Social Traps and the Problem of Trust

A social trap is a situation where individuals, groups or organisations are unable to cooperate owing to mutual distrust and lack of social capital, even where cooperation would benefit all. Examples include civil strife, pervasive corruption, ethnic discrimination, depletion of natural resources and misuse of social insurance systems. Much has been written attempting to explain the problem, but rather less material is available on how to escape it. In this book, Bo Rothstein explores how social capital and social trust are generated and what governments can do about it. He argues that it is the existence of universal and impartial political institutions together with public policies which enhance social and economic equality that creates social capital. By introducing the theory of collective memory into the discussion, Rothstein makes an empirical and theoretical claim for how universal institutions can be established.

• Explores the variation in corruption, civil strife, welfare and social trust among countries • Examines how social capital and social trust are generated and what governments are doing about it • Presents a theory on how the causal mechanisms between trust in political institutions and trust in other people work


1. Reflections after a very long day in Moscow; 2. On the rational choice of culture; 3. On the theory and practice of social capital; 4. Social capital in the social democratic welfare state; 5. How is social capital produced?; 6. The problem of institutional credibility; 7. Trust and collective memories; 8. The transition from mistrust to trust; 9. The conditions of trust and the capacity of dialogue.