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Friday, January 30, 2009

2009 Edelman Trust Barometer - A Study of Global Opinion And Trust

Earlier this week, Humble Libertarian reader Ray, who works in the DC office of the public relations firm Edelman, alerted me to the firm's yearly study of public opinion, particularly how much trust individuals have in corporations, the government, media, NGOs, and even their peers. The results of the study were announced Wednesday.

I highly recommend you visit the link and hear how public opinion has changed and been shaped by recent events. It has a series of embedded YouTube videos of the firm's CEO, Richard Edelman, announcing the results. The cool thing about it is that they are all relatively short and break up the talk into its smallest meaningful pieces with helpful, descriptive headings so that you can actually skim through video. I was just talking to Humble Libertarian contributor Ben Bryan yesterday, who told me how he seldom watches videos on the Internet because they're impossible to skim like text to quickly gain important information and determine if the whole thing is worth taking in.

Here's a little about the methodology:

  • 4,475 people in 20 countries on 5 continents
  • Aged 25 to 64
  • College-educated
  • Top 25% of household income per age group in each country
  • Report significant media consumption and engagement in business news and public policy

So in terms of their education, income, and engagement in world events, these are the elite that are being polled and studied, the movers and shakers of public policy and private success or failure. We can learn a lot from knowing what they think and who they trust. The international scope of the study makes its results very interesting for purposes of comparison. To give just an example, all of the industries that Americans and Europeans are losing trust in- energy, automobiles, and finance- are the same industries that are gaining trust in Asia, where they are associated with progress and prosperity. Business as a whole also suffers from severe distrust in the US, Europe, and Australia, but is well-trusted in Asian countries.

Here are some interesting finds from the study:

  • Nearly two-thirds of informed publics (62%) trust corporations less than they did a year ago
  • When respondents in the United States were asked about trust in business in general, only 38% said they trust business to do what is right—a 20 percent plunge since last year—and only 17% said they trust information from a company’s CEO. Both are lower levels of trust than those Edelman measured in the wakes of Enron, the dot-com bust, and Sept.11.
  • By a 3:1 margin, respondents say that government should intervene to regulate industry or nationalize companies to restore public trust. In the major Western European economies of the U.K, France, and Germany, three-quarters say that government should step in to prevent future financial crises (73%, 75%, and 74%, respectively); in the United States, not even half (49%) say that the free market should be allowed to function independently. Globally, the call for government intervention also extends to issues like energy costs, global warming, and access to affordable healthcare, as respondents, by at least a 2:1 margin, say government has the primary responsibility for solving these issues.
  • In contrast to the lack of trust in the Western economies that have historically shaped the global agenda, trust in business in several emerging economies increased. In China, the “trust in business” score rose from 54% to 71% among 35-to-64-year-olds. In Brazil, trust in business climbed to 69% from 61% a year ago. And while trust in banking dropped by 33 percentage points in the United States, trust in banks rose from 72% to 84% in China, and from 52% to 59% in Brazil.
  • Trust in nearly every type of news outlet and spokesperson is down from last year. Trust in business magazines and stock or industry analyst reports—last year’s leaders—decreased from 57% to 44% and from 56% to 47%, respectively.

My Analysis:

The so-called "informed public" in Western countries is apparently the misinformed public. Their lack of trust in corporations shows they know enough to see that many corporations have screwed them over badly and cannot be trusted. I should hope at least that much is clear to anyone who's been paying attention to the news over the past year. But their call for an even closer relationship between these corporations and the government shows that "the informed public" lacks the sophistication to understand that it is precisely the relationship between corporations and the government that has spawned this mess of abuse, fraud, scandal, and economic downturn.

Witness for example, the glaring inconsistency of a public that hates lobbying and lobbyists for the relationship they create between government and businesses, yet calls for more of that kind of relationship from government regulators. Regulators and lobbyists are just two sides of the same coin. They both have the same ugly result, the intrusion of government power into private commerce, which ends by misallocating resources and creating incentives for fraud. The fact that recent events have "the educated public" running scared from free markets, shows they don't understand what free markets are, and they miss the glaringly obvious point that we have had nothing remotely approaching a free market in the United States or Europe for a century.

Meanwhile, in the developing economies, the places where wealth is actually being created rather than destroyed, the educated public displays a trust in business and free markets. Is it only the results they're getting that cause these attitudes? Or could it be that these attitudes help to create such fantastic results and such explosive growth? I am inclined to believe a little of both.

More Information About The Economy And State
7 Reasons Why The Stimulus Package Will Be Bad For America
The US Government And The Real Biggest Ponzi Scheme
What is Capitalism? The Nature and Advantages of the Free Market
Criticisms of Barack Obama
Problems With America's Two-Party System

More From Edelman


  1. In some of the highest trust countries, members of a company’s Board of Directors are prohibited from getting stock options in the company. This instills trust versus the incestuous corporate boards in America.

    If the public was more educated, they would recognize the free markets existing in the U.S. since 2000 as being essentially “honor system capitalism”, a concept that hardly deserves public trust!

  2. Interesting term: "honor system capitalism." Do you mean by it that we put too much trust in corporations to do the right thing? I would agree that we have put too much trust in government and regulators to do the right thing! Instead they've made quite a mess of things.