The Precipitous Decline of America’s Social Capital in the 21st Century
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. — New York City Post Office
Social capital is the glue that holds the American democracy and civil society together. In this twenty first century, America’s social capital has declined precipitously and the country is coming unglued.
The United States Postal Service has been an essential part of this country’s glue. Its responsibility, in this regard, is reflected in its mission statement, which reads:
The postal service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.
The postal service traces its roots back to 1775 and has always fulfilled its mission. Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night have prevented it from doing so.
But in these tyrannical times, President Donald Trump is attempting to do what these forces of nature could not. If he is successful, it will be just another step in the ungluing of America’s social capital.
Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard, did seminal research and popularized the concept of social capital in his book with the evocative title, Bowling Alone, published in 2010.
In his research, Putnam examined seven measures of social capital: (1) political participation, (2) civic participation, (3) religious participation, (4) workplace networks, (6) mutual trust and honesty, and (7) altruism and volunteering. He concluded that America had experienced a decline in all of those areas in the last 25 years of the 20th century.
Social Capital Decline Over Two Decades
That decline accelerated in the first two decades of this 21st century. As we highlight in our book, Renewing the American Dream, published in 2010, there were a number of capital-destroying as opposed to capital-building occurrences in the years from 2000 through 2009.