Trust me, I'm an RSA Fellow

Capital gains
David Halpern argues that social capital – the foundation for an economy of regard – is a better measure of national wealth than conventional economic indicators

Ask yourself this question: do you think most people can be trusted? Don’t dwell on it for too long – just offer a general sense. Would you say ‘yes’, or would you say ‘no, you can’t be too careful’? The chances are that, if you are from a professional background, relatively politically engaged and with a university degree – a typical RSA Fellow – you would answer ‘yes’. If so, you would be among a minority of Britons today.

This wasn’t always the case. In the late 1950s, about 60 percent of Britons said they thought most other people could be trusted. The figure had fallen to 43 percent by the early 1980s and to 29 percent by the mid- to late 1990s. This question helps measure what sociologists and political scientists call ‘social capital’. It gives a sense of the extent to which individuals and communities trust each other, reciprocate helpfully and are connected to other people.