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Trust and the Distribution of Caution

  • Breuer, Janice Boucher
  • McDermott, John

Trust is often considered a determinant of economic performance. The exogeneity of trust, however, is questionable. We develop a model with heterogeneous agents to determine aggregate trustworthiness, trust, and output. People differ according to their risk aversion (caution). The distribution of risk aversion across individuals -- along with the threat of punishment -- is critical in the process by which trust is formed. The mean and variance of the distribution of caution have direct and indirect effects on trust. For the mean, the direct effect of caution is intuitive: societies with more cautious populations would have less trust. The indirect effect, however works through the perception of trustworthiness and leads to more trust. The net effect is, paradoxically, positive in homogenous societies. In heterogeneous societies, the reverse is true. Trust and output are endogenous, and not monotonically related across countries with different moments of the distribution of caution.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 18112.

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Date of creation: Aug 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:18112
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  1. Ernst Fehr, 2009. "On the economics and biology of trust," IEW - Working Papers 399, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  2. Breuer, Janice Boucher & McDermott, John, 2009. "Trustworthiness and economic performance," MPRA Paper 16777, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Drago, Francesco & Galbiati, Roberto & Vertova, Pietro, 2007. "The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," CEPR Discussion Papers 6401, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Schechter, Laura, 2007. "Traditional trust measurement and the risk confound: An experiment in rural Paraguay," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 272-292, February.
  5. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silane & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1996. "Trust in Large Organizations," NBER Working Papers 5864, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Nava Ashraf & Iris Bohnet & Nikita Piankov, 2006. "Decomposing trust and trustworthiness," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 193-208, September.
  7. Dean Karlan, 2004. "Using experimental economics to measure social capital and predict financial decisions," Artefactual Field Experiments 00074, The Field Experiments Website.
  8. Glenn W. Harrison & Eric Johnson & Melayne M. McInnes & E. Elisabet Rutstr�m, 2005. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 897-901, June.
  9. Elisabet Rutstrom & Glenn Harrison & Morten Lau, 2004. "Estimating risk attitudes in denmark: A field experiment," Artefactual Field Experiments 00059, The Field Experiments Website.
  10. Eckel, Catherine C. & Wilson, Rick K., 2004. "Is trust a risky decision?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 447-465, December.
  11. Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Laibson, David I. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Soutter, Christine L., 2000. "Measuring Trust," Scholarly Articles 4481497, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  12. Dean S. Karlan, 2005. "Using Experimental Economics to Measure Social Capital And Predict Financial Decisions," Working Papers 909, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  13. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2002. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1644-1655, December.
  14. repec:oup:qjecon:v:115:y:2000:i:3:p:811-846 is not listed on IDEAS
  15. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
  16. Zak, Paul J & Knack, Stephen, 2001. "Trust and Growth," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(470), pages 295-321, April.
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