The Cost of Trust: A Pilot Study

28 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2018

See all articles by Sinclair Davidson

Sinclair Davidson

RMIT University

Mikayla Novak

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Jason Potts

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technolog (RMIT University)

Date Written: July 24, 2018


Trust is a fundamental precondition underpinning exchange and economic coordination between heterogeneous agents, but is costly to maintain. Given the potential for agents to enjoy zero-sum gains by opportunistically betraying the trust of exchanging counterparties, an edifice of occupational roles, organisational forms and institutional practices have emerged in an effort to uphold trustworthy behaviour and conduct. In simple terms, there exists a “cost of trust” and this cost is non-trivial for a highly specialised economy operating at an increasingly global scale. This paper provides numerical estimates of the cost of trust for the United States economy, based on an attribution of labour force occupational data with varying degrees of trust-maintenance. Occupations which are represented in high cost-of-trust activities include managers, lawyers and judges, tax professionals, accountants and auditors. Overall, it is estimated that the cost of trust accounts for 35 per cent of U.S. employment in 2010. The cost of trust has significant implications for the economic applicability of distributed ledger technologies, such as blockchain, compared with conventional forms of ledger technology largely maintained by centralised third-party organisations.

Keywords: blockchain, measurement, opportunism, transaction costs, trust

JEL Classification: D02, J21, K42, O33, Z13

Suggested Citation

Davidson, Sinclair and Novak, Mikayla and Potts, Jason, The Cost of Trust: A Pilot Study (July 24, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Sinclair Davidson

RMIT University ( email )

124 La Trobe Street
Melbourne, 3000

Mikayla Novak (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

Jason Potts

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technolog (RMIT University) ( email )

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