turkish

Understanding Turkey: Lack of interpersonal trust

It was one of those normal evenings during my last months in Turkey. I was laying on the couch after dinner, surfing the internet. I was basically just cruising around, went to some website here, looked up some statistics there, went back to Google, found something, went back, clicked on a link again. And then, suddenly, I was looking at some numbers that made all my scattered understanding of Turkey come together…. What was before my eyes, explained it all. There it was, in black and white… This graph:

Interpersonal trust - OECD - percentage of people expressing high level of trust in others

The graph shows the percentage of people in the OECD countries expressing high level of trust in others. As you see, Turkey is at the bottom of the list. Only 24 percent of the Turkish people in the survey highly trusted their fellow citizens. Compare that to the Scandinavian countries, where almost everyone seem to trust one and other.

But this is only the OECD countries, I thought… what about the rest of the world?

As I continued to search the internet for other surveys relating to interpersonal trust, I found this world map, and by then I was sure…

Interpersonal trust World map

…Turkey has a huge problem with trust,  may it or may it not be for good reasons. Even compared to other places in the entire world, Turkey sticks out as a country in which people’s trust of each other is surprisingly low.  To me, it does not only explain something about peculiarities in it’s society, but it also predicts future problems, not the least relating to economic development.

Lack of interpersonal trust and its consequences

In one way you can say that the foundation of any society is built on trust. To be able to do business with someone, you need to be able to trust that person. The whole capitalistic system in terms of specialization rather then self-sufficieny, is based on trust between individuals. So, what happens in a society with low interpersonal trust?

Well, you can see all the signs in Turkey…

  • Where does the extreme social culture come from? – a way to be sure where you have other people?
  • The love for the family – are they maybe the only one you can trust?
  • A tendency for jealousy – everywhere there is threats to both love and friendships

And in business and politics?

  • Shortsightedness – While you’re in power grab as much you can, feed only yourself
  • Widespread nepotism and corruption – same as above
  • Why is Erdogan personally involved in everything? – he doesn’t trust anyone else

And of course, the lack of trust easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The situation becomes much like the prisoners dilemma, a vicious cycle hard to break free from, like this:

I know that you will cheat me, so I better cheat you first!

For Turkey to become an advanced economy, lack of trust is not a good thing. The interpersonal trust issue will increasingly become a hinder for economic growth and development. Where there is no trust, the transaction costs are high and a nepotistic society quite effectively makes sure that niether the best individual nor the most suiting company gets the job or the contract.

And maybe not even the love within the family isn’t that great after all? There is a Turkish expression saying, Babana bile güvenme! 

It translates: Don’t even trust your father!

 

 

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Part 3: Victory?

Erdogan victory akp

The day after the local elections I stood on the sidewalk with my bags waiting for a taxi. I was on my way to a friend where I would stay during my last days in Istanbul. It was clear that AKP had won, even though the votes were still being counted.

After putting my luggage in the backseat, I sat down next to a smiling taxi driver, who immediately, as most strangers asked about my nationality, after wrongly assuming I was from Germany.

The radio was playing loud. Every second minute, parts from Erdogan’s victory speech, in which he promised to crush all his opponents, was aired. Now and then, the radio station also played pieces of the song specially written for the local elections with the simplistic but telling refrain “Reeeecep Taaaaayyip Errrrdooogaaaaan!”

“How is it going in Ankara?” I asked the driver. “Have they counted all the votes yet?”

“AKP won!” he answered while taking his right hand off the steering wheel, raising his thumb up in the air.

“45% percent they got” he continued.

“So what do you think will happen to Fetullah Gülen now?”

He again lifted his right hand from the steering wheel, this time imitating a razor blade cutting against his throat.

“He is finished!” he said.

We continued to talk about other things, but as the taxi came closer to my final destination, I wanted to ask him one last question.

“So, do you think there were any corruption? Do you think Erdogan is corrupt?”

He did an upwards nod.

“No! There is no corruption!” he said with certainty in his voice.

I sat in silence for a while, watching the expression on his face. He looked friendly.

“But…” I started, discretely smiling. “… This is Turkey. Aren’t most politicians corrupt here in some way? The CHP also, I mean.”

His face changed somewhat like he was preparing to say something, but he remained quite.

“Do you really believe he is not corrupt?” I continued and smiled.

At this point his facade broke down.

“You are right. He might be! He might have taken some money” he said almost in a whispering tone.

“So what do you think about that?”

“Well, he is the best we have!” he continued after a while. ”I like him! He is doing great things for people like me!”

As I stepped out of the taxi, grabbed my luggage and said god bye to him, I thought about the fact that AKP has had constant wind in their sails since they came to power in 2002. And when they were faced with their first real challenge, the Gezi protests, they managed to ruin their entire worldwide reputation as a progressive democratic party in less than a couple of weeks. After the corruption allegations, they now only have the poor and uneducated people left to vote for them. This is enough to win the elections under todays political circumstances, but is Erdogan able to provide another ten years of economic success and reforms, that these poor voters hope for?

That is the burning question.