January 11, 2003
Douglas Bennett, President
800 National Road West
Richmond IN 47374
Thank you for coming to several of the sessions sponsored by PAGS and the Division of Social Sciences on methodological issues in social science, and for participating in the conversation with some comments and questions.
As I understood the question you proposed for discussion on December 2, you asked Jay McCullough and me, and the others present, to comment on empirical research in the social sciences with reference to particular pieces of empirical research that have been published. Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam was a work you specifically suggested that we might comment on. Jay made some remarks on Bowling Alone but I was unable to do so at the time because I had not read it.
Your question inspired me to read the book, and to send you these belated comments on it. I generally try to participate as much as I can in dialogue about methodological issues in the social sciences, especially as they bear on the larger question how to build a world of peace and justice. As I said on December 2, my view is that among the many referents of the term "social science" some are parts of the solutions to humanity's problems, while others are parts of the problems.
When I checked Bowling Alone out of a library to read it, I discovered that it is a major contribution to the literature about civility in contemporary America. It reports findings that must be taken seriously in designing policies, programs, and projects.
The thesis of Bowling Alone is, in brief summary, that America's stock of social capital has been declining since approximately the late 1960s. Putnam explains the meaning of his central concept, "social capital," as, again in brief summary, "...connections among individuals --social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them" (p. 19), including both bonding within groups and bridging between groups. He carefully analyzes several lines of evidence (primarily membership rolls of organizations and answers to survey questions asked repeatedly over several decades) to demonstrate that the civic disengagement his thesis postulates has indeed happened.
Putnam then canvases what appear to be all of the plausible hypotheses that are candidates for explaining why social capital has declined in recent decades. Conceding that he cannot fully explain the phenomena he describes, his best guesses blame, again in briefest summary, mainly four factors: television, changes in work making people busier and more stressed, urban sprawl, and --fourth and largest-- the grim reaper death taking away a generation that became civic-minded by participating in the nation's united struggle against fascism in World War II, leaving in its place younger generations both not formed in World War II's school of patriotic virtue and relatively more influenced by the first three factors blamed.
In addition to showing that social capital has declined, and why, Putnam makes a case that its decline matters: it negatively impacts measures of child welfare, it makes neighborhoods less safe to live in, it reduces prosperity, it makes people less happy and less healthy, it saps the vitality of democratic institutions.
Even more important: "...the central fact is that investment in social capital was not [in the Progressive Era] an alternative to, but a prerequisite for, political mobilization and reform. That too is a crucial lesson for our own times." (p. 399) Putnam suggests that whatever America's problems may be, a prerequisite to solving them is having a population that has enough civic virtue and altruistic motivation to want to solve them. Although civic virtue and wanting to do good are not included as elements of the definition of social capital, they grow, so to speak, in the dense networks of social connectedness that social capital provides. (See p. 19, p. 117). Social capital thus plays the role of the key to the key box in which all the other keys are kept. Whatever our problems may be, we need bonds and bridges to solve them; without bonds and bridges we are not even motivated to solve our problems; there is not even a "we" who identifies the problems as "ours."
Recommendations for action flow from the confluence of Putnam's conceptual framework and his analysis of the data: "Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 Americans will spend less leisure time sitting passively alone in front of glowing screens and more time in active connection with our fellow citizens." (p. 410) "Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 America's workplace will be substantially more family-friendly and community-congenial, so that American workers will be enabled to replenish our stocks of social capital both within and outside the workplace." (p. 406) "Let us act to ensure that by 2010 Americans will spend less time traveling and more time connecting with our neighbors than we to today, that we will live in more integrated and pedestrian-friendly areas, and that the design of our communities and the availability of public space will encourage more casual socializing with friends and neighbors." (pp. 407-8)
Putnam's recommendations carry more weight than the ordinary citizen's opinion, and perhaps more weight than an appeal to conscience. They are proposals for public policy derived from, or at least supported by, or at the very least suggested by, very thorough public policy research.
Robert Putnam is the Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard. His thinking and research was supported by an invisible college of America's leading social scientists and by almost all the nation's leading sources of funding for social science (See pp. 505-513). The critical acclaim Bowling Alone has been accorded suggests that it is on its way to becoming a paradigm, in one of Thomas Kuhn's senses of the term: a particular piece of research which becomes a model of how to do science, which a community of scientists emulates.
Your question about Bowling Alone was, therefore, more important than I realized at the time. I will make some remarks guided by, although not systematically answering, three questions about whether Bowling Alone does three things it attempts to do: 1. Does it demonstrate a good conceptual framework and vocabulary for doing policy-relevant research? 2. Does it discern causes? In other words, does it succeed in explaining why the phenomena it names as a decline in the stock of social capital are happening? 3. Does it provide a valuable foundation for designing and evaluating policies and programs?
The second question drives the other two. Good concepts provide units of analysis that lead to valid causal explanations. Good policies and programs are the ones that succeed in delivering desirable results, which implies that the premises on which they are based tap real causes, not ineffective ephemera.
On several pages of Bowling Alone Putnam indirectly attributes to controlled experiments the power to discern causes, in the guise of apologies for his inability as a social scientist to do anything but make good guesses without them. Putnam regrets that he must make do ("triangulate") with datasets of miscellaneous provenance, and draw from their analysis merely plausible causal inferences, for lack of true controlled experiments, which would yield true causal inferences. On one page, however (p. 235), Putnam is able to cite a study which is as close as anyone is likely to come in social science to the controlled experiments of natural science:
"So far we have discovered that television watching and especially dependence upon television for entertainment are closely correlated with civic disengagement. Correlation, however, does not prove causation.... Without true experimental evidence --in which randomly selected individuals are exposed (or not exposed) to television over long periods of time-- we cannot be sure that television itself is the cause of disengagement...." (p. 235)
"Strikingly direct evidence about the causal direction comes from a range of intriguing studies of communities conducted just before and just after television was introduced. The most remarkable of these studies emerged from three isolated communities in northern Canada in the 1970s. Owing only to poor reception, residents of one (given the pseudonym Notel by the researchers) were without television as the study began. The "treatment" whose effects were observed was the introduction of a single channel to Notel residents --the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Life in Notel was compared with that of two other communities, Unitel and Multitel. Though it was very similar to Notel in other respects, during the two years of the study TV reception in Unitel went from CBC only to CBC plus the three American commercial networks. Multitel was similar in all relevant respects to the other two towns although removed somewhat geographically. Residents of Multitel could receive all four channels throughout the span of the research.
"Canadian researcher Tannis Macbeth Williams and her colleagues explained why this triad of towns constituted a true experiment:
Except for anachronistically lacking television reception in 1973, [Notel] was typical. It was accessible by road, it had daily bus service in two directions, and its ethnic mix was not unusual. The town just happened to be located in a valley in such a way that the transmitter meant to serve the area did not provide television reception for most residents.
"...the results clearly showed that the introduction of television deflated Notel residents' participation in community activities. As the researchers report succinctly:Before Notel had television, residents in the longitudinal sample attended a greater variety of club and other meetings than did residents of both Unitel and Multitel, who did not differ. There was a significant decline in Notel following the introduction of television, but no change in either Unitel or Multitel. "The researchers also asked whether television affected only those who were peripherally involved in community activities or also the active leaders. Their conclusion:
Television apparently affects participation in community activities for individuals who are central to those
activities, not just those who are more peripherally involved Residents are more likely to be centrally involved in their community's activities in the absence than in the presence of television.
"This study strongly suggests that television is not merely a concomitant of lower community involvement, but actually a cause of it. A major effect of television's arrival was the reduction in participation in social, recreational, and community activities among people of all ages. Television privatizes leisure time." (pp. 235-36)
Putnam's analysis omits an element that realist social scientists --if I may identify myself both with the older Aristotelian realist tradition that flourished before Descartes and Locke, and with the newer critical realist tradition that flourishes today after Wittgenstein and Heidegger; and if I may distance myself from the faux amis of the school of Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz who are called realists in contemporary social science-- regard as crucial. Humans are agents. Humans make choices and act on them.
In his Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle wrote, "For in addition to nature, necessity, and chance, we regard as causal principles intelligence and anything done through human agency." The relevance of this bit of Aristotelian realism to the historical accident that provided a controlled experiment for social science in Notel, Unitel, Multitel is that another element must be added to the statement that television privatizes leisure time. People made choices. Choice, Aristotle says, involves reason and thought, and is probably the result of preceding deliberation. People deliberate about what it is in their power to do, and then they choose means to realize their ends, or, as Aristotle puts it, to realize their wishes, what to them seems good. A thousand years later Saint Thomas Aquinas made the same point in a manner that synthesized Aristotelian philosophy with the religious traditions of the West: "God left man in the hand of his own counsel, not in the sense that he could do whatever he pleases, but that he approaches every act, not under the stricture of a natural necessity, in the way non-rational creatures do, but out of free choice issuing from his own counsel."
In Notel, Unitel, and Multitel, people listened to their own counsel and decided to stay home and watch television instead of going to meetings and participating in public life.
The inclusion of human agency in the causal analysis brings practical implications. If civic engagement declines when television arrives, then people should make better choices. To make better choices people need to become aware, as a threshold prerequisite, that they have choices to make. The situation calls for what Paulo Freire called "education for critical consciousness," or, briefly in Portuguese concienticao, in English "consciousness-raising."
Freire worked at first with impoverished peasants and slum dwellers in Northeast Brazil. He facilitated educational programs that encouraged people to distinguish culture from nature, and thus to learn that they had choices they did not know they had. They learned that it is not a fact of nature that some can afford to buy shoes while others go barefoot all their lives, that some have medical care while others go unattended and die young, that (as Lula da Silva, the current president of Brazil says) some eat five times a day while some go five days without eating. These are facts of culture. The human being, whose vocation is to be a creator of culture, can work to change them. The voiceless can choose to "come to voice" as bell hooks says. They can learn to read and write. They can become active in politics and in social reform movements.
Let us now switch the scene from Northeast Brazil to North America. By a parity of reasoning --the analogy may seem distant, but I think the reasoning really is parallel-- it is not nature that defines homo sapiens sapiens as an animal that drives automobiles during the day and watches television in the evenings.
Granted that television is attractive to people, as --to use another analogy-- a magnet is attractive to iron filings. It does not follow from attractiveness alone that leisure time will be privatized when television is introduced. The differential treatment of introducing TV in the experimental group, while maintaining a control group identical in all relevant respects to the control group except for lacking TV, does not alone cause the privatizing of leisure time. Aristotle said, "...the acts of a morally weak person are accompanied by appetite, but not by choice, while a morally strong person acts from choice, but not from appetite." If human beings act like iron filings, confirming the fact is not a demonstration that the methodologies of the natural sciences apply equally well to the human sciences. It is confirming that there is a human problem that requires a human solution. A solution can be articulated using concepts from Freire and Aristotle: Educate. Raise consciousness. Make the right choices. Form good habits.
Robert Putnam might agree that education for critical media consciousness (which is rather well developed in Canada today), which leads to people being more discriminating in their choices about television viewing, is a good thing. However, he has himself made some methodological choices which can reasonably be thought to lead, in the case of critical TV literacy and in other cases, to generally underestimating the merits of cultural reform and critical social science.
Putnam proposes "counting things" as an antidote to sentimentality. He writes, "Debates about the waxing and waning of `community' have been endemic for at least two centuries. `Declensionist narratives' --post modernist jargon for tales of decline and fall-- have a long pedigree in our letters. We seem perennially tempted to contrast our tawdry days with past golden ages. We apparently share this nostalgic predilection with the rest of humanity.... Nevertheless, my argument is, at least in appearance in the declensionist tradition, so it is important to avoid simple nostalgia. Precisely because the theme of this book might lend itself to gauzy self-deception, out methods must be transparent. Is life in communities as we enter the twenty-first century really so different from the reality of American communities in the 1950s and 1960s? One way of curbing nostalgia is to count things." In this and other passages Putnam chains himself to the rules of latter day empiricist methodology, as Odysseus changed himself to the mast, in order to save himself from the temptations of sentimentality, as Odysseus saved himself from the temptations of the sirens.
But a focus on "counting things" can lead to more than saving oneself from one's own sentiments. It can lead, and in Putnam's case I think it does lead, to seeing cause and effect as, or as very like, a quantitative relationship among variables. It can lead to preferring a methodology like the one used during the 1960s in studies of education in the United States by James S. Coleman, whom Putnam cites as a source of his own methodology. Independent variables impact dependent variables. That is causation, or very like causation. This further step on the path of "counting things" pervades Bowling Alone; it is operative whether Putnam writes of correlations, or multiple regressions, or fitting trend lines; it is operative when he somewhat informally asks what "factors" might account for what "effects," and when he analyzes the occasional quasi-controlled experiment such as the one provided by the scientifically fortunate circumstance that Notel happened to lie in a valley that the TV transmitter did not reach. It is also operative, I believe, in Putnam's rather rapid dismissal of major insights into modernity provided by the 19th century classics of sociology, as expressed in the following passage:
"Thoughtful social critics have long feared that capitalism would undermine the preconditions for its own success by eroding interpersonal ties and social trust. Many of the grand masters of nineteenth-century social theory, from George Simmel to Karl Marx, argued that market capitalism had created a `cold society,' lacking the interpersonal warmth necessary for friendship and devaluing human ties to the status of mere commodities. The problem with this generic theory of social disconnectedness is that it explains too much: America has epitomized market capitalism for several centuries, during which our stocks of social capital and civic engagement have been through great swings. A constant can't explain a variable." (p. 282)
My main point is that explaining why a major decline in social capital occurs requires an understanding of culture and cultural structures above and beyond what can be learned from studying quantitative relationships among variables. But I think it important to digress to note two qualifications that should be appended to the idea that "a constant cannot explain a variable," even if one remains within what is often called an empiricist or a positivist philosophy of science.
First, constants do explain variables, albeit not by themselves. For example, in Galileo's law of freely falling bodies, the gravitational constant "g" explains the dependent variable "s" (the distance fallen), albeit not without the assistance of the independent variable "t" (the number of seconds the freely falling body falls). Many other examples could be cited. Although it is a mistake to suppose that the constant alone explains the dependent variable, it is also a mistake to suppose that the independent variable alone explains the dependent variable, without the help of the constant.
Second, capitalism is not a constant. In the United States during the four decades studied by Putnam, the percentage of workers who were members of labor unions fell from nearly 35% to under 13%. Airlines were deregulated. Other industries were either deregulated or made more competitive by partial deregulation: telecommunications, electricity, trucking, natural gas, banking, savings and loans, railroads. There were two major waves of corporate mergers. The weight of tax burdens shifted as corporate income taxes fell from 4% to 2% of gross domestic product, while a stiff regressive payroll tax was initiated to fund social security The dollar ceased to be exchangeable for gold and was left to float on global markets. The percentage of all income earned by the bottom 80% of the population fell, while the percentage of all income earned by the 20% with the highest incomes rose. The share of all income earned by the poorest 20% fell from 5.3% to 4.4%. The share of all income earned by the most prosperous five percent rose from 14.6% to 20%. Average monthly welfare checks to families with dependent children fell during the period Putnam studied (in constant 1996 dollars) from $734.00 to $374.00 --then in 1996 aid to families with dependent children was replaced by a "welfare to work" program with a five year lifetime benefits limit. If the degree to which a country is capitalist is measured by criteria like how little the government intervenes in the economy, the lack of a welfare state, weak working class organizations, and the degree to which prices are determined by free markets, then a case could be made that America was less capitalist at the beginning of the period studied by Putnam and more capitalist at its end.
Moreover --this bears on my main point-- much of what the great pioneers of social science had to say was not couched as functions relating constants and variables at all. It was not about functions like y = f(x) relating interdependent quantities to each other in simple ways; nor was it about multiple regression analyses relating interdependent quantities to each other in complicated ways. To interrogate their research by asking which factors are constant and which factors are variable is to talk past them, not to them. Some examples of concepts which bear on issues Putnam discusses, but which do not relate independent variables to dependent variables are: the distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (community and society); the idea of anomie (normlessness); the concept of accumulation of surplus-value; the distinction between Zweckrationalitat and Wertrationalitat (instrumental and customary rationality); and the idea of Entzauberung (disenchantment). Although in some sense research like that of Coleman and Putnam which looks primarily at how variables impact other variables can be called mainstream, in another sense mainstream social science, consisting of the great pioneers and those who build today on the traditions they started, is closer to what Anthony Giddens calls interpretive sociology.
To put the matter more broadly, one could go back to the 18th century and cite, e.g., Adam Smith's distinction between exchange value and use value, or forward in time to cite, e.g., one or another 20th century concept of patriarchy. There are also basic concepts incommensurable with function-talk (in the sense that the concepts include something above and beyond all that can be learned by defining variables and studying empirically their impacts on each other) in the natural sciences. Some examples are Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and the periodic table of the elements. Putnam's choice of certain standard methods for "counting things" to avoid "gauzy self-deception" was not a binary choice among two options, but a decision to approach the real world with a certain conceptual tool box among a potentially infinite number of conceptual tool boxes.
To put the matter still more broadly: reality speaks to humans on its own terms, and not necessarily in the terms humans choose to identify with the canons of scientific method. The projects of David Hume, Karl Popper and many others who sought to legislate a priori (of course they did not put it this way) what is and is not scientifically meaningful discourse; on the basis of a theory of sense impressions or some other theory of the foundations of knowledge, or on the basis of falsifiability or some other logical criterion; shipwreck on the shoals of arguments made by, among others, Martin Heidegger. As Heidegger put it: ontology determines epistemology. It is not the other way about. What humans can know, or know easily, or know clearly, does not determine what is.
The claim that the language of mathematical functions, which in its simplest form is y = f(x) is incommensurable with much that bears on the causal explanation of the decline of social capital in America is not a claim that research in the social sciences whose logic is based on elaborations of this basic idea, such as the statistical analysis of datasets, should be disregarded. Other valid methods are complementary, not opposed. For example, one of the principal findings of James Coleman's studies of American education in the 1960s was that inner city parochial schools deliver equivalent or somewhat better educational results at about half the cost of public schools, with race and income and the other usual suspects held constant. The difference in outcomes was attributed to school culture. Coleman's methods were not appropriate for gaining much insight into what the cause he identified, "culture," consisted of, or how it worked. Coleman's findings were complementary, but not opposed, to research that studies school cultures, using different but complementary methodologies.
However, the limitations of Putnam's methodology do imply a need for caution in accepting his policy recommendations. Although his work is very thorough, it is work which makes certain methodological choices, including, but not limited to, the deliberate decision to disregard the 19th century classics of social science on the ground that they bear only on factors which can be regarded as constant over the second half of the twentieth century, and therefore could not possibly be the causes of the observed decline in social capital. There is a danger that the very thoroughness of what Putnam has done following the path he has chosen produces a vision of reality that will be taken more seriously than it should be when it comes to setting policy. The ready availability of well-documented studies of what can be seen from certain perspectives, may itself obscure equally important, or more important, aspects of reality which would have been seen if reality had been approached with other methods. To act on his policy recommendations is to do more than confirm that his research is very conscientiously done; it is to gamble that in the real world favorable results will be achieved by doing what he proposes.
All of the above should be qualified by the observation that at one point Putnam seems to reverse himself regarding the merits of learning from the reflections on modernity produced by the early classics of social science. In the course of discussing the early 20th century Progressive Movement in America, which he greatly admires, and which he proposes as a model for the kind of social movement America needs today, he appears to praise the Progressives for learning from the great classical ideas of early social science:
"The communitarian Progressives decried the erosion of such close-knit ties in urbanizing, industrializing America. The impersonal and attenuated ties of the market replaced the sturdier bonds of family, friendship, and small-town solidarity. Their theories echoed distinctions articulated by contemporary social theorists from Europe --Sir Henry Maine's status versus contract, Ferdinand Tonnies Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft, Emile Durkheim's mechanical versus organic solidarity, and Georg Simmel's comparison of town and metropolis, all expounded between 1860 and 1902. Britain, as the first industrializing country, first encountered the modern clash of self-seeking and solidarity. As early as 1845, Benjamin Disraeli, later to become a Victorian reformer, wrote:
In great cities men are brought together by the desire of gain. They are not in a state of co-operation, but of isolation, as to the making of fortunes; and for all the rest they are careless of neighbors. Christianity teaches us to love our neighbor as ourself; modern society acknowledges no neighbor.
"In the newer social order, his American successors concurred, "relations tended to be superficial, the restraints imposed by public opinion weak, and common cause with one's neighbor lacking."
Thus Putnam admires the John Deweys and the Jane Addamses, who did think it important to notice the general normative framework within which the wheels of commerce turned, and did think it important to regard that framework as malleable, and did think that modifying it might indeed be a key to solving social problems.
The realist philosophy I advocate sees a link between Aristotle and mainstream interpretive sociology, between the moral earnestness of the Progressives and the fact that they "...began to see society's ills, poverty and the rest, as reflecting social and economic causes, not individual moral failings." If society is made up of norms (or roles, or conventions, or rules, or customs, or social relationships, or institutions), then deliberation and choice are at the heart of social life. Norm-following is a conscious activity some of the time; through consciousness-raising it can become a conscious activity more of the time.
I am sure you could make a list at least as long as any I could make of studies that have contributed to understanding what Putnam calls social capital, but which use methodologies different from and complementary to Putnam's methodology. High on the list would be Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah et al, which you asked us to discuss at the same time that you asked for discussion of Bowling Alone. Here I will not attempt to write any such list. I will only mention a few ways in which different perspectives guide work shedding complementary lights, which lead to additional and different policy recommendations, concerning the same factors Putnam identifies as the principal causes of the decline in America's stock of social capital: television, sprawl, busyness and the changing workplace, and generational succession.
Some economists of or near a Keynesian persuasion expected America and Europe to relapse into the depression of the 1930s after World War II. They reasoned that only enormous wartime spending had lifted aggregate demand high enough to restore growth. Therefore: No war; too little spending; no growth; depression.
But relapse did not happen. Aggregate demand stayed high. There were a few recessionary dips but no depression. In the view of David Harvey and several authors he cites and relies on in The Condition of Postmodernity, in the postwar years the Western economies achieved a high degree of stability through the use of Keynesian macroeconomic policies and the practice of mass production for mass consumption. Mass culture was one of the factors which played a key role in raising aggregate demand because it was consumer culture; it persuaded people to spend. It was the link that tied mass production to mass consumption. At the heart of mass culture was a new marketing technology: television.
About the proposition that television played an essential role in stabilizing capitalism after World War II, I make, or at least mention, three claims: (1) That it is important if it is true; (2) That Putnam's characteristic methods provide inadequate means for finding out whether or not it is true; (3) If it is true, it makes a practical difference, since Putnam's proposals for reversing the decline of social capital by reforming television can be expected to encounter stiff resistance if what television is and does are driven by economic imperatives.
One justification of the second of these three claims (the only one I will comment on) is that "aggregate demand" is another concept incommensurate with reducing science to empirically measuring variables and calculating their functional dependence on each other. It is true that "aggregate demand" is a variable, to which one can assign a value by compiling empirical data. But understanding the concept and understanding why insufficient aggregate demand is a chronic problem requires reasoning of a different logical type. It is a concept Keynes needs an accounting identity to explain. Total purchases and total sales must be equal because one person's purchase is another person's sale. But people do not spend all their income --Keynes recites a number of reasons why they do not, but it suffices to say simply that under the common sense and legal norms that govern everyday life they do not have to if they do not want to. For this reason there needs to be investment, or credit sales, or whatever else beefs up demand to make up for a chronic shortfall in demand, i.e. in purchases. The reason why there will be a shortfall in demand if there is not enough investment or deficit spending, or whatever boosts demand, is that in the following time period, without some boost for demand it will be impossible to repeat a similar series of sales. In the first time period sales and purchases are equal, by definition, but since people do not spend all their income, there will not be enough purchasers to sell a similar quantity of commodities the second time around. This is not an empirical discovery about how one variable affects another, but a structural feature of modern commerce.
A method which disregards the structure of the economy, as a constant which cannot explain a variable, is not posed to ask whether an important (if true) proposition about television is true or false --namely the proposition that it has helped to increase consumer demand and investment to satisfy that demand, and has thus contributed to stabilizing a system that is perpetually at risk of economic slowdowns caused by insufficient aggregate demand. 2. Sprawl
The same argument applies to sprawl. After World War II, even sooner than the rise of television in the 1950s, a series of government policies propped up aggregate demand in ways the encouraged the suburbanization of America. These included VA and FHA loans encouraging home ownership, support for the automobile and petroleum industries, roadbuilding, and provisions of the Internal Revenue Code favoring home ownership. Putnam records the shift in the center of gravity of American life from city and small town to suburb. His methodology does not lend itself to determining whether the policies and trends favoring this shift were driven by a systemic need to boost aggregate demand, or perhaps by some other systemic imperative.
(The aim of critical social science is, precisely, to build a world where there are no systemic imperatives, because people understand systems so well that they are empowered to change them.) 3. Busyness--pressures of time and money
Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence links busyness and social decline using a different conceptual apparatus, and a different disciplinary perspective. He documents and explains some of the same phenomena that Putnam documents and explains but instead of writing about "the decline in the stock of social capital," Goleman finds that there has been a decline in emotional intelligence. He explains the decline, in part, the same way Putnam explains, in part, the decline in social capital. It is a consequence of large populations of people spending more time watching television and less time socializing. He finds more than Putnam, or more explicitly than Putnam, that the underlying causes which form the context and background of the decline are features of the evolution of the global economy: "This is not just an American phenomenon but a global one, with worldwide competition to drive down labor costs creating economic forces that press on the family. These are times of financially besieged families in which both parents work long hours, so that children are left to their own devices or the TV babysits; when more children than ever grow up in poverty; when the one-parent family is becoming more commonplace; when more infants and toddlers are left in day care so poorly run that it amounts to neglect." (Goleman, p. 234) Goleman, who is psychology editor of the New York Times, makes his case mainly with evidence drawn from psychological studies. Goleman's recommendations, coming from a different disciplinary perspective, focus more than Putnam's on parenting, schooling, and community support designed to make up for the deficit in social and emotional learning brought about by the conditions of contemporary life.4. Generational Succession
At this point I wish to belatedly acknowledge that in addition to guesstimating which four factors cause the observed decline in social capital, Putnam also says that regarding perhaps 30% of the decline his best answer to the question "What caused it?" is "I don't know." I deduce the number 30% from a graph on page 284 on which 25% of the decline is attributed to television, 10% to pressures of time and money, 10% to sprawl, and 50% to generational succession. This does not add up to 95%, as one might think at first glance, because part of the effect of generational succession is the same as the effect of television; the more recent generations grew up with TV more. According to Putnam's arithmetic, overlapping with generational succession reduces the percentage of the decline explained to 79% leaving "Other?" as the remaining unexplained 21% I have added another 9% to count 30% as unexplained because Putnam also indicates that to some unspecified extent he really does not know why the older generations have been more civically engaged than the younger ones.
When Putnam does find plausible reasons for expecting the members of the generation now being harvested by the grim reaper to have a remarkably high stock of social capital, he is most confident when he describes their childhood and youth experiences in World War II. For example: "Superstar Bing Crosby was enlisted to rally support for scrap drives:
Junk ain't junk no more, 'cause junk can win the war. What's junk to you has a job to do, 'cause junk ain't junk no more. Pots and pans, old garbage cans, the kettle that doesn't pour. Collect today for the USA, 'cause junk can win the war.
"Hard as it is to believe in our more jaundiced age, such appeals hit the target. Facing a severe shortage of rubber, in June 1942 the president asked the public to turn in "old tires, old rubber raincoats, old garden hose, rubber shoes, bathing caps, gloves --whatever you have that is made of rubber." Boy Scouts were posted at filling stations to remind drivers to donate their car floor mats. Literally millions of Americans responded to the president's appeal, and in less than four weeks roughly four hundred thousand tons of scrap rubber --six pounds for every man, woman, and child in the country (or at the front) were collected.
"Volunteers came in throngs, especially early in the war. In the first six months of 1942 the civilian defense corps expanded from 1.2 million to 7 million, and by mid-1943 more than 12 million Americans were registered. With armbands, whistles, and flashlights, the volunteers set out to supervise blackouts, plan gas decontaminations, practice first aid. In Chicago in April 1942 sixteen thousand block captains took the oath of allegiance in a mass ceremony in the Coliseum. Local communities raised funds through "socials" to build observer posts for aircraft spotters. `A recruitment meeting in Hannibal, Missouri, consisting of a parade followed by a town meeting, packed 4,000 people in the armory,' recalls Lingeman. Meanwhile, Red Cross volunteers nationwide skyrocketed from 1.1 million in 1940 to 7.5 million in 1945 and set to work rolling bandages, ferrying blood donors to collection sites, training for emergency work.
"Young people enlisted in the war effort in myriad ways --the Junior Service Corps, the High School Victory Corps, the Scouts, the Junior Red Cross, and, not least, the 4-H, which took a lead in the Victory Gardens program. At its peak this most popular of all civilian war efforts generated nearly twenty million Victory Gardens in backyards and vacant lots, yielding 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the country...." (pp. 269-70) (Putnam continues with more.)
From a realist perspective, this time appealing to the ethical side of realism, which holds that there really is a difference between right and wrong, when it comes to explaining the difference between the ethical experience of young people who grew up in the World War II years and those who grew up in the last decades of the twentieth century, there is an elephant in the kitchen too big to be ignored. During World War II the American nation was in fact struggling for right and against wrong.
As Putnam also notes, besides being a period when the nation was united behind a just war, World War II and its immediate aftermath was a time when social problems were being solved. It was a time of wage compression, when the distribution of income in America became more egalitarian than it has ever been before or since. Social security was getting underway. Labor unions gained in legitimacy and in membership. Shortly after the war the government assumed responsibility for carrying out a full employment policy, expanded education through the GI Bill, and played a responsible role in world affairs through such things as support for the United Nations and the Marshall Plan. There were, to be sure, moral blemishes on America's record even then, but I hazard to assert they were not damning enough to make it objectively false to say that history then was on the whole a history of moral progress in which free democratic peoples were playing leadership roles.
The beginning of the decline in the stock of social capital charted by Putnam coincides with the peak of high hopes, ethical confusion, real moral achievement, and frustration of the 1960s. The decline continued through decades during which in many ways the nation lost its moral compass. One cannot expect my granddaughter, watching American bombs exploding in Baghdad on television, to have a sense of civic participation like the ones I had pulling weeds in a Victory Garden, or helping my father nail tar paper panels over our lighted windows, so that any Japanese warplanes flying over California would not see lights that would tell them where to drop their bombs.
From this realist perspective a recommendation for rebuilding America's stock of social capital follows: bring children up in a nation identified again with foreign and domestic policies that are in fact right. If it is true, as Putnam says, that already having a large stock of social capital is a prerequisite for political mobilization and reform, it may take a long time, and it may take a large investment in social capital, before such an upbringing, comparable to the upbringing of those of us who were children during World War II, can happen again.
Putnam's own description of his methodology is to call it "triangulation." "The most powerful source for paleometeorologists seeking to assess global climate change is to triangulate among diverse sources of evidence. If pollen counts in polar ice, and the width of southwestern tree rings, and temperature records of the British Admiralty all point in a similar direction, the inference of global warming is stronger than if the cord of evidence has only a single strand." (p. 26) "My primary strategy, as explained in Chapter 1, has been to triangulate among as many independent sources of evidence as possible, following the model of researchers into global warming." (p. 415).
However, unlike the natural scientists who study global warming, Putnam is not measuring physical temperatures, but participating in a process of reconstructing social reality. Johanna Swanger and I have chosen to participate in reconstructing social reality somewhat differently in our Dilemmas of Social Democracies. We write of "cultural resources" where Putnam writes of "social capital." We draw the conceptual map in such a way that economic science and economic institutions are included in the broad category "cultural resources." "Cultural resources" and "physical resources" are alike in that both can and should be mobilized to meet needs. We think this conceptual apparatus is better than one which makes "social capital" an analogue of both "financial capital" and "physical capital." One reason why we think our concept is better is that it brings economic ideas and institutions into the analysis, as cultural resources that have roles to play and contributions to make, and which can and should be evaluated and revised. They can and should be evaluated and revised just because they serve purposes; they can serve their purposes more or less well. In Putnam's conceptual scheme economics drops out of the central conversation about "social capital" as something which belongs to a different, albeit analogous, domain.
Having made a number of remarks concerning Putnam's methodology, thus fulfilling your request probably more than you expected, I do not come to any general conclusion, except to say that you asked a good question. If you ask another question, I will try to answer it too.Cordially,