Harvard Professor Robert Putnam (Bertie’s favourite academic) has spent the last few days in Ulster. At Fianna Fail’s think-in in Cavan as it happens. His big idea is the concept of ‘Social Capital‘: from his seminal work on the disintegration of working class communities. However Robin Wilson thinks there’s a gap between Ahern’s advocacy of Putnam’s ideas and his government’s policies. Not least in the country’s enthusiastic espousal of capitalism:
Translated on to the international arena, Putnam’s social-capital scale places egalitarian Sweden at the top and hugely-unequal Brazil at the bottom. And this, Wilkinson argues, is common sense: we are most likely to show solidarity with our fellow citizen if we do not feel socially distant from them.
But this is where Ahern faces his first difficulty. Also at the weekend, in an interview he reiterated his preference for the Progressive Democrats as a coalition partner. One of that party’s Ministers, Michael McDowell, has argued recently that inequality is necessary in a capitalist society. It provides an essential incentive, he claims.
McDowell is wrong, as Putnam’s and other data show. A society with deep inequalities undervalues the human capital of huge numbers of its population, and its lack of an accepted moral compass encourages free-riding and anti-social behaviour.