According to Reich, “Bell and Freeman’s finding is confirmed by a survey that asked workers from different nations to choose which of the following three statements best described their feeling about their job: 1) ‘I work only as had as I have to,’2) ‘I work hard but not so much that it interferes with the rest of my life,’or 3) ‘I make a point of doing the best work I can even if it interferes with the rest of my life'(italics added). In the United States, where income disparities are widest, more than 60 percent agreed with the third statement. In Germany, where disparities are among the smallest, only 37 percent chose the third statement. In Britain, where income disparities aren’t as wide as in the United States but are much wider than in Germany, 55 percent chose the third.”63 This helps to explain why an increasing number of women in Fairfax County feel the need to go back to work within weeks of giving birth to a child.
No doubt many of us in the early 21st century would resonate with the comments of Walter Lippmann from 1914, “”There isn’t a human relation, whether of parent and child, husband and wife, worker and employer, that doesn’t move in a strange situation. We are not used to a complicated civilization, we don’t know how to behave when personal contact and eternal authority have disappeared. There are no precedents to guide us, no wisdom that wasn’t made for a simpler age. We have changed our environment more quickly than we know how to change ourselves.”64
The impact of go-go capitalism on a community’s social capital
Where children live matters to how well they do in school. There are biological reasons for this as well as economic and social ones. “The concept of relative fitness in evolutionary biology assumes that the success of any one individual or species in a locale depends not only on its genes and biological-behavioral characteristics but also on the competences of the other individuals or species living in the same ecological niche with whom it competes.”65Note carefully the last part of that sentence; we do not live in isolation, part of our intellectual strength comes from others in our ecological niche – neighborhood.
The American educator Howard Gardner puts an interesting spin on this when he notes: “It is worth bearing in mind that education extends far beyond the walls of school. Schools have continuing importance in our country, and, arguably, far more influence in other parts of the world: yet the amount of capital available to students and families – social, intellectual, and human – continues to be the best predictor of success in school and success in life. Tell me the ZIP (postal) code of a child and I will predict her chances of college completion and probable income; add the elements of family support (parental, grandparental, ethnic and religious values) and few degrees of freedom remain, at least in our country. Much of our current educational plight cannot be attributed to the quality of our school or schoolteachers per se but rather to the lack of the appropriate kinds of social capital, and to the often tawdry values promoted by the entertainment, television, and political worlds.”66
This paper will not delve deeply into the impact of television on children but I will point out two quick facts: 1) “The majority of US public elementary school teachers report that their students do less than an hour of homework per week. This compares with about 22 hours per week of television watching.”67 2) By the age of 19 American children have spent nearly 19,000 hours in front of television (compared with only 16,000 hours in school), and nearly two-thirds of all television programming has sexual content.68
There has long been an appreciation of the role social capital plays in the successful induction of children into adulthood. L.J. Hanifan, state supervisor of rural schools in West Virginia in 1916, captured the essence of social capital when he referred to it as: “Those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit…The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself…If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors.”69
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all ‘social networks'[who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [norms of reciprocity].70 Communities strong in social capital are places “where the citizenry trust each other; where they are inclined to keep their bargains; where they are not inclined to cheat strangers, or to give and take bribes; and where they encourage good citizenship in one another by unofficial means.”71
Places rich in social capital are also places rich in learning opportunities for both individuals and organizations. Trust is a central component of social capital, and trust facilitates learning.
As the OECD recently noted, “effective organizational learning is extremely difficult to achieve where stable interaction between firms and other organizations based on norms of trust and free exchange of information, are absent. Clearly, therefore, policy makers at the regional level need to develop strategies to foster appropriate forms of social capital as a key mechanism in promoting more effective organizational learning and innovation.”72
Unfortunately, it seems across much of the United States the cohesiveness necessary for effective social capital is falling apart, and has been for the better part of a quarter century. It is also falling across many Western European countries as well. Robert Putnam of Harvard University has written a rich, vast, thoughtful and captivating account of the decline of civic engagement in the United States since the 1960s.
In Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community Putnam notes that America is increasingly becoming a nation of watchers rather than a nation of doers. He attributes this to many causes including economic change, the pervasiveness of television, a changing demography, and the impersonal scale of cities and suburbs. The fact that citizens are increasingly opting out of community life has a perverse effect in many realms of social life, but it has a particularly negative effect on children.
Putnam points out that “States that score high on the Social Capital Index – that is, states whose residents trust other people, join organizations, volunteer, vote, and socialize with friends – are the same states where children flourish: where babies are born healthy and where teenagers tend not to become parents, drop out of school, get involved in violent crime, or die prematurely due to suicide or homicide. Statistically, the correlation between high social capital and positive child development is as close to perfect as social scientists ever find in data analyses of this sort. States such as North Dakota, Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa have healthy civic adults and healthy well-adjusted kids; other states, primarily those in the South, face immense challenges in both the adult and youth populations…Social capital is second only to poverty in the breadth and depth of its effect on children’s lives. While poverty is an especially potent force in increasing youth fertility, mortality, and idleness, community engagement has precisely the opposite effect. Social capital is especially important in keeping children from being born unhealthily small and in keeping teenagers from dropping out of school, hanging out on the streets, and having babies out of wedlock.”73