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Further Reading

Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community
Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People
Robert Putnam, American Grace
Moral outrage, whether manifested as righteous indignation or misinformed vitriol, is a powerful, motivating emotion. According to the social-psychological notion of “negativity bias,” our human tendency is to give greater weight to negative feelings, events, etc. because they are more potent and contagious than positive ones.
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Even in our twenty-first-century American society, associational life ought to be at the center of thinking about our social order and public policy. This report discusses rebuilding civil society. It lays out the nature of our diminished civil society, documents trends in its decline, and charts a path to its renewal.
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Rebuilding civil society will require capitalizing on the strengths of America’s associational life to address its weaknesses. One way of doing so is to reform policy so that less of the charitable giving of Americans is subject to taxation. Doing so would be more consistent with the principle that people should not be taxed on money they give away. Reforming the charitable deduction captures the spirit of the Social Capital Project’s approach to policymaking.
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For two years, the Social Capital Project has documented trends in associational life—what we do together—and its distribution across the country. With this evidentiary base established, the Project turns to the development of a policy agenda rooted in social capital. Specifically, the focus will be to craft an agenda to expand opportunity by strengthening families, communities, and civil society.
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Over the past 50 years, the United States has experienced major shifts in geographic mobility patterns among its highly-educated citizens. Some states today are keeping and receiving a greater share of these adults than they used to, while many others are both hemorrhaging their homegrown talent and failing to attract out-of-staters who are highly educated. This phenomenon has far-reaching implications for our collective social and political life, extending beyond the economic problems for states that lose highly-educated adults.
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Last year, the Social Capital Project released its Social Capital Index, a tool that measures the health of associational life across the United States. As explained in our earlier report, What We Do Together: The State of Associational Life in America, we define associational life as the “web of social relationships through which we pursue joint endeavors—namely, our families, our communities, our workplaces, and our religious congregations.
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This week, marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Senator Mike Lee raised the question of whether a conservative populism could be racially unifying, rather than divisive. Senator Lee emphasized the importance of both advocating personal responsibility and acknowledging deep-seated barriers to opportunity (including policy barriers), as Dr. King did. To illustrate the point, and how social capital can be affected by deep-seated cultural, economic, and historical factors, the piece featured a map developed by the Social Capital Project.
Is America in the middle of a loneliness epidemic?

Claims of rising loneliness are often part of a larger narrative about fraying social bonds in America. In this framing, loneliness is seen as one symptom among many of a larger set of problems.
Social capital is almost surely an important factor driving many of our nation’s greatest successes and most serious challenges. Indeed, the withering of associational life is itself one of those challenges. Public policy solutions to such challenges are inherently elusive. But at present, policymakers and researchers lack the high-quality contemporary measures of social capital available at the state and local levels to even try proposing solutions that are attuned to associational life.