Posts tagged with: social capital

social-mobility-01_500x260Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts explaining 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics. Number 9 on my list was:

9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.

Social mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. The two main types of social mobility are intergenerational (i.e., a person is better off than their parents or grandparents) or intragenerational (i.e., income changes within a person or group’s lifetime). Researchers at Harvard University recently released a study of intergenerational social mobility within the United States which controlled for five factors: racial segregation, income inequality, school quality, social capital, and family structure.

Can you guess which factor makes the most difference for social mobility?
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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.

poverty-in-america-300x300In addition to reading Joe Carter’s striking by-the-numbers piece on the War on Poverty, and in keeping with Sam Gregg’s reflections on the deeper social and cultural forces at work, I heartily recommend taking in Josh Good’s excellent retrospective in AEI’s The American.

Leveraging a lengthy quote from Herman Bavinck’s The Christian Family, one I’ve put to use myself, Good notes the “inverse impact of changing family structure on productive work and a flourishing economy”:

The fact is, poverty is not merely a material problem. A half-century after the dawn of the War on Poverty, we would be well-served if President Obama addressed the American public on the cultural aspects of poverty…Americans truly interested in serving the poor more effectively will do well to recall this insight, from the late theologian Herman Bavinck:

“For children are the glory of marriage, the treasure of parents, the wealth of family life. They develop within their parents an entire cluster of virtues, such as … devotion and self-denial, care for the future, involvement in society, the art of nurturing. With their parents, children place restraints upon ambition [and] as with living mirrors they show their parents their own virtues and faults, force them to reform themselves, mitigating their criticisms and teaching them how hard it is to govern a person. The family exerts a reforming power upon the parents … [transforming] ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses.” (more…)

Today at Public Discourse, I explore the dubious connection between educational attainment and upward income mobility, arguing instead that a focus on cultivating social capital would be far more effective than the conventional wisdom: “Stay out of trouble and stay in school.” Staying out of trouble is still a good idea, but staying in school — when it comes to higher education — is becoming less and less effective on its own at predicting economic improvement.

In addition, while I believe education to be desirable for itself, I do not think that one can turn a blind eye to the great cost, decreased quality, and decreased utility of higher education today. I write,
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Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure (Values and Capitalism)When it comes to integrating family and vocation, modernity has introduced plenty of opportunity. But it has also produced its own set of challenges. Though our newfound array of choices can help further our callings and empower our contributions to society, it can also distract us away from the universe beyond ourselves.

Thus far, I’ve limited my wariness on such matters to the more philosophical and theological realms — those areas where our culture of choice threatens to pollute our thinking about marriage, weaken our obligations to the family, and limit our view of Christian discipleship and vocation in the process.

In his new book, Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure, Nick Schulz provides firmer support to these concerns, focusing on the more tangible economic outcomes we can expect from key shifts in the modern American family, namely: declines in marriage, increases in divorce, and spikes in out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Avoiding the deeper debate about whether these developments are “right” or “wrong” in a moral or theological sense, Schulz seeks instead to analyze the data as an economist, identifying which economic outcomes we can expect from which changes in the American family, along with some intriguing social speculation as to the why.

Schulz begins by pointing to an widely discussed study from the Brookings Institution, which found that “if young people finish high school, get a job, and get married before they have children, they have about a 2 percent chance of falling into poverty and nearly a 75 percent chance of joining the middle class by earning $50,000 or more per year.” Another study, referenced in a book by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, found that “adolescents who have lived apart from one of their parents during some period of childhood are twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to have a child before age twenty, and one and a half times as likely to be ‘idle’—out of school and out of work—in their late teens and early twenties.”

The research rolls on, and Schulz wields the scalpel nicely, explaining how children raised without a mom and a dad are at much higher risk of failure across a variety of areas. (more…)

Over at Fieldnotes Magazine, Matthew Kaemingk offers a good reminder that in our social solutions-seeking we needn’t be limited to thinking only in terms of market and state. By boxing ourselves in as such, Kaemingk argues, Christians risk an overly simplistic, non-Biblical view of human needs and human destiny:

When presented with almost any social problem (education, health care, poverty, family life, and so on), today’s leaders typically point to one of two possible solutions—a freer market or a stronger state. But in opposition to these rather myopic solutions, I think there is a more complex and biblical lens through which leaders can consider the social eco-system and the people who move around in it.

Instead of simplistic descriptions of human beings as either clients of the state or competitors in the market, the Christian Scriptures present humanity in a refreshingly complex way. We find a complex creature with a wide variety of gifts, abilities, interests, aspects, loyalties, and solidarities. Created in the image of God, human beings in the Bible are anything but simple. They are musical, communal, religious, artistic, familial, charitable, scientific, literary, moral, athletic, fun, and funny. The robust anthropology found in the Bible depicts a creature that could never be fully defined, controlled, content, or nourished by the market or the state alone—thank God.

This perspective ties in well with Rev. Robert Sirico’s final chapter in his book, Defending the Free Market, where he criticizes the popular notion of homo economicus, from which plenty of bad economic policy and market decision-making has been generated:

Any man who was only economic man would be a lost soul. And any civilization that produced only homines economici to fill its markets, courts, legislative bodies, and other institutions would soon enough be a lost civilization. Familial love, voluntary dedication to philanthropy and faith, the creation of art and music would be at their most minimal level, and whole sectors of life would completely vanish. Focusing the whole of life on the acquisition of quantifiable goods does not bring true happiness or peace, as almost everyone knows. We all have material appetites, but we do not (pray God) always feed them…Human beings find ultimate fulfillment not in acquisition but in developing, sharing, and using their God-given creative capacities for good and giving themselves to others. (more…)

After attending GodblogCon last week, largely due to the efforts of Rhett Smith, “New Media Ministry to the MySpace-Facebook Generation: Employing New Media Technologies Effectively In Youth Ministries” (a podcast of his talk is here), I started a Facebook page.

But I also urge you to read the experience of Agnieszka Tennant, a relatively new columnist at CT with whom I’m quite impressed, who writes that she “yielded to peer pressure and have begun to lead a modestly active Facebook life.” It’s a real temptation, as she points out, perhaps a greater one in virtual reality, to reduce people to means and consider only their utility for your own pursuits. “Social capital” can be a dangerous thing.

As persons, true sociality respects the personhood of the other. That’s the only kind of “social capital” really worth having.

More on technology and the Gospel: “Plugging the Planet Into the Word” (HT).

More on BlogWorld & New Media expo: Mark Cuban, who gave one of the keynote addresses, is profiled in this lengthy Fortune magazine piece, “Mark Cuban wants a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 16, 2006

Henry Stob, the longtime professor of philosophical and moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, authored a compendium of articles on various aspects of theological ethics in his 1978 book titled, Ethical Reflections: Essays on Moral Themes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans). The book is now out of print, but I ran across an excellent section that excellently captures the intent of the work of the Acton Institute.

In Chapter 2, “Theological Foundations for Christian Ethics,” he writes:

Because man does in fact have a horizontal dimension, and because he is in fact tied in with nature, the presence of “conditioning” factors cannot be denied. There is that in man which is amenable to “causal explanation.” Accordingly, the effect upon him, and upon his conduct, of chemical processes, biological instincts, psychological drives and complexes, economic determinants, and social pressures may never be ignored. It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the natural sciences, or those social sciences which proceed by way of the quantitative analysis of empirical givens, are able really to interpret man and his behavior. The methods employed within these sciences, fashioned as they are for use on the horizontal plane, are simply not fitted to plumb the depths of man.

It is most narrowly the economic aspects of human relationships that the Acton Institute is concerned with, but more broadly other “horizontal” institutions are relevant, including disciplines such as political science and history.

One impressive piece of evidence that suggests that Dr. Stob is right in his analysis of the limits of social sciences is the current flowering of interest in economic theories of “social capital,” for example. These are attempts to get at some of the deeper aspects of human reality. Stob concludes that this is properly the realm of ethics, and this is underscored by Francis Fukuyama’s definition of social capital: “Social capital can be defined simply as the existence of a certain set of informal values or norms shared among members of a group that permit cooperation among them.”

Stob writes that since the horizontal dimensions do not exhaust the causal explanations for human behavior,

Attention must be given, therefore, to another set of answers to the question about man and his behavior. These answers, proclaimed by Christian ethics, arise out of theology and metaphysics, and reflect an apprehension of man’s vertical dimension. Integral to them is the recognition that, though man is undoubtedly tied in with nature, he is even more certainly tied in with God. This being tied to God, it is recognized, is precisely what accounts for man’s humanity. It is this which raises man above mere animality and constitutes him a moral person. It is this, moreover, which enables him to break through the causal nexus and transcend merely natural determinants. Being tied in with God, having a dimension of depth, oriented to some object of ultimate concern, he can rise above the influences playing upon him from the side and exercise a genuine freedom—the freedom to set himself ideals and to aspire after them.

It is in the intersection between the vertical and horizontal dimensions of human existence, specifically as ethics relates to economics, that the Acton Institute works. It is the deeper and more comprehensive view of the human person, particularly as revealed in Holy Scripture, that allows us to evaluate and appropriate elements of study of the “horizontal” planes of human relationships.