Social capital confusion

Commenter Jarryd saw Postmodern Conservatism in Australia authors Geoff Boucher and Matthew Sharpe give a presentation based on their book, and came away unimpressed:

From memory the section we read was exploring the damaging affect of post modern conservatism and the actions of “neoliberals” through a list of fairly irrelevant facts like decline in church attendance etc. Everyone in the room was fairly confused about just what the intention of the piece was.

Boucher and Sharpe’s argument is confused, but the intention is clear: to find any fact or argument that can be used to discredit ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘postmodern’ conservatism.

The point of mentioning declining church attendance, along with declining political party membership, lower levels of institutional trust, and rising divorce is to argue that there has been a decline in social capital, which Boucher and Sharpe hope to pin on ‘neoliberalism’.

In their discussion of social capital, they draw on Robert Putnam, and his book Bowling Alone. On p.169 our authors tell us that:

For Putnam, this [decline in social capital] cannot be solely attributed to the rise of neoliberalism since since 1973. [italics added]

Actually, Putnam thinks that hardly any of social capital’s decline is due to market economics. He dismisses its role in two pages of Bowling Alone (pp.282-83), conceding only a loss of civic leadership as small town businesses are replaced with giant corporations. His main objection is that America has been a market society for centuries, during which social capital has gone up and down. ‘A constant can’t explain a variable’, he says.
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