Bummer chart of the day….unless you’re in the military, or a devoted misanthrope.  new data from the 2008 General Social Survey shows declining levels of trust for every institution in the United States except for the military and education.

What accounts for this mass scale institutional distrust?  I think Robert Putnam has a book that talks about this stuff :-)   One way of looking at all this is to weep for civil society and make the Putnam argument that this is evidence of a decline in social capital.  If we all had each other over for dinner, we’d trust each other more and thus trust the public institutions in which we all have a stake.

I think there’s a lot to this, but I’d offer we also this of this cynicism as increased expectations.  As society has become more inured to mass marketing appeals, we’ve become more desirous of more transparency and more effectiveness from our institutions.  This increased demand that our institutions produce more can be damaging int that they may not be designed to produce at a high level (I’m looking at you California government).  But they can also be the result of a sense of greater agency and efficacy amongst the public in general.

We’ve become a high standards people.  That can redound to our benefit if people back up their high expectations with a sense of engagement.  I fear that our “high expectations” culture is devolving into a flabby grousing about corrupt politicians without any real intention of addressing the problem.

HT: Social Capital Blog