My brother’s hospital ran out of masks this week because patients kept breaking into storage cabinets and stealing them. So now doctors have to supply their own masks, respirators, and other protective gear.
We take a lot of cooperative behavior for granted. Left to our own devices, humans have the cognitive capacity to form cooperative relationships with about 150 others. Dunbar’s number.
Stuff like religion and government enable social scalability so people can collaborate outside of their immediate acquaintances. It’s easier to trust strangers if you believe that some greater force exists to exact justice. The force doesn’t have to be real – Roman banks stored silver in weakly-guarded temples – but the belief has to be universal for societal trust to exist.
We can cooperate with strangers as long as we trust the government to maintain order. When times are good, we play nice and what goes around comes around. In times of crisis, trust runs scarce and government entities step in as the confidence-bearer of last resort.
But now we see that the federal government is powerless to do anything but print money. When the only tool you have is debt monetization, every problem looks like a credit crunch. When people lose faith in the government, they show it by turning on each other.