How Much Should We Trust Government?

CaptureAn academic warns us that we have reason not to automatically trust the government—but cannot make the larger leap. He describes most abuses as moderate, and the worst ones as long past. He also accepts the traditional explanation for major traumas. But should he? Is he himself far too trusting?

Please watch this 20-minute video and then share your thoughts in our Comments section below.

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  • russbaker

    Government does a lot of things surprisingly well. You were probably the beneficiary of many of those on your way to work–orderly traffic signals and road behavior, safety getting in and out and about, receiving your postal mail, etc. But it’s the big things where the problems are–and the big things go almost entirely unexamined, because they are “secret.” Schneier touches on this, but essentially punts. It’s hard to keep a faculty post in a major university while challenging fundamentals about how well the system is working on anything but an abstract level.

    • Kevin

      Russ, I’m a big fan of yours but I couldn’t disagree more. Government, at its best, is horribly inefficient. Sure, they provide some services but I believe the free market would take care of these issues much more efficiently. Take Obamacare for example. According to the article below (and I’m no fan of Fox News btw). It shows that Delaware spent $4 million on Obamacare and have had 4 people sign up. You could argue “the people are the beneficiaries of a surprisingly productive government”. However, think of what that $4 million could have done if it stayed in the taxpayer’s wallets to begin with. And, yes, that would include buying (free market) healthcare.

      Also, I’m a little shocked that you cite the post office as a “government success story”. The post office lost around $12 billion in 2012 yet it didn’t go out of business. Why? Because it’s a legal monopoly. They’re even selling “forever stamps” to raise money to help cover their losses. But that’s just more “mortgaging the future”, as is the standard for government. By way of contrast, think of how much better (and more efficient) free market mail delivery is (e.g. FedEx). If there were free market competition going up against the postal service, it would be out of business shortly after.

      Please read up on some free-market capitalism ideas. Peter Schiff, Ron Paul and Tom Woods are good starts.

      Having said all that, I remain a big fan of yours and I’m very grateful for your work.

  • Clif Brown

    Trust works both ways. If those in government believe that what they are doing must be kept secret from the people then, clearly, they have no trust in the people.

    The American people have been treated like sheep, who should have faith that their leaders are benevolent shepherds who know what is best for the flock. This is not the basis of democracy and insults the intelligence of the electorate.

    The primary trust killer is the repeated exposure of lying, if not through bald-faced lying such as was done by James Clapper to Congress, then by the shading of meaning known as spinning by those in power including the president.

    We are so transfixed by imagery that it has become all that counts and substance is hard to find. As consumers, Americans well know it is wise to look askance at claims made by companies for their products. The public relations techniques of commercial enterprise have been fully adapted by government, so we are wise to look askance at government as well. In both cases it is money that runs the show. We are a democracy of dollars, not individuals. Trust in such an environment is foolish.

    • wildeyedliberal

      Since corporations are super-people and have most of the money, we are a “democracy” of super-people and we who submit are their little minions – some might suggest it looks a bit like fascism, but that analysis is inadequate. These corporations say they have our best interests at heart and they are trying to make the world better. Where is my wallet, now…

      Find a corporate body and become one with it….not.

      If you believe corporations are people, and they have our interests in mind in a positive way, you are insane. If you think that governments controlled and influenced mightily by dollars and corporations are going to act in our interests, any more than corporations do, well, you are beyond insane and need help.

      Even those things the government does well are made more expensive and less useful by our big corporation orientation and bias. Friction in the system is relatable to extractable (divertable) wealth.

  • Orangutan.

    Considering the fact that they appointed Henry Kissinger to lead the investigation into 9/11, I’d say very little.

    • My 2 Cents

      Thank you for sharing that info about Kissinger being the one who was initially appointed to head the 9/11 inquiry. I was unaware of that. He is plainly a war criminal. That he continues to be treated with respect speaks volumes about the deep corruption in America’s political class and mainstream news media.

      Schneier appears to be completely naive about that degree of criminality among our government and corporate leaders (or else he’s pretending not to know). Either way, he should not be taken seriously.

      Snowden’s revelations are the tip of the iceberg. The dragnet collection of telephone Metadata itself is more serious than many people realize – as Glenn Greenwald and others have explained (more serious even than phone call content spying in some ways). But there are much more disturbing reports at the edge of the news media.

      Read last week’s Russian, German, and British news reports about what has been done to Tor spokesman Jacob Appelbaum (and his girlfriend). Clearly the U.S. spooks are using hard-core illegal psyops tactics on dissidents – just like they did in the FBI’s Cointelpro operations. Cointelpro and MK Ultra never stopped. Anyone who is curious should search “fight gang stalking” and browse through some of the published articles on current counterintelligence activities. It’s creepy.

  • russbaker

    Actually, I am extremely impressed by what the post office does at very little cost. Meantime, I have recently dealt with major screwups, incompetence and indifference at the hands of Fedex, Sears and other pillars of the vaunted free market. The truth is we very seldom get a lot of real choices, as these big players always dominate. Theory is nice; reality is something entirely different.

    • Kevin

      The cost is higher than you think. I’m pretty sure the losses that the post office incurs are made up for with higher taxes. As far as the federal government, they’re able to print money (which destroys the purchasing power of your dollars).

  • payne100

    Anyone who is smart enough to be an academic at Harvard should be smart enough to tell the difference between buildings that are collapsing and buildings that are being blown up.

    I think Schneier does know the difference but chooses to be part of the coverup. Twenty minutes wasted.

  • jwheels281

    In light of all the talk about historically low levels of trust in government, Schneier correctly points out that Americans generally trust each other on the individual level adequately enough to allow our modern society to function. Schneier gets it exactly backwards, however, when he claims “yeah, we might be mistrustful, but it’s really around the edges.”

    Yes, we generally trust our neighbors. Yes, we generally trust other drivers on the road. Yes, we generally trust that other pedestrians won’t bludgeon us to get at our wallets. What we don’t trust today, are our biggest institutions that have historically allowed us to maintain that level of small-scale trust amongst each other.

    Failure after failure and scandal after scandal has revealed to the people a systemic rot that has the potential to unravel our neighborly trust into some post-apocalyptic hell-scape. It’s as if Americans understand intuitively that the scandals and failures of late are really the tip of the iceberg, and that there exists a far more profound level of corruption than the isolated exposures would indicate.

    People aren’t stupid. They’re well aware of the hypocritical
    double standard exercised by the captains of industry who vehemently defend their right to privatize questionably gained profits, only to socialize those losses by demanding a bailout from corrupt crony politicians. People have seen that so-called “free market competition” has in fact led to ever more anti-competitive cartels and monopolies, that prices have been generally going up—not down—and that wages, benefits, and job security have been running backwards for at least 30 years. And in scandal after scandal, we’ve seen exactly how the “just trust us” model of national security apparatus control and accountability, is at best, naïve, and at worst, suicidal for a society based on democracy.

    Unfortunately, people don’t trust the political system, the
    large corporations, the national security apparatus, the banking system, or the mainstream media—all institutions ostensibly constructed to protect and nurture the general welfare.

    Schneier warns us, though, that “When trust in government gets too low, the government stops being able to do its job.” He then goes on to imply with circular logic that our government’s current stratospheric level of dysfunction can be blamed squarely on our historically low levels of trust.

    We Americans have historically low levels of trust, Mr. Schneier, because we Americans sense the dysfunction exhibited by our government is symptomatic of a much deeper, darker and more pervasive effort to wrest democratic and economic control from the masses, and to firmly place it in the hands of a well-placed elite.

    What we need is less trust of our major institutions, not more.

  • Kevin

    I finally watched the video. My goodness was that painful! So much propaganda:

    At around the 13 min mark, Schneier says:
    “when trust is at a low then legitimate activities of government get questioned. In the united states there are people who are questioning the government’s ability to deal with healthcare, to deal w/ climate change, to deal w/ agriculture. To deal w/ actual serious government issues”.

    He’s fear-mongering (government won’t be able to solve all the important issues if you don’t trust it!) plus he’s ingraining in people the idea that healthcare, agriculture and climate change >arehost< says this really makes me think that that whole show is simply a propaganda tool. It's just too unprofessional (on the level of an MSNBC host) for me to take seriously.

    At the 15 min mark the host asks if there's anything government can do to gain the public's trust. Schneier says:
    "I think in the short term things are pretty bleak and I'm pessimistic. Long term I'm optimistic"

    Again, the entire discussion is focused on the public's lack of trust in government, rather than the real reason for the lack of trust in the first place (hint: it's not due to this type of thing being "cyclical").

  • questioning

    We should always question authority because authority always looks to benefit the few at the cost of the many.

  • Yossarian

    “If the court system begins failing?” This guys been guzzling the Soma laced Kool-Aid! Who really fears a terrorist attack so much that they willingly give up liberty for this illusion of safety? I fear this rise in a totalarian police state far more then some nebulous terrorist organization.

  • Valandur

    I don’t consider someone being arrested for attempting to commit some act, when he was talked into doing it, provided with the materials and the whole operation set up by the FBI, or some other agency a legitimate “terrorist” act. And those types of operations are all the government has to justify their actions and the actions of agencies like the NSA. It’s just a political shell game to further goals laid down decades ago.

  • Emily Elizabeth Windsor-Cragg

    All methods are traps if causes and effects are not tracked with an expectation of coherence. Governance by consent of the governed implies that governing principles match affirmations, policies match ethics, procedures match fairness and outcomes match expectations of What A Good Nation DOES. … Now, let’s get real. In my lifetime I have witnessed CONSPIRACIES by this Coverment since I was a kid. Nuclear war fears, JFK offed, Lee Harvey Oswald disappeared; the senseless Vietnam war started up, RFK/MLK offed, Philadelphia MOVE massacre, Ruby Ridge killings, Waco, OKC95 (false-flag story), WTC92 and 2001–all matters of face, and every one of these disasters were accompanied by Federal perfidy. Witness the latest spate of staged and half-baked serial killers, with the same outcome each and every time, lone half-drugged madman whose family work in the Federal intell depts. Okay? Trust is not even an issue; it’s IMPOSSIBLE. The Fed is a scam of fiat-debt usury. The voting system is a scam of Diebold machine hacking. The media is a scan of consolidated ideological buy-outs. Trust? Are you crazy (with incoherent logic), stupid (stupefied by stress and distractions) or just too lazy to look (A NOT-SEE?) Piffle!

  • sfulmer

    Only an academic cover could allow a conversation this pretentious to appear credible.

    What is “trust”? Twenty minutes talking about “trust” without defining the word. If you have a strong stomach, I dare you to watch this video again without assuming you know what they mean by “trust”. Do they mean “stupidity”? “Money”? “Faith”? “Culture”? “Memory”? “Awareness”? Any of these could fit their unfocused conversation. How about “having absolutely no choice”? People don’t examine what is meant by “choice” and “trust” in their own minds, and there is no way this video is revealing anything but the way dangerous assumptions can be manipulated for psychological use.

    There are so many falsities in practically every sentence it is hard to make a useful comment. Schneier is clearly more invested in making money on the concept of security than anything resembling the reality of human intelligence. Does he know his interview is being reviewed here? If so, with all due respect, please start asking people to question what security is and where it comes from. The last thing people need is to be continually told what security is, or told how the current faux-conversation about “security” makes any kind of “political sense”. What is “trust”?

  • Keith Kampschaefer

    Question: True enough but society always puts other pressures on us to either trust more or less under given circumstance. Can you talk about that.

    Answer: Sometimes we’re in a sense, required to trust. The government will do things in our name and there’s not a lot we can do about that. So in coming sort of part and parcel with government is, we have to trust them to do things that they’re not going to tell us about. And government can also facilitate less trust. If the court system starts failing? Y’know you think of countries were their isn’t an honest court, I mean that makes it harder to business because you can’t rely on the contracts you sign.

    “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” ― Patrick Henry


    Government has been — since forever — like a village on steroids. A natural and steady growth, however slow, by the independent citizenry would not have produced the drooling ambition of ‘more and bigger’ that leads to a runaway system of unmanageable excess.

    Who nowadays wouldn’t trade their luxurious lifestyle filled wilh an anxious, burdensome list of time-sensitive obligations for a swing on the porch of a quaint farmhouse to shout hellos to passing neighbors in a horse and buggy.

    4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. – Isa 2:4 KJV

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