"If You Don't Trust People You Know, It's Over."

On an NYU aid and development studies blog, this video of NYU Professor Leonard Wantchekon talking about a cultural challenge to development in the country where he grew up, Benin. As regular BB readers are probably sick of me mentioning in blog posts by now, I spent the last few weeks traveling and shooting video in that West African country.

So, in this clip from "What Would the Poor Say: Debates in Aid Evaluation," a recent conference held by NYU's Development Research Institute, Wantchekon talks about the lack of interpersonal trust within a community as a major challenge to economic development.

Communities in Benin where he has seen this phenomenon manifest most, he says, are the same communities where the highest amount of slave exportation took place from the 1600s to the 1900s -- villages and towns in the southern part of the country, where the huge slave ports once stood, and where massive numbers of (basically) war captives were sold into bondage. Wantchekon documents all of this in a research paper he co-authored with Nathan Nunn.

I realize the point in this video is to help aid workers think about how to quantify, define, and deal with this factor in development programs in Africa. But as I watched, I kept thinking about what this means in my own personal community back here in the US (and around the internet). How I and my friends and colleagues are, in many ways, really "banking" on that trust with each other to come up with creative ways to survive the economic crisis.

Video: "If You Don't Trust People You Know, It's Over."

You should also watch another clip by Wantchekon at this conference about the "Real Costs of Funerals in Benin." Might sound tedious and weird but it's (at least to me) fascinating. According to Wantchekon, some 30% of the monthly income of many middle-class families in Benin is spent on funerals!

(NYU Aid Watch blog, Thanks, Hugo von Tilborg!)


  1. Xeni:
    I cannot speak for anybody else, but I think your posts on Benin are beautiful and insightful. They are exactly what I like: A window to alien realities and odd social mores, a tale of cultural fusion that has remained out of the mainstream, but that is starting to emerge.

    How will it blend with our global society?
    What memes are there for my own personal culture?
    How do my opinions have to change according to what you tell us? How does Benin proves right and wrong?

    I cannot travel, but I can try to read and understand.

    Thank you, Xeni. It is refreshing to see that people in weird places count.

  2. Community is about the only way for people to survive. All those angry white male stockpile survivalists ought to remember that fact. We could, here in the US, easily end up like some poor, chaotic African nation if give up on our shared responsibilities.

  3. @URSHREW:

    Aggregate outcomes for high trust communities are better than those for low trust ones, or noncommunities; but there are, unfortunately, plenty of circumstances where starkly antisocial means are quite advantageous in individual cases.

  4. Without trust the dance of Leadership, Followship, and Serviceship breaks down to Self-Serving Mefirstmenship. The first self serving lie that brings more power to one’s self destroys trust. Africa is a mosaic of beautiful Cultures and People. The lies were imported from Europe along with the Guns. I wish some of the countries suffering from the disease of” War Lords” {Cowards} would ask us to invade them. We are trying to put trust of leadership back on the table as a point for Global dialogue. Simply put. I trust our new leadership with the power of Annihilation a lot more than the last one. Please conceder the notion that we Caucasians have a lot to learn about the power of trust. Africa can teach us.

  5. “. The lies were imported from Europe along with the Guns.”

    Even chimpanzees lie.

    Africa is a beautiful place, but please, let’s make no idealizations.

    Indeed we (not only Caucasians, since this is not an issue of ethnicity) have many things to learn from a lot of places. But phrases like yours only make this learning process more difficult, as with such obvious bull people won’t believe anything else.

  6. This is a test and only a test. Please cower anywhere you like. The Pope is after witches. He has nothing to worry about because his Popemobile is equipped with witch proof glass. Step back and slowly reach for your gonads. They are shrinking as you read. As is your brain.

  7. Lump sum payments in the form of ‘aid’ from the West to Africa can be detrimental to building trust as they increase corruption and rent-seeking.

    Micro-finance is a much better way to go. Trade for Africa, not aid.

  8. My Father always told me, “Don’t trust nobody but your mama and then cut the deck.” He was from South Bend and not Benin.

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