The role of capitalism in producing social capital

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Imagine you’re driving through a town where there’s a huge festival, drawing in all types of people. You’ll see holiday decorations, with churches and downtown homes joining in. The civic organizations are strong, kids are going to the schools and residents trust with the police, fire department and local hospitals or clinics.

Then there’s the next town on the trip, which looks the opposite. The downtown is in decay, and few residents can be seen walking around anywhere. Shutters are closed and curtains are drawn. People look at each other suspiciously. Nobody wants to have much to do with the cops, fire fighters, and prefer strange home remedies for any ailment. Kids are abandoning the schools for the comfort of online learning at home.

Of course there are private enterprises in both, but what role are they playing? Which is more likely to be “open for business” where the chamber of commerce and civic organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions are strong, where there’s more than enough money for all to make? And which is likely to have one corporation that’s “the only game in town,” or cutthroat competition has poisoned the community?

One of my undergraduate students sought to answer that very question. Pete Alford got interested in a book called Bowling Alone, written by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam. Putnam found that while more Americans are bowling than ever before, bowling leagues have declined precipitously. Putnam looks for places which have strong communities where trust in each other and public institutions are strong, and locations where they just ain’t.

While Putnam focused on American states and Italian states, Alford sought to look at nearly 200 countries in the world for levels of social capital. And while Putnam doesn’t look much at capitalism and its role, Pete tested whether countries with stronger amounts of economic freedom have closer communities. His statistical analysis is strong: capitalism is indeed connected to social capital. Free markets tend to help build strong communities, and vice versa.

Though Alford focused on countries, it’s clearly a lesson for communities in America. That word community for a long time was much disparaged, as an antithesis of individualism and personal achievement. But think about what people look at when they want to move to a neighborhood. What are the schools like? What kinds of activities are going on? We can also add a thriving business community to the mix.

Alford’s paper was well-received. He competed at LaGrange College’s Honors Day and got his paper published in the college’s online journal Citations. His work finished in the top two for the Pajari Award, given to the best undergraduate paper presented at the Georgia Political Science Association. And his achievements have already caught the notice of law schools.

If you’re looking for a similar opportunity, to conduct research on any topic, whether it’s one associated with liberal or conservative issues, or maybe a little of both, take a look at our college. 

If you’re not afraid to compete for awards in the classroom and the scholarly community, and not just on the field or in the arena, come see us. And if you’re brave enough to get up in front of professors, graduate students and fellow undergraduates to present your work, we want you. Come by and sit in on a class, whatever your field is (politics or otherwise). I assure you that political science isn’t the only academic field at LaGrange College to do this.