"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!)