How optimistic are you about America’s future? How much do you trust the institutions that hold society together? Do you think that now is an ideal time to build wealth and set your family up for success?
If your answers were “not very, not much, and no,” then you are not alone.
Earlier this month, the global communications firm Edelman released its annual barometer of trust survey, which found that trust in societal institutions is plummeting around the world. At the same time, economic anxiety is rising in the world’s top economies, including Japan, France, Germany, Singapore, and the U.S., resulting in record-setting levels of global pessimism.
In short, people in the developed world believe the social fabric of their countries is unraveling before their very eyes.
While this may seem grim, the survey also provides some clues as to how we can weave a new, more resilient social fabric.
Let’s take a look at some of the findings: In the 28 countries surveyed by Edelman, only 40% of people agree with the statement “My family and I will be better off in five years.” This is a staggering 10-point drop from last year, with 24 of the 28 countries registering all-time lows. Economic optimism is lower than the average in the United States, with only 36% who agree. This represents a one-point drop from 2022.
This economic anxiety is so intense that people fear job loss and inflation more than they fear nuclear war, food shortages, and energy shortages.
Trust in major societal institutions, like government, the media, and nongovernmental organizations, are diminishing. Only one of the main institutions, business, is still seen as trustworthy, with 62% of people considering it both competent and ethical.
This lack of trust, combined with economic anxiety, contributes to a climate that is dangerously polarized.
The poll found that 65% of respondents believe that “the lack of civility and mutual respect today is the worst I have ever seen” and 62% believe that “the social fabric that once held this country together has grown too weak to serve as a foundation for unity and common purpose.”
Of the 28 countries examined, the U.S. is among six that are categorized as “severely polarized.” Not only do Americans believe that the country is extremely divided, they also believe that these divisions cannot be overcome.
In other words, people are “facing economic fears without a trust safety net,” as the survey bleakly notes.
But this dark outlook isn’t quite the full picture.
While people’s trust in government, the media, and NGOs is falling, their trust in the people around them—their neighbors, coworkers, and members of their local communities—is strong. All of these are seen as very trustworthy, while government leaders, journalists, and CEOs are seen as untrustworthy.
Even the high trust in business, when examined more closely, shows that it is not faceless mega-corporations that people trust, but rather family-owned businesses. While 67% trust that family-owned businesses can be relied upon to do what is right, their attitudes toward privately held, publicly traded, and state-owned businesses were largely ambivalent.
What Edelman’s survey shows is what many have intuited since the pandemic: The elites and leaders whom society once considered the “adults in the room” have failed us, and that folks like you and me must instead look to each other for support.
Or, as Edelman’s CEO Richard Edelman puts it, “A dispersion of authority has evolved a top-down world into a peer-driven one; people now look to each other more than to leaders.”
For some, the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer will help to nurse feelings of demoralization and despair. There are plenty of people who have turned complaining about the “fall of Western civilization” into a form of recreation. They no doubt will view the survey findings with a sort of perverse satisfaction.
But others will instead see this as an opportunity.
Instead of relying on the old, inept institutions to provide us with a brighter future, a stronger society, and household wealth, we should look to ourselves and those around us to complete those tasks.
Enterprising men and women should look around their communities, identify the pain-points and needs, and work relentlessly to address them. This is how a new social fabric is formed, a social fabric that doesn’t need or want the old government leaders, journalists, CEOs, or NGOs.
Now is the time for more people to become local-level leaders. Because in the developed world, these are swiftly becoming the only people that anyone trusts.
Christian Mysliwiec is a writer, editor, and thinker based in northern Virginia. He is the host of The Fresh Start Project, which explores the loss of trust in institutions and how individuals can move forward toward a more self-sovereign life. You can follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Substack.
[CM1]Survey released Sunday, Jan. 15.