Structuring Behavior: Institutions, Trust, and Social Norms

My research lies in the field of comparative political economy and employs a variety of methodological techniques, both quantitative and qualitative (survey, survey experiments, lab experiments, comparative historical analysis), to investigate the varied relationship between citizens and their states. Most recently, I’ve focused on taxation and tax behavior in Europe and America. In many ways, taxation is the linchpin between democratic accountability and citizen responsibility, and thus, is an ideal way to examine interpersonal trust among individuals and also the relationship between individuals and their government. My research tends to be collaborative, policy oriented, and multimethodological.

My future research will examine how we can begin to generate and sustain trust amongst individuals and between individuals and the state. Trust is one of the most important features of stable economies and democracies. High levels of trust generate voluntary cooperation, which is essential to lowering transaction costs and to the functioning of government. Simply put, trust is essential. On the other hand, a lack of trust can cause a social trap by discouraging cooperation, whose presence is needed to make all parties involved better off. The importance of trust for positive democratic outcomes has been well documented. Yet, societies across the globe arguably suffer from more distrust now than at any other point in modern history, according to a 2017 Trust Barometer. Current models provide a diagnosis for trusting and non-trusting societies, but not necessarily solutions. As Peter Nannestad elegantly states, “The question of trust is a huge puzzle that is not even near solution.”

To address this, I utilize a novel approach by examining the sharing economy to study how we can begin to manufacture and sustain trust. Although there is a host of literature on trust, this will be the first study of its kind to exploit and mimic the sharing economy as a tool to examine how trust can be generated and maintained. Through this project, I expect to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that generate trust and how trust can be maintained in an increasingly global economy. As economies become even more globalized and individuals begin to rely more on the sharing economy, it is important that we address other factors that are crucial to trust, such as gender, race, and ethnicity. For example, Airbnb is by nature transnational and Uber workers often have a migration background. The project will thus be very important for the study of globalisation as a whole. I therefore posit four broad research questions:

  1.  Which institutional mechanisms generate trust amongst strangers? \item When can trust begin to emerge as a norm, so that formal institutional arrangements are no longer necessary and voluntary cooperation is generated?
  2. Do gender, race, socioeconomic status, sexual preference, and/or ethnicity (in-group/out-group identity, more generally) build or hinder trust, and can social cohesion be increased by generating trust amongst groups?
  3. Are some groups and/or types (i.e., individualistic or prosocial) more intrinsically trusting and/or trustworthy?

My research will apply an innovative methodological and multidisciplinary approach, utilizing the growing sharing economy to examine how trust emerges and can be maintained amongst complete strangers, alongside the broader social implications, such as increased social cohesion and civic engagement. I will investigate this through a combination of online surveys, laboratory and field experiments. Theoretically, the sharing economy provides a unique and underutilized testing ground for investigating the relationship amongst trust, social exchange, and institutions. Empirically, this novel multi-methodological and multidisciplinary approach combines laboratory experiments, surveys, and field experiments – something that is relatively new in the study of trust and institutions.

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