Will the Internet Make Chileans More Trustworthy?

Journalist John Stossel wrote an interesting essay about what untrustworthy people like Chileans and other Latin Americans can do to increase business with people from rich countries.

Trust—society depends on it. For most of history, our ancestors lived in clans with other family members, or in small villages. Everyone pretty much knew who was trustworthy. People behaved better because they wanted good relationships with family members and neighbors. It’s one reason that today we trust friends and family more than strangers.

Only recently have humans interacted with lots of people. Today, “50 percent of the population lives in cities,” points out entrepreneur Julien Smith. “We’re surrounded by strangers, and you end up with these systems in place that progressively get built (to determine:) ‘should I trust this person?'”

Smith created the website Breather, which arranges for strangers to rent private spaces—even living rooms—for business meetings. For his business to work, total strangers must have a reason to trust each other. The Internet makes that possible. His customers check his clients’ reputations before they agree to share a workspace….

Internet ratings give us more reason than ever before to interact with new people.

Before the Internet, we at least had word of mouth. It gave us some protection. When I was a consumer reporter in a single city—Portland, Oregon, then New York City—I could find a smalltime scam to report on every week. But when I moved to ABC News to report on national scams, I couldn’t find so many.

That’s because, in a free society, the way for a business to get really rich is to serve customers well. When it does, customers want more of your stuff. If you rip people off, word gets out, and your business doesn’t grow.

Julia Thiel of the Chicago Reader reports that many Chileans are thieves, including flatmates at two different apartments:

When I told the Chileans at the ceramics studio where I took classes what had happened, they seemed unsurprised. “Chileans steal,” said one. “It’s too bad, but it’s just the way it is.” Another said she’d once seen a sign in a store in another Latin American country warning people to be on the lookout for Chileans stealing things. (Earlier this year, a Chilean was even arrested for stealing a glacier.)

I hope that the Internet encourages Chileans to become more trustworthy but I reckon it will take decades to change the culture.

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