Comment Of The Day: “Public Confidence And Trust (2): Observations On Gallup’s Trust In Occupations Poll”

British commenter  Andrew Wakeling has a harsh take on professional ethics, but one worth pondering.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Public Confidence And Trust (1): Observations On Gallup’s Trust In Occupations Poll:

I worked very hard to qualify as an ‘xyzist’ (initially in the UK finance industry in the 1970s) and the profession has served me very well, across much of the world. Part of the reason why I could earn big bucks was that I was trusted. My employer needed my sign off. The head regulator was generally a qualified ‘xyzist’ too. No Board would dare go far without support from a qualified ‘xyzist’.

The professional body (The Institute of ….) was strong, controlling entry (with hard exams), and policing behaviour with professional standards, codes of conduct and a disciplinary system. The profession largely wrote the rules and regulations for the industry. We always maintained we were acting in the ‘public interest’. At least superficially, we took our version of ‘noblesse oblige’ very seriously.

We, of course, weren’t the only elite and cosy profession, and in times of stress we could join together with others (lawyers, accountants, elite civil servants etc.) to present a united front against ‘unsound’ proposals.

That cosy world has now largely disintegrated, and perhaps it deserved to. Margaret Thatcher viewed the professions with particular suspicion as being self serving and in restraint of trade. The tide in academia has been towards open competition and ‘freedom with disclosure’, and quite unsupportive of unaccountable elites (largely male and similarly educated) setting the rules.

The idea (from academia, Milton Friedman et al), was that a lightly regulated ‘free market’, with free and ample availability of information, would bring better decision making and greater efficiency.

In my time, qualified ‘xyzists’ weren’t good and trustworthy primarily because they were naturally ‘good’ (although some undoubtedly were). It was in their interests, and the interests of the profession, that they maintained their reputation for ‘goodness’, and were therefore ‘trusted’, and could charge higher fees.

As ordinary consumers we are now on our own, and we should not trust anyone or any body unless we can understand why it is in their interests to maintain trustworthiness.

I don’t have any confidence that being harangued by Jack and others about ‘values’ will influence journalists, unless this hits their employers’ profits and their own incomes.

In times of fast changing technology there will be new ways to deceive and trick. I have confidence that the general population learns fairly fast, but it can hurt. Surely none of us will any longer unquestioningly accept anything we see on facebook? It is conceivable (perhaps unlikely) that any (or all) of you EA bloggers are ‘Russians’ or generated by some fiendish bot? If any of you wanted money I suppose I’d have to check. (How …?)

I don’t see in the near future any significant revival of ‘trusted bodies’, be they established in church, State, academia, professions, unions, associations or societies. The logical alternative of a heavily policed ‘rules based’ system won’t work on a global basis without effective global governance; and that isn’t on the horizon either.

Any conclusions as to where we are heading are unclear but seem generally depressing. We will be less trusting of each other and more suspicious. Our big systems, countries, international bodies etc. will fragment. There will be more conflict. The only bright spot : maybe there will be a new appreciation of smaller groups – families, communities, neighbourhoods? Maybe with an optimistic squint I can see that coming in my childrens’ generation. I hope so.

13 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Professions, Science & Technology

13 responses to “Comment Of The Day: “Public Confidence And Trust (2): Observations On Gallup’s Trust In Occupations Poll”

  1. Congratulations Andrew!

    I will ponder on what I’ve read.

  2. Other Bill

    Good, present, married parents can raise good kids. Not always, but it’s the best formula to date.

  3. Isaac

    My last check from Vladimir Putin bounced. I am a free agent now. Have any of you guys ever commented for Soros? What’s the take-home like?

  4. Andrew wrote, “…we should not trust anyone or any body unless we can understand why it is in their interests to maintain trustworthiness.”

    This is pretty negative statement and it’s a bit confusing the way you worded it. Can you elaborate a little more on your thought so I can better understand what you mean?

    In my humble opinion; trust/trustworthiness has nothing to do with “their interests to maintain trustworthiness” it has to do with things like reliability, truth, ability, strength, confidence, belief, faith, certainty, integrity, etc.

    • Rusty Rebar

      I think Andrew is saying that you should not put your trust in xyz profession because they are in that profession, rather you should look at the game theoretic of the situation and see for yourself that the incentives are such that the “professional” is rewarded for working in your interest.

      • Rusty Rebar wrote, “…see for yourself that the incentives are such that the ‘professional’ is rewarded for working in your interest.”

        That doesn’t imply trustworthiness.

        If a profession requires incentives to be trustworthy then they likely can’t be trusted because the incentives are the driving factor not being trustworthy. What stops the incentive driven profession to change their behavior when a larger incentive comes along; a reputation based on integrity and being trustworthy is what stops them, the incentive is secondary.

  5. Steve-O-in-NJ

    Harsh, but true.

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