09 February 2012
We Trust - Final Print
Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga)
Image size: 21" x 35" (53 x 89 cm)
Paper size: 25" x 38.5" (63.5 x 98 cm)
3 shina plywood blocks
5 hand-rubbed color layers
Paper: Shikoku White
Much can be said about George Washington, the "Father of Our Country," but what I want to say is that he was the most trusted man among all the so-called Founding Fathers. He was not the best educated of the founders, as he had only a grade school education. He was not as eloquent as Jefferson, not as politically savvy as Madison, not as intelligent as Hamilton. And yet he was chosen again and again by his peers to lead, first as commander of the Revolutionary army, then at the Constitutional Convention, and finally as the first President of the United States. His contemporaries knew him to be a man of great moral character and they trusted him completely.
It's no accident that Washington is pictured on the dollar bill. Trust is a quality that is essential to our economic system. In economics, trust is seen as a kind of social lubricant that encourages various forms of cooperation and spurs economic growth. If I buy a new car, I trust that it will function safely and reliably. When I purchase shares in a retirement fund, I trust that the managers will do all they can to help my money grow over time. If I buy a health insurance policy, I trust that my illnesses will be covered. And if someone defrauds me, I trust that the laws of the land will punish the perpetrators.
Which is why the transgressions of Wall Street in the past decade have angered so many of us. Wall Street crashed the economy by nurturing our trust and then betraying that trust. They made bad loans, chopped them up and re-branded them as investments, got them rated AAA, and made huge profits up front while leaving the inevitable disaster in the hands of the rest of us. And even now, no Wall Street firms or corporate mega-banks are suffering any real consequences. The government bailed them out, no questions asked. Regulators, politicians and bankers have all colluded and, fearing that if they tell us the truth the economy will crash even further, have lied to us about what really happened. Ironically, they are lying to us in order to secure our confidence and our trust.
I'm afraid it's going to take a long time before we trust again.