Measuring trust, denouncing mistrust :
two economists at the « bedside » of the French social model
Through a close examination of Yann Algan and Pierre Cahuc’s La société de defiance : comment le modèle social français s’autodétruit [The society of mistrust : how the French social model is destroying itself], this article inquires into the role that can be attributed to interpersonal trust in explaining economic and social phenomena. While we can hardly contest the evidence of French people’s low level of interpersonal trust collected by major international surveys, it would be problematic to translate this into generalized mistrust. Likewise, the authors’ demonstration of the historical evolution of trust among the French, together with their deductions about the country’s welfare-state system, are highly debatable. The fact that the book nonetheless encountered considerable success in 2008 leads to inquiring into the role of experts in public debate, but also into the political and social effects of their conclusions, which they present as the results of a scientific demonstration.