that it is wrong to take advantage of others, especially those who are more vulnerable (Uslaner 1999a, 1999b). Sweden is, in John Rawls’s terminology, a “well-ordered society,” where “everyone accepts and knows that the others accept the same principles of justice, and the basic social institutions satisfy and are known to satisfy these principles” (Rawls 1971: 454). The roots of this moral sentiment rest upon a commitment to social justice and concern for those less well off, hallmarks of the Swedish welfare state (Rawls 1971: 454, 462). A well-ordered society depends upon a shared sense of justice. In Romania and other formerly Communist countries, the strong arm of the state and rampant corruption make people skeptical that there is any equitable system of justice. Dealing with corruption requires reinventing moral codes on a case-by-case basis - and stands in sharp contrast to the shared values underlying a “well-ordered society.”
We shall show, using data across nations and from surveys of Romanians (and Swedes), that the impact of corruption on trust in both other people and government systems is greatest when there isn’t much dishonesty (as in Sweden). When corruption is rampant, as in Romania, people become inured to it. They don’t think worse of their fellow citizens, who must get by in any way they can in a system that seems rigged toward those at the top. People are disturbed by corruption in government, but they may feel powerless to do much about it. One government is as corrupt as the next, so getting a regime that performed well on the economy will be more essential than getting one that purports to govern honestly. Rothstein’s account works better for (his native) Sweden than for the newer democracies of the former Communist nations.
Most of our data analysis focuses on Romania, some on Sweden. But this is not simply a tale of two nations. Romania and Sweden represent poles of trust and corruption. And the pattern we see for them is rather general. We shall show first that people are more likely to link their perceptions of trust and corruption in countries like Sweden (where corruption is low)--and they are less likely to do so when corruption is more prevalent (in Romania). This casts some doubt on the applicability of lessons learned in one context to another, very different one. Those who are too quick to draw lessons for Eastern Europe from Sweden risk committing the fallacy of a Yiddish folk saying: “If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bus.”
The link between trust and dishonesty is obscured by the different forms of corruption. There is sporadic (at best) evidence that corruption by elites in former Communist countries may lead to less trust in others, but there is less evidence that petty corruption - payments or “gifts” to service providers - leads people to lose faith in their fellow citizens. Corruption does not rest with ordinary folks striving to get by. As the Chinese say, “The fish rots from the head down.” If there is any link from corruption to trust in the former Communist societies, it comes from above. This is not a new distinction, nor one that emanates from authoritarian societies. The boss of New York City’s Tammany Hall Democratic party machine in the 19 century, George Washington Plunkitt, distinguished between “honest” and “dishonest” graft; the former involved rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. The latter involved theft from the public purse (Riordan 1948).
“Merely” curbing corruption does not provide a quick route to a more trusting society. There is a somewhat stronger linkage between attitudes toward the regime and corruption--not surprisingly, since public officials are the source of most corruption. Yet, even this connection is not terribly strong in the formerly Communist states. In that region, corruption has little impact on trust in fellow citizens. Although corruption may have long-term negative consequences, in the short run it solves bureaucratic rigidities. People may thus feel that petty corruption is a decent bargain (Rose-Ackerman 1994: 21). Ordinary citizens are all in pretty much the same boat, so there is little reason for people to let corruption from above shape attitudes toward others. Authoritarian regimes can destroy trust, but democratic reforms won’t in and of themselves rebuild it. There is hope for reducing corruption in formerly Communist societies, but we should not be too sanguine about the grander implications of cleaner government.
Romania is a particularly good case to examine since it was one of the poorest of the formerly Communist countries. Its regime, under Nicolae Ceausescu, maintained a very strong grip on the public. When the Communist government fell in 1989, the Romanian public was initially very optimistic about the future. However, more than a decade later, parliamentary regimes of both the (old) left, the (new) right, and the quickly defunct reformist center have failed to gain the public’s support. The economy faces severe difficulties, inequality is growing, trust and tolerance are especially low among the young, and corruption still is a continuing problem: Romania ranked 69thth of 91 countries ranked in 2001 by Transparency International, a transnational organization established to fight corruption.
Much of our analysis is cross-national, because we don’t want to rest our case on the possibility of Romanian exceptionalism. However, our more detailed information comes from a comparison of Romania with Sweden, a high trusting society with low levels of corruption--and, perhaps not so coincidentally, the source of the most sophisticated version of the received wisdom (Rothstein 2001).
Trust and Honesty: The Received Wisdom and an Alternative
The type of trust we are concerned with is generalized - or moralistic - trust, a faith in strangers, in people we don’t know who are likely to be different (and think differently) from ourselves. Moralistic trust is different from strategic trust, faith in people we know well. Strategic trust is based upon experience--with out families, our friends, our co-workers, our business associates, our contractors--people we have faith in and those we do not trust (Hardin 2002). Moralistic (or generalized) trust cannot be based upon experience since it is faith in strangers. But it is the key to acts of generosity such as volunteering and charitable giving, to tolerance, to an endorsement of strong standards of ethics, to better performing governments, and to societies that spend more on the poor (Uslaner 2002).
Moralistic trust is predicated on the notion of a common bond between classes and races and on egalitarian values (Fukayama 1995: 153; Uslaner 2002, ch. 2; Putnam 1993: 88, 174; Seligman 1997: 36-37, 41). Faith in others leads to empathy for those who do not fare well and, ultimately, to a redistribution of resources from the well-off to the poor and to more responsive institutions (LaPorta et al. 1997; Uslaner 2002: chs. 7, 8). Faith in others is a moral commitment akin to the Golden Rule, where we treat others as we would have them treat us rather than a simple game of tit for tat (Uslaner 2002: chs. 2, 4). Trusters don’t need immediate reciprocity: Their faith in others rests on an optimistic world view and a sense of personal control that gives them a psychological cushion against occasional bad experiences.
Each of these foundations - and effects - of moralistic trust stand in opposition to corruption. Corrupt deals may depend upon trust, but only on trust of people you know well and who are your close confidants (what we call “particularized trust”). Corruption exploits strangers and, almost always, takes from the poor and gives to those already well off. Generalized trust, in contrast, depends upon an optimistic world view and an equitable distribution of wealth (Uslaner: 2002). Corruption is based on loose standards of ethics and on a legal system that is powerless to stop transactions that let some people exploit others.
Rothstein (2001: 491-492) argues that people are not likely to lose faith in others just because they have venal politicians. However, when the legal system fails to punish transgressors, be they other citizens or political leaders, people will no longer feel quite so warm toward their fellow citizens (cf. Mauro 1995: 12):
In a civilized society, institutions of law and order have one particularly important task: to detect and punish people who are “traitors,” that is, those who break contracts, steal, murder, and do other such non-cooperative things and, therefore, should not be trusted. Thus, if you think that particular institutions do what they are supposed to do in a fair and efficient manner, then you also have reason to believe...that people will refrain from acting in a treacherous manner and you will therefore believe that “most people can be trusted.”
Tyler (1990, chs. 4, 5) argues that people respect the law because they believe that the justice system is fair and that they have been treated fairly. If people feel that they have been treated unfairly by the police or in the courts, they are less likely to have faith in the legal system. The key to less corruption--and more trust--then, is an effective system of property rights and the rule of law (Lambsdorff 1999; Leite and Weidemann 1999: 20, 23; Treisman 2000).
There is a better case for linking corruption and trust in government rather than trust in people. People think of government officials when they say that their countries are corrupt. The leap to mistrust of others is not so clear. Across a wide range of countries, there is little link between trust in government and trust in other people (Newton 1999, 2002; Orren 1997; Uslaner 2002, chs. 5 and 8). However, the repressive institutions of the state played a key role in destroying trust under Communism (Gibson 2001; Howard 2002), so it makes sense to believe that reformed (and more honest) institutions might help rebuild faith in others. Rothstein’s (2001: 477) story begins, after all, with a visit to Russia, where only 26 percent of tax revenue reaches the government, compared to 98 percent in Sweden.
Trust in other people and corruption should be particularly strongly linked in societies where trust was hazardous and corruption was widespread. Creating trust from above is a very enticing prospect for countries in transition: Building confidence in fellow citizens by stronger anti-corruption measures might be much easier than reshaping people’s attitudes.
In Western societies, strong legal systems depend upon trust; they do not produce it. Given the strong role of the state in the former Communist countries, we see a greater possibility that perceptions of procedural fairness, rather than trust in specific institutions such as the courts, may play a role in shaping interpersonal trust. Generalized trust rests upon the perception of common bonds across different groups within society. If you believe that some people get better breaks from the judicial system than others, you will be less likely to believe that we all have a common fate. Even then, we expect that the fairness of the legal system will not be nearly as important to generalized trust as optimism and control.
Trust, Corruption, and Perceptions of Government
The causal chain from corruption to trust in others can run either directly from perceptions of malfeasance to lack of faith in others or indirectly. Yet, the evidence on either linkage ranges from modest (Rothstein 2001: 491) to negligible. Neither trust in government nor confidence in legal systems leads to greater trust in people.
These results stem from research in Western democracies - the United States and Western Europe - where people develop attitudes about trust apart from the strong arm of the state. Authoritarian political systems, especially Communist regimes, pit citizens against each other. When people feel compelled to turn on their friends lest the state turn on them, interpersonal trust may become too risky. In such a world, you really can’t be too careful in dealing with people, even if everyone would strongly prefer to treat others as if they were trustworthy. If people are wary of strangers, they will limit their social activities to close friends whom they do see as trustworthy (see Gibson 2001 and Hayoz and Sergeyev 2003). In former Communist countries, there was little optimism and even less of a sense of personal control; this seems to have changed little in the years since the downfall of the oppressive regimes. Communist societies were also marked by high levels of corruption (see Trang 1994: 8, and Rose-Ackerman 1994: 21).
So it is not unreasonable to presume that: (1) trust in others will reflect confidence in the regime more in transitional countries than in other nations; and (2) perceptions of corruption may be stronger determinants of trust in others in formerly Communist nations than in other countries. We examine these two linkages in this paper, focusing on Romania in particular. After the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, Romania (like other countries in Central and Eastern Europe) established democratic institutions. However, a parliamentary regime and a system of courts have neither ended corruption nor increased trust. We examine the roots of trust and perceptions of corruption in two surveys: The 1995 World Values Survey (WVS) and our own survey in 2001 that was part of a larger pan-European project on Citizenship, Involvment, Democracy.2 We also put Romania and the countries making the transition from Communism more generally in context by cross-national aggregate data analysis - and by comparing Romania with the most trusting and third least corruptnation, Sweden.
The story we tell is not what the literatures on trust and corruption might lead us to expect: In Romania and, more generally in the countries making the transition from Communism, the link between trust in people and corruption is weak and inconsistent. Romanians don’t generalize from corruption among the elites to less serious offenses by ordinary citizens. Corruption is something that public officials do. When regular folks skirt the law, they are just getting by. If people need to skirt the law to make do, then flouting standards of moral behavior is not a sign of an intention to exploit others. Elites, however, got benefits unavailable to ordinary citizens under Communism and many Romanians believe that they still have unfair advantages. Small scale dishonesty is “good corruption”; it is based upon the expectation of reciprocity. As Bertold Brecht wrote in Mother Courage and Her Children (Scene 3, quoted in Miller, Grodeland, and Koshechkina 1998): "Thank God they’re corruptible. They’re human and after money like the rest of us. They’re not wolves. As long there’s corruption, there’s hope. Bribes! They’re man’s best chance. As long as judges go on taking money, then there’s some chance of justice."
Large scale corruption involves misuse of official positions. It makes some people rich at others’ expense, giving those at the top extra power and resources over those who struggle to make do (Ledeneva 1998: 42-47). There is a strong disconnect between people’s evaluations of other citizens and the people running the country.
There is a roundabout route from corruption to mistrust as well. In both the WVS and CID surveys, we see that Romanians who say that it is acceptable to cheat on taxes are more likely to mistrust their fellow citizens. Although we find either no direct link or at best a very weak connection between trust in governmental institutions (courts, politicians, or legislatures) and faith in people, we do see a connection between views of the procedural fairness of the legal system and trust in people (in the CID surveys). We also see that people who are satisfied with democracy are also more likely to have faith in their fellow citizens.
In the surveys some people do make a strong connection between trust in other people and corruption. But they are not the folks who live day in and day out with corruption. Rather, people are most likely to make this connention when there is very little corruption in their polity. We get mad and think the worst of others when we see a little bit of corruption because it is so unusual. When corruption is all around us, we become inured to it and do not let misdeeds bother us so much.
Trust, Corruption, and Transition
Under Communism, the state controlled daily life and neighbors were pitted against each other. Trusting strangers must seem a quaint (or even dangerous) idea to people who are afraid to trust all but their closest friends. An oppressive state terrifies all of its citizens. Acting on moral principles makes little sense in a world where even simple reciprocity among strangers is too dangerous to contemplate. Scarcity makes life hard and leads people to seek ways of making their own lives better (Banfield 1958: 110). People have no sense of control and little basis for optimism - so they have little reason not to do whatever they need to do to get by.
If goods and services are in short supply and manipulated by the state, bribery and gift giving seem reasonable ways to obtain routine services. And state officials will find petty corruption a useful means of getting more resources themselves. Corruption will trickle up throughout the system and at the top will be far more than petty. Autocratic societies, with high levels of scarcity and little accountability, are breeding grounds for dishonesty. When people have little reason to trust one another, they will not only engage in corruption but will treat it as just another transaction, marked by no particular moral disapprobation.
Barely more than a third of Hungarians see a moral problem when doctors demand “gratitude payments” for medical services (Kornai 2000: 3, 7, 9). This system of “gift giving” is so widespread that almost all doctors accept “gratitude money”; 62 percent of physicians’ total income came off the books. In an economy marked by shortages and arrogant administrators, many people saw these payments as a way to ensure supply and also to establish longer-term relations with their doctors.
Under Communism, people did have social networks of people they could trust. People formed small networks to help them get by in daily life - to stand in line for scarce products, to help out close friends, relatives, and neighbors (Ledenva 1998). While Putnam (2000: 288) argues that these strong ties are the stepping stones to trust in strangers, there is little evidence that one form of trust leads to another, either in formerly Communist countries or in the United States (Flap and Voelker 2003; Gibson 2001; Ledeneva 1998, ch. 5). These informal networks were largely associations of convenience.
An alternative view is that the helping networks that played such a key role in the Communist regimes were substitutes for the wider social networks that were simply not possible under repressive governments (Flap and Voelker 2003; Gibson 2001). When communism fell in Central and Eastern Europe (mostly around 1989) and was replaced by democratic regimes, reformers hoped that the new democratic constitutions would lead to new democracies and market economies. State control of political life would give way to civil society with trusting and tolerant citizenries and property rights would be respected.. The downfall of corrupt dictators would energize people, make them optimistic for the future, and give them the all-important sense of control over their lives and their environment that provide the foundation for trust and the civic culture more generally (Almond and Verba 1963; Rosenberg 1956; Lane 1959: 163-166).
Yet, the transition was not so simple. Communism left a very strong legacy in the political cultures of Central and Eastern Europe. The strong arm of the state was replaced not by a trusting civil society with open markets, but rather by a largely apathetic society where people did not trust their new governments or each other (Howard 2002; Badescu and Uslaner 2003). Many of the owners of the new capitalist businesses were the old Communist managers. The boom times that capitalism promised either came and went very quickly or never came at all for most people. Some entrepreneurs got rich, but many ordinary citizens were poorer than ever. The scarcity of the market replaced the scarcity of the state. Economic inequality grew rapidly - and people lost faith with the new institutions that were supposed to make life better. Scarcity, inequality, pessimism, and a distrust of both authorities and other people were a recipe for more corruption, not less, in the post-Communist transition.
In a world where elites are routinely seen as dishonest--79 percent of WVS respondents from post-communist countries said that either most or all leaders are corrupt (Table 1)--people might be unlikely to believe that they live in a trusting (much less trustworthy) society. The end of state control of the economy meant the demise of many of the networks that people used to get by. Yet corruption persisted; a majority of Russians found it necessary to use connections to get clothes and medicine and ten percent still needed someone’s help in getting into a hospital (Ledeneva 1998: 8). With the growth of a very imperfect market, many of these informal networks broke up, leaving no social support system at all in their wake (Howard 2002; Ledeneva 1998: 194-196). The demise of state authority led to more personalized government administration, with more bribery and greater opportunities for personal gain (Miller, Grodeland, and Koshechkina 2002: 565; Rose-Ackerman 1999: 107).
We see some of the difficulties of transition in Table 1, where we present measures of trust and corruption. Transition nations rank higher on corruption than other countries (lower TI scores indicate more corruption) and Romania has more corruption than most Communist nations. Similarly, trust is higher in non-transition countries and Romania has among the lowest levels of faith in others. In the fight against corruption, the formerly Communist countries lag behind two variables that we shall see play a key role in shaping governmental dishonesty: fewer government regulations and governmental stability. The transition economies still control much of business and governments have not achieved political stability. Romania ranks well below the means even for the transition economies.
Table 1 about here
Trust and Corruption Across Nations
We begin with a cross-national examination of the linkage between trust and perceptions of corruption at the individual level. Rothstein’s argument would lead us to expect a strong inverse relationship between perceptions of corruption and trust in other people: When people see a lot of corruption, they should be less trusting both of fellow citizens. The WVS asked respondents both about generalized trust question and about perceptions of corruption. (Happily, the publics have the same perceptions as the elite surveys represented by the Transparency International index; the simple correlation between the two measures is .83). We calculated correlations between trust and perceptions of corruption for 34 countries in the WVS data set. We also calculated the correlations between confidence in the legal system and perceptions of corruption for 33 countries. These correlations range from the moderately negative (-.2) to the (surprisingly) positive (the coding leads us to expect negative correlations). The mean correlations are not strong. For generalized trust, the mean correlation with perceptions of corruption is -.079. The mean correlation of confidence in the legal system with corruption is -.144. For three countries, the relationship is positive for each trust/confidence measure. The correlations with trust in people are positive in Romania, India, and Taiwan; for confidence in the legal system, they are positive for Romania, Taiwan, and Venezuela.
These correlations would be of modest interest by themselves. However, there is a clear pattern to the correlations that challenges the conventional wisdom of the connection between trust and corruption (see Figure 2). The correlations between trust and perceptions of corruption are strongest when corruption is lowest (as measured by high values of the the 1998 Transparency International, or TI, corruption perceptions index). For example, Swedes who perceive that corruption is high are also likely to state that their country is not run by the will of the people and vise versa for those who perceive low corruption. The correlation between trust in other people and perceived corruption in the WVS for Sweden is -.19, not overwhelmingly strong, but below (in absolute value) only New Zealand and Norway. Romanians do not make a link between corruption and governmental responsiveness. And there is no clear connection between trust and perceived corruption ( r = .05).
When there is a lot of corruption in a country, people behave pretty much as Romanians do. They don’t make a link between corruption (the domain of the elites) and trust in people. When there is little corruption, people are more likely to see venality by the elites as part of a larger cultural problem. Those relatively few individuals who see corruption as a problem extrapolate to the meanness of people in general - and are less likely to trust their fellow citizens. The relationship among these 34 countries is reasonably strong (r = .480).
Next, we divided countries into three levels of corruption: least, middle, and most. We calculated simple correlations between perceptions of corruption and trust by levels of corruption for each group using the WVS data. For the least corrupt countries, the correlation between aggregated trust and country-level perceptions of corruption was a robust
-.754: The greater the perception of corruption, the less trust. For the middle group, the correlation was a respectable -.532. For the most corrupt countries, the correlation was positive (.243): The higher the level of perceived corruption, the higher the proportion of trusting citizens-- and this relationship is particularly pronounced for the formerly Communist countries.2
There is no clear relationship between the TI measure of corruption and the correlation between perceived corruption and trust in the legal system (r = .060). The average correlation for formerly Communist nations is higher than for other countries (the average correlations are .190 and .127, respectively). Romania’s negative correlation is an exception to this general pattern - and the average correlation for transition countries rises to .204 when we exclude Romania. People in transition countries think less of their legal systems if they believe that the political system is corrupt.
Figure 2 about here
This pattern is not restricted to the mass public’s perceptions of corruption. If we divide the TI measure of corruption at its median (4.70), the powerful aggregate correlation between trust and public perceptions of corruption is r = -.579. It strengthens for the less corrupt countries ( r = -.609) and actually reverses in sign ( r = .179) for the more corrupt countries. Again, in the most corrupt countries, the more people see corruption in high places, the more trusting they are in fellow citizens (though this result is not significant). In the least corrupt countries, perceptions of corruption lead to much lower levels of trust.
There is also clear evidence that when corruption does shape trust, it is the “big” corruption at the top, not the petty payments made in everyday life, that matters. Trust is correlated strongly with the TI index and estimates (for 1997) of bribery by the Global Competitiveness survey ( r = -.503) and by Impulse Magazine ( r = -.603). The correlation is much weaker for small-scale corruption, as measured by the currency premium on the black market ( r = -.290).2 Again, these correlations are much higher when corruption is low. In countries ranking below the median on the 1998 TI index, the Global Competitiveness bribery index is moderately correlated with trust ( r =- .347), but for the more corrupt countries, the correlation is incorrectly signed ( r = .407). The black market currency premium is modest when the premium is very low ( r = -.275), but almost zero ( r = -.009) for countries above the median premium.
We thus have considerable evidence that the linkage between corruption and trust is highly dependent upon both context and on who benefits from corruption. Ironically, the correlations are strongest when there is the least corruption (and the most trust). And people are more likely to distrust their fellow citizens when elites, not ordinary citizens, violate the rules.
Romania and Sweden: The Ends of the Rainbow
We shift our focus from comparing nations to a more detailed study of corruption, trust, and confidence in the government in two countries - Romania and Sweden. Romania is not typical. Its government was harsher than most in the former Communist bloc. Its public is less trusting and its government more corrupt than most in this bloc (the average TI score was 3.6, while Romania’s is 3.0). And both Romanian correlations with perceived corruption - trust in people and confidence in the legal system--are outliers. So Romania is somewhat exceptional, but overall it is not too much out of line with other former Communist nations.
Considering trust in people, we are unable to find strong relationships between perceptions of corruption, informal social networks, and trust in people for Romania. For the three waves of the World Value Survey, the simple correlations between trust in people and confidence in the legal system are .15 in Sweden (close to the .18 reported by Rothstein 2001: 491, for a different survey), .08 in Romania, and .01 in Russia. Perhaps the lessons of Sweden cannot be transferred to Romania because Sweden (or the Nordic nations more generally) are exceptional - high trust, low corruption, strong state. The state can shape social values from above because it has willing subjects--and not too difficult a task in engineering trust.
We focus first on the 1995 World Values Survey, the only data source with questions on both trust and corruption. Since we wish to examine the reciprocal linkages between trust and perceptions of corruption, we estimate two-stage least squares models.3
The trust equation is based upon Uslaner (2002), who posits optimism and control as the key determinants of generalized trust. Trusting strangers is risky. But the risks seem less consequential for optimists. When people believe that the world is a good place that is going to get better, and that they can make it better, dealing with strangers will seem to offer more opportunities than risks. When people believe that the future looks bleak and that their fate is largely set by others, they will look askance at dealing with strangers.
The corruption equation focuses on general questions of morality, optimism and trust, specific moral dictates, exposure to information (Adsera, Boix, and Payne 2000), and (of course), trust. We present the results in Table 2.
Table 2 about here
What stands out most clearly in the WVS data analysis is that there is no reciprocal relationship between trust and corruption: Trust does not affect corruption, nor does corruption shape trust. Both coefficients are insignificant. Trust is largely shaped by shaped by optimism (whether the future is bright or bleak and whether there is less poverty than 10 years ago).