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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

softening the sharp edges « Previous | |Next »
August 27, 2003

There is an editorial on social capital in Monday's Australian Financial Review Review (no link, subscription required, 25 08 03, p. 62). It says that:

"Social capital----mutual trust, tolerance and civic engagement--- is the medium that lubricates market capitalism and helps it run smoothly within, rather than outside, society."

This is bleeding heart territory. So it is nice to see the money boys acknowledge the existence of civil society that stands between the state and the market. They also acknowledge that social capital is in decline as the state and the market colonize civil society, and that the lack of social capital increases the cost of doing business and inhibits social and economic opportunities. No doubt they have been reading the Productivity Commission's Report on social capital.

The editiorial mentions Peter Costello's few speeches and Mark Latham's work on social capital and the contest between them.Then it says:

"The new battle of ideas is over how to rebuild social capital to soften the sharp edges of capitalism and help it function more smoothly."

It concludes by saying neither side of politics has convincingly explained how and in what form civil society and social capitals can be revived in a 21st century market economy.

How about another possibility? A critical conception of social capital: putting some sand in the gears of the machinery of market capitalism and the state. It is what green ngo's do isn't it?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:41 PM | | Comments (2)


Nah, I reckon your're a bit off the mark saying that green NGO's have anything to do with social capital. NGO's (worthy though they are) are a corporatist version of political engagement.

Ie, individuals with cash but little time can convert money into political influence by donating to Greenpeace or ACF. Social captial is I think more to do with non-corporatist social relations, particularly those on an individual and/or community level.

Social capital is a vague enough concept already without you muddying the waters futher by bringing NGO's into it!

Still, I think your're right to be sceptical about all this social capital mush. When society's fundamental organising principles are production and profit (to gain maximum increases in material wealth), then whatever "social captial" your're left with after that is all your're gonna get.

Latham and Costello should drop the touchy-feely stuff and work out how to create more jobs.

I agree with you about the big NGO's in terms of corporate political engagement and that social capital has a lot more to do with the smaller community based green groups.

But for the the smaller community groups--bush care, landcare, marine conservation etc----social capital is not mush. It is a significant dimension of their volunteer activities in helping to repair the damage.

Same for volunteeer firefighters or emergency services personnel.