What are the most important qualities of a society that allow economic prosperity to take root? A lust for learning and knowledge? A blistering work ethic? Increasingly, academic research has highlighted a characteristic that may surprise many: Social trust.

Trust and its inseparable counterpart, trustworthiness, are themes that run strongly throughout Scripture. Trustworthy people are continually held in high esteem throughout the Bible (Exod. 18:20, Neh. 13:13, Dan. 6:4, Luke 19:17, 1 Cor. 4:2, 1 Tim. 3:11). Trust and trustworthiness are fundamental to healthy relationships; they are hallmarks of spiritual maturity. But academic research has only recently begun to grasp why they are so fundamental to economic prosperity.

The importance of social trust has been driven home as my family and I live for six months in a small village in Oaxaca, Mexico. The value of social trust is made salient by its absence, like being oblivious to your mother’s savory cooking until you leave home. Mexico is a wonderful country, rich in resources, history, tradition, art, and culture. But it is not a country rich in trust. Trust in government, in politicians and police, even among one’s fellow citizens is as sparse as water in the Sonoran Desert. These are not casual observations. Lamentably, they are how the data speak.

For 35 years, social scientists of all stripes have been obtaining data on trust and trustworthiness through the World Values Survey. In this carefully representative survey, 400,000 people across 100 different countries are asked: "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?” For example, while 74.2 percent of those ...

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