Trust at a distance — the odd way

Jerry —  December 9, 2015 — 3 Comments

Sometimes the ways that societies arrange themselves look strange from the outside, or from the future, but yield great results in their time.

The pre-modern British aristocracy is a great case in point. They threw lavish parties for one another at expensive “county seats” dotted around the county. They died in duels, inherited titles and didn’t train their offspring in any useful skills. Yet this arrangement gave the world Rule, Britannia for almost 300 years.

The Institutional Revolution, by UCLA historian Doug Allen, describes how this set of norms and institutions worked. Along the way, Allen creates the memorable term “hostage capital,” which describes how the aristocrats were “all in” on their lifestyle: If they were cut off by the court, they would have little or nothing to survive on. No assets, no reputation, no useful skills. Everything depended on succeeding with their responsibilities.

In this 5minU (Five Minute University), I share what I learned from his book, particularly how it relates to creating trust at a distance. For example, how could Queen Elizabeth be pretty damned sure that Sir Francis Drake was acting in the Crown’s best interests and not his own, while he was on the other side of the globe?

Here’s the book, in context, in my Brain.

Btw, if we all created 5minUs, our reading lists would all get shorter — and we’d get to know one another better. Please publish yours and tag them #5minU.



3 responses to Trust at a distance — the odd way

  1. Hi Jerry, thanks for this richly, insightful #5minU. I loved two things in particular: the value of history as a teacher – not merely the exchange of facts but lessons that echo in our time; and the time you saved me in not having the read the book. Regards, Brett

  2. Hi Jerry, I really liked this #5minU!! It has sparked my curiosity and now I want to go and find out more. Did anyone challenge the system? Did they succeed or fail? I think I have found my Christmas bedtime reading. Thanks, Will

  3. Interesting. There are about 10% of people who are dyslexic, including me, who would greatly benefit from this idea.
    The book makes the aristocracy sound like a fraternity with dueling as the hazing. I know a lot of them WERE related to each other, so they also were a crazy extended family.
    I always thought the point of the aristocracy was to bring together people of various talents together in their homes to brain storm solutions to problems. Kind of like a think tank. My mother was descended from lower German aristocracy and had a b and b where she brought people from Silicon Valley and Seattle together, so I guess that is where I got the idea.

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