The Moral Foundations of Trust

52 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2005

See all articles by Eric M. Uslaner

Eric M. Uslaner

University of Maryland, College Park; Institute for Corruption Studies

Date Written: September 2002


This paper summarizes my book from Cambridge University Press (2002) with the same title.

Trust is a multifacted concept. Mostly it is conceived as a rational response to trustworthy behavior by others. I offer an argument and evidence that there is another and more important variant of trust, moralistic (generalized) trust. I show that moralistic trust is faith in people we don't know and that it does not depend upon our life experiences. It is this type of trust that binds us to others. Trusting people are more likely to volunteer their time, to give to charity, to be tolerant of others, and to support policies that both promote economic growth (open markets) and that provide support for the less fortunate. Countries with more trusters have better functioning government, more redistributive policies, more open markets, and less corruption. What distinguishes countries that are trusting from those that are not is the level of economic equality.

Keywords: trust, social capital, inequality, government, civic engagement

Suggested Citation

Uslaner, Eric M., The Moral Foundations of Trust (September 2002). Available at SSRN: or

Eric M. Uslaner (Contact Author)

University of Maryland, College Park ( email )

College Park, MD 20742
United States
+1301 405 4151 (Phone)
+1301 314 9690 (Fax)

Institute for Corruption Studies

Stevenson Hall 425
Normal, IL 61790-4200
United States

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