💹 Allélón and Investing in Social Capital
As a frugal Prosumer, I believe my most important investment is social capital or, as we call it, Agapaō Allélón (Greek word for Love One-Another)
Social capital isn’t new, although the term is relatively recent. We’ve called it other things:
(physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so too social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups."
Social capital refers to the connections among individuals. The social networks, the norms of reciprocity, and the trustworthiness that arises from them. For example, you create social capital when you volunteer, help your neighbor start their car, have a group over for a picnic, or join a softball league.
Social capital differs from other forms of capital in that it has both an individual and a collective aspect. When you generate social capital, you benefit — but so does your community. (Not always, of course, but generally so.)
In a well-connected community, even loners profit from high social capital. According to Putnam, “If the crime rate in my neighborhood is lowered by neighbors keeping an eye on one another’s homes, we benefit even if we personally spend most of our time on the road and never even nod to another resident on the street.”
“Social capital turns out to have forceful, even quantifiable effects on many different aspects of our lives,” writes Putnam. "What is at stake is not merely warm, cuddly feeling or [community pride]…Our schools and neighborhoods don’t work so well when community bonds slacken…Our economy, our democracy, and even our health and happiness depend on adequate stocks of social capital.”
When we don’t interact with each other or isolate ourselves inside our homes, we have less motive to help our neighbors and improve our communities.
Putnam differentiates between bonding social capital and bridging social capital. “Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue,” he writes, “whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40.”
Bonding social capital creates solid in-group loyalty. (And thus may create strong out-group antagonism.) Examples of inward-directed networking include church groups, country clubs, and college fraternities and sororities. Think of bonding social capital as “strong ties with intimate friends.”
Bridging social capital creates connections across societal boundaries. Examples of this outward-facing form of networking include bowling leagues, national organizations…and my permaculture group. Think of bridging social capital as weak ties with acquaintances.
In short, bonding social capital is built in homogeneous groups (where people are similar), and bridging social capital is made between heterogenous groups (of different folks). Both types are great. The latter is more challenging to build and maintain but provides the most value to individuals and society.
“The ebbing of the community over the last several decades has been silent and deceptive,” writes Putnam. “Weakened social capital is manifest in the things that have vanished almost unnoticed — neighborhood parties and get-togethers with friends, the unreflective kindness of strangers, the shared pursuit of the public good rather than a solitary quest for private goods.”
Boosting social capital will benefit you and your community. “Trustworthiness lubricates social life,” says Putnam.
When we think of social capital, think of your neighborhood. It’s easy for homeowners to stay inside and not interact with neighbors. But doing so creates barriers rather than builds bonds. So, we have made a conscious effort to foster fellowship and to get to know each other. As a result, we’re much more likely to lend a hand when a neighbor needs assistance.
The classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life is an excellent illustration of social capital in action. Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, who repeatedly goes out of his way to help friends and neighbors. Finally, everyone he’s helped before comes to his aid when disaster strikes. It’s a fine example of social capital in action. When his brother declares that George is “the richest man in town,” he’s not far off the mark. He might not have much financial capital but is flush with social capital.
Although George Bailey repeatedly sacrifices his own interests to create social capital, you can often create win-win situations in which everyone profits.
What concrete steps can we take to increase social capital for myself and my community?
- Share my knowledge and experience liberally and often. (like sharing on this blog)
- Participate in my local community.
- Support friends, family, and colleagues in their various endeavors.
- Be nice to people — all people.
- Give without the expectation of return.
- Practice being a Frugal Prosumer so we have more time to build social capital.
“We should do this,” Putnam writes at the end of Bowling Alone, “not because it will be good for America — thought it will be — but because it will be good for us.”