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Cooperation Without Trust?

Karen S. Cook, Russell Hardin, Margaret Levi

Publication Year: 2005

Some social theorists claim that trust is necessary for the smooth functioning of a democratic society. Yet many recent surveys suggest that trust is on the wane in the United States. Does this foreshadow trouble for the nation? In Cooperation Without Trust? Karen Cook, Russell Hardin, and Margaret Levi argue that a society can function well in the absence of trust. Though trust is a useful element in many kinds of relationships, they contend that mutually beneficial cooperative relationships can take place without it. Cooperation Without Trust? employs a wide range of examples illustrating how parties use mechanisms other than trust to secure cooperation. Concerns about one’s reputation, for example, could keep a person in a small community from breaching agreements. State enforcement of contracts ensures that business partners need not trust one another in order to trade. Similarly, monitoring worker behavior permits an employer to vest great responsibility in an employee without necessarily trusting that person. Cook, Hardin, and Levi discuss other mechanisms for facilitating cooperation absent trust, such as the self-regulation of professional societies, management compensation schemes, and social capital networks. In fact, the authors argue that a lack of trust—or even outright distrust—may in many circumstances be more beneficial in creating cooperation. Lack of trust motivates people to reduce risks and establish institutions that promote cooperation. A stout distrust of government prompted America’s founding fathers to establish a system in which leaders are highly accountable to their constituents, and in which checks and balances keep the behavior of government officials in line with the public will. Such institutional mechanisms are generally more dependable in securing cooperation than simple faith in the trustworthiness of others. Cooperation Without Trust? suggests that trust may be a complement to governing institutions, not a substitute for them. Whether or not the decline in trust documented by social surveys actually indicates an erosion of trust in everyday situations, this book argues that society is not in peril. Even if we were a less trusting society, that would not mean we are a less functional one.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust

Title Page, Copyright Page, Frontmatter

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pp. ix

About the Authors

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii

WE WOULD like to acknowledge the Russell Sage Foundation for its generous support of the program on trust and the trust book series. This is the ninth volume in the series. We thank Eric Wanner, president of the...

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1. Significance of Trust

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pp. 1-19

THE MASSIVE interest in trust in recent years seems to be stimulated by the inarguable view that social order is fundamentally dependent on cooperative relationships. This is a variant of what has historically been the central question...

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2. Trustworthiness

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pp. 20-39

TRUST IS unproblematic in a world in which everyone is trustworthy, but it is often not easy to know the extent to which others will be trustworthy with respect to matters of concern to us. They may turn out to be trustworthy in all respects...

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3. Trust and Power

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pp. 40-59

ONE OF the most important achievements of many societies, and especially of modern democratic societies, is the regulation of various kinds of organizational relations to make them less subject to the caprices of power. Such regulation...

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4. Distrust

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pp. 60-82

IN THE burgeoning field of trust research, there are far more studies of trust and the role it plays in society and in social relations than of distrust and the role it plays (but see contributions to Hardin 2004a). Yet we probably...

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5. Cooperation Without Law or Trust

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pp. 83-103

NOW WE turn to the heart of our enterprise, which is to explain how people manage their lives in the absence of trust and largely in the absence of legal or state enforcement of cooperative arrangements, all despite sometime inequality...

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6. Institutional Alternatives to Trust

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pp. 104-132

SPONTANEOUS DEVICES to secure cooperation, such as those discussed in chapter 5, and direct oversight by government (chapter 8) might not work well in some contexts of great importance to us. We need intermediate devices...

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7. Organizational Design for Reliability

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pp. 133-150

WE NOW turn to situations in which it is clearly imprudent to rely on trust relations to secure desired goals. Midlevel organizational design provides alternatives to trust relations in promoting productivity and quality output...

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8. State Institutions

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pp. 151-165

STATE INSTITUTIONS affect cooperation in two principal ways. First, government acts as a third party, providing security for and external enforcement of various interactions and exchanges among its constituents. If there is sufficient...

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9. Trust in Transition

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pp. 166-186

WE HAVE noted that cooperation built on trust relations and established within one context or for one particular purpose does not necessarily translate into cooperation in other contexts or for other purposes. Networks of trust can easily...

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10. The Role of Trust in Society

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pp. 187-197

IF WE reflect on the wide range of interactions in which we have to rely on others whom we would not be able to trust on the model of encapsulated interests, we must realize that it dwarfs the range of those interactions that are actually grounded in trust relationships...


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pp. 198-209


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pp. 210-241


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pp. 243-253

E-ISBN-13: 9781610441353
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871541642
Print-ISBN-10: 0871541645

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust