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Covid-19: can the loss of trust in institutions be restored?

The loss of trust in governments, the media and other public and private institutions has been the subject of much research in recent years. There are signs that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated this situation and the question is how trust can be restored in a climate where censorship and deplatforming decide who is heard and who is not.

It is well known that in recent years, people’s trust in governments, the media and other public and private institutions had rapidly declined. Drawing a parallel with the 2008 global financial crisis, where something similar happened, Betrand Badré and Aurélie Jean argue that the Covid-19 pandemic has decisively weakened public confidence in expertise. “Conspiracy theories and political rejecting science have proliferated”, they claim, “but if the public does not trust the recommendations of scientists and financial experts, the crisis will be prolonged”.

While it is true that the strong interdependence between people and countries in modern society makes trust a key factor, their analysis is flawed and naïve in not recognizing the root of the problem. Contrary to what they claim, alternative media frequently offer a non-biased and financially independent perspective – often leaving it up to the reader or viewer to decide their position on a given subject after hearing different perspectives.

FCI has shown in previous posts how examples of this root problem abound in the Covid-19 crisis. Sweden has been demonized for acting irresponsibly by not opting for a full lockdown, although cautious voices now seem to suggest that this was in fact a sound decision. Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that has been in use for decades, in combination with zinc had in turn already been proved to be very successful against Covid-19 early this year, but is still banned in many advanced economies. The fact that it is available over the counter in many developing countries may explain the relatively absence of Covid-19 in densely populated areas where massive outbreaks were expected.

Authoritative voices such as those of 2008 Nobel Prize winner Luc Montagnier, who has claimed that Covid-19 is a laboratory-generated creation and not a naturally occurring effect of viral evolution, should be taken seriously and their claims should be refuted or confirmed. Instead, these dissident voices are silenced and censored. Finally, the number of MPs who have dared to speak up against draconian “Emergency Acts” that have been proposed by governments around the world, and which effectively give the executive branch the power to put aside the rule of law, is disappointedly low.

Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that trust in politics, media and the pharmaceutical sector is declining rapidly. Modern society prides itself on having won a hard battle to become a meritocracy, where people have power because of their abilities and not because of their financial or social position. Advanced economies are also said to function effectively for being high trust societies. Although it was already questionable to what extent the meritocratic ideal still applies in the financial realm, with current inequality being compared to that of the 19thcentury by Thomas Piketty, it is worrying to see how many countries are rapidly spiraling down into low trust societies in other domains as well.

Rather than ask the public to simply follow the recommendations of scientists and other experts, it seems that trust can only be regained if the latter make an honest effort to convince on the basis of facts and arguments – not on mere reputation or status.

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