Acton Institute Powerblog

How an Excess of Social Capital Can Hurt the Poor

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What are the barriers that prevent the poor from moving into the middle class? One surprising answer, says Megan McArdle, is an excess of social capital.

In the video below, McArdle explains why understanding how social and financial capital function in low-income communities can help us be more effective in helping then poor.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • dmr5090

    Insightful talk. This definitely helped me connect dots that I hadn’t seen before–thanks for that! But, it does raise a key question in my mind about individualism.

    Suppose, for example, Julia espouses the importance of financial capital and prioritizes it above social capital. Julia’s sister calls for help paying her bill and watching her child, and Julia, in the interest of prioritizing financial capital above social capital, turns her sister down and takes the janitorial job. What becomes of Julia’s sister? What of her child? Are they to be left to fend for themselves? And isn’t that self-serving attitude of financial capital > social capital ($ > people) at the heart of the most trenchant moral assaults on capitalism?

    I believe that capitalism, long-haul, lifts all boats. Julia’s sister truly will be better off if her community network has more resources saved, which means it ultimately would be better for Julia’s sister if Julia took the janitor job. But in the short-term, when Julia turns her sister down and takes that job offering middle class entry, one wonders what happens to that social network.

    It seems to me that the next talk might address ways of bridging the gap between these two types of capital; ways of saving financially and minimizing damage to networks of reciprocal altruism.