Trustworthiness and Motivations

In N. Morris D. Vines (ed.), Capital Failure: Rebuilding trust in financial services. Oxford University Press (2014)
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Trust can be thought of as a three place relation: A trusts B to do X. Trustworthiness has two components: competence (does the trustee have the relevant skills, knowledge and abilities to do X?) and willingness (is the trustee intending or aiming to do X?). This chapter is about the willingness component, and the different motivations that a trustee may have for fulfilling trust. The standard assumption in economics is that agents are self-regarding, maximizing their own consumption of goods and services. This is too restrictive. In particular, people may be concerned with the outcomes of others, and they may be concerned to follow ethical principles. I distinguish weak trustworthiness, which places no restrictions on B’s motivation for doing X, from strong trustworthiness, where the behaviour must have a particular non-selfish motivation, in finance the fiduciary commitment to promote the interests of the truster. I discuss why strong trustworthiness may be more efficient and also normatively preferable to weak. In finance, there is asymmetric information between buyer and seller, which creates a need for trustworthy assessment of products. It also creates an ambiguity about whether the relationship is one of buyer and seller, governed by caveat emptor, or a fiduciary relationship of advisor and client. This means that there are two possible reasons why trust may be breached: because the trustee didn’t realise that the truster framed the relationship as a fiduciary one, or because the trustee did realise but actively sought to take advantage of the trust. Correspondingly, there are two possible types of agent: normal people who are not always self-regarding and who are trust responsive (if they believe that they are being trusted then they are likely to fulfill that trust), and knaves, after Hume’s character who is always motivated by his own private interest. We can increase the trustworthiness of normal people by getting them to re-frame the situation as one of trust, so they will be strongly trustworthy (i.e. change of institutional culture), and by providing non-monetary incentives (the correct choice of incentive will depend on exactly what their non-selfish motivation is). Knaves need sanctions, which can make them weakly trustworthy. However, this is a delicate balance because sanctions can crowd out normative frames. We can also increase the trustworthiness of financiers by making finance less attractive to knaves; changing the mix of types in finance could help support the necessary cultural change.
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Trust and Antitrust.Baier, Annette

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