Social capital: Democracy’s Foundation


Lupe Villegas, Staff writer

Society today is very different from society decades ago. Do you know the first and last name of your next door neighbors? Or do you sit down for dinner with your family every night? Are you part of a sport, club, or group that meets regularly? Do you actively participate in political polls or attend a political rally/event in the past year? If you answered “no” you’re just one of many millions of Americans who lack social capital. For context, social capital is defined as “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” 

Social Capital has been on a rapid decline for at least a decade. With social capital comes civic engagement. Civic engagement is the driving force behind social capital. Statistics will show just how important social capital is to cut down on crime, increase economic growth, and political efficacy. 

In an article titled “Bowling Alone”, Robert D. Putnam writes, “Recently, American social scientists of a neo-Tocquevillian have unearthed a wide range of empirical evidence that the quality of public life and the performance of social institutions are indeed powerfully influenced by norms and networks of civic engagement.” Each community is very different from one another and social capital will vary depending on the supply and demand of each community. However, if people in communities lack willingness in participating in their communities, the supply of social capital goes down. What’s more, it can be noted that crime rates are lower in communities that actively participate in public events, volunteer work, and local government events. When people get together and talk, they have a sense of community and familiarity with one another. People in active communities trust each other more than people who live in less active communities.  

Of course crime isn’t the only thing that’s influenced by social capital. The economy is run by all of us participating in buying and selling. According to Tristan Clardrige, at Institute for Social Capital, “It allows people to work together and to access benefits from social relationships. Social capital allows modern economies to function efficiently.” Having those connections and relationships with one another provides everyone with a better understanding of our economy. Clardrige put it best: “Social capital enables people to work together and facilitates cooperation and innovation.

Lastly, political efficacy is largely affected by social capital and civil participation. Political efficacy is defined as “citizens trust in their ability to change the government and belief that they can understand and influence political affairs”.  In the last 15 years, political participation has gone down. This is cause for alarm since analysis of 22 countries in the CSES dataset has proven that political participation “promotes the eddicactious feeling that participation makes a difference by improving the cognitive articulation of the political system.” When people participate in things such as local elections, town hall meetings, protests, or even through social media, they share ideas and get a better understanding of democracy and their impact on it. When people understand how democracy works and how it can work in their favor, political efficacy rates in society will rise and democracy will thrive. 

In all, social capital is a topic many are not familiar. It is time for us to recognize the importance and impact it has on our society and each other. When we socialize we connect, we thrive, we learn. Now that we know what social capital is, let’s engage in what we can to better our democracy, economy, and society.