chapter  2
21 Pages

Trust and growth

The idea that trust fosters reciprocity and cooperation is hardly a new one, as evidenced by the classical writings of, for example, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill and Georg Simmel.2 The more specific proposition, that the extent to which citizens are willing to cooperate with each other on the basis of interpersonal trust will affect the efficiency of political and economic institutions and thereby economic progress, is quite recent and, through the seminal work of Robert Putnam, Francis Fukuyama and James Coleman, has triggered a lively ongoing debate.3 I understand this willingness to trust others, often strangers, without expecting that they will immediately reciprocate this trust, as a cultural resource, as an enabler if not a necessary precondition of modern social capital formation. But is social capital a sociologically meaningful concept, or does this fashionable social science term simply conceal a hegemonic claim on the part of our neighbouring discipline, economics? Intuitively, social capital has positive connotations and appears to be associated with ‘good social order’. This offers us a point of entry into the discussion and an opportunity to put the various questions about social capital in sociology and economics in relation to each other.