When we talk about economics, we talk about currency, about GDP growth, productivity, wage growth, the balance of trade and interest rates, even how the FTSE is trading. But all of these are insignificant economic measures compared to the one we hardly bother to monitor at all – trust.
Trust is the building block of all successful economies yet, as a political and economic concept, it is also one of the least understood by policy makers.
I am not just talking about trust in currency, which is one of the most visible examples. Have a look at a £5 note. Mine says: “The Bank of Scotland promises to pay the bearer on demand five pounds sterling at the head office in Edinburgh.”
Ask yourself what the pound is if all you have is an IOU for five of them. Money only exists as long as we all believe its worth something, not sterling but worth that thing we are hoping to buy.
Currency is simply a physical manifestation of trust, and the more trust there is in a society, the more developed an economy can become. Trust is driven through society and determined by levels of interdependence and reciprocity underpinned by a sense of economic fairness. People don’t mind that others do better or are wealthier than they are, they just want to feel they have the opportunity to thrive themselves, and when they feel there is a barrier to their own advancement then their trust in society starts to break down.
You see from the moment you are born you are reliant on people – on the doctor or midwife that delivers you, on the neonatal nurse, on your mother and father for sure, but also on the hospital cleaner for the safe environment. In fact, you’re reliant on all the administrators helping run the hospital that put those medical experts in the room to deliver you.
There has never been a time when you were not dependent on society for your survival and wellbeing. From cradle to the grave we are inexorably connected to and dependent upon the civilised and helpful behaviours of others.
People living in nations with higher levels of societal trust earn more, live longer, lead healthier and happier lives and are more content. OECD research shows a clear correlation between higher levels of social trust and GDP growth. That’s right – it is a mathematically measurable phenomenon that a stronger society results in stronger economic growth, because that growth is more widely shared.
Scandinavian nations enjoy higher levels of social trust. They also have higher taxes and greater welfare provision by their governments.
Wages are also high and so people’s overall value equation is better than in low-tax nations. Yes, you get taxed more, but you also get paid a lot more, so you are better off in terms of retained income and your society is stronger. This simply means that you can then become better off again, in an upwardly spiralling reciprocal relationship between society and economy.
The opposite is true in UK where trust is lower. Eurostat research on levels of trust in people lists the UK at 15th while Denmark is first, Finland second, Norway third, and Iceland fourth.
The myth of individualism or selfishness as a driver of economic success is, therefore, nothing more than the act of denying the truth that society is what nurtures us. The pursuit of wealth at the expense of society (sociopathic wealth creation) is, in effect, an attack on the very mechanism that facilitates the creation of that wealth.
It is worth pointing out that the World Values Survey points to Scandinavian people also leading the world in support for individual autonomy. They see government intervention as enabling individual success and so largely reject the extremes of individualism versus communism that dominate our political discourse.
In the UK, the Westminster electoral system is designed to maintain extremes. Unlike in Scotland, the UK’s first-past-the-post system does not create the smorgasbord of political views and policy ideas that generate enlightened compromise. A left-wing majority and a right-wing majority are as damaging as each other and a centralist majority creates an insipid, ineffectual government helping no-one. Majority politics lacks a mechanism to negotiate prosperity creating trade-offs between left and right.
The vast majority of the UK’s press and media are controlled by a handful of tax-exile media barons. In other words, super-rich people with a vested interest in maintaining the sociopathic wealth creation machine. The media present abnormal billionaire behaviour as heroic (Trump and Lord Sugar).
They present the poor as unworthy, dole-dodging, drug and alcohol abusers, and try to convince us the welfare money they receive is wasted. TV programmes such as The Scheme (BBC) and Benefits Britain – Life on the Dole (Channel 4) add fuel to this and every second Daily Mail or Express headline berates the less well-off and diminishes our trust in people around us. This explains my oft-repeated theory that Jeremy Corbyn cannot become PM. There just isn’t enough trust to elect him. People like the idea of a stronger society, but they don’t trust each other enough to vote for a bigger society and as he represents an extreme, he would also fail if he was ever elected PM.
Brexit changes everything for the Scottish independence movement in that both the fact the Conservatives and Labour are both supporting Brexit has shifted the balance of trust in the economic management of the country.
Now, according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, more Scots than not feel that an independent Scotland will be wealthier than it would be as part of post-Brexit Britain.
The polls may show a slow and steady increase in independence support as we close in on the Brexit we didn’t vote for, but it is less about the economic fears around Brexit, as those will not be clear till the final deal, or no deal, is done.
Independence support is rising because trust in the people of Scotland running our own affairs is rising, while trust in the two Unionist pro-Brexit parties is falling. Trust is the key to independence and to prosperity following independence.