The topic of tonight is the need for a revival of communities. Both professor Collier and professor Rajan argue that communities have collapsed over the last decades. Communities are defined as groups with a shared identity and mutual obligations. They can be a family, a village or neighborhood. Both speakers of tonight argue these communities have weakened because as a society we embraced individualism and broke social bonds. For long, human societies have been characterized by strong communities in which elites were embedded.
But since the last decades, societies have become more and more shaped by competition between entitled individuals. Highly productive multinational corporations and cosmopolitan centers for the highly educated and rich have emerged. At the same time, rural and provincial regions have economically declined, inequality between social classes has increased, power is increasingly concentrated in a few corporations and individuals, families fall apart as divorce rates have increased, schools are crumbling and community organizations have disappeared. This is quite a bleak picture of our world today.
As a young person – or youthful idiot, as professor Collier refers to my generation in his book The Future of Capitalism – I grew up in the world they describe. And I recognize many of the things they describe. I remember talking to my friends and mother at the age of 12, discussing how self-centered most people were and that there was little that brought people together in a meaningful way. Trying to escape the feeling of loneliness, my friends and I build our own local community through break dance. We didn’t just dance together, it gave us a shared identity and strong social bonds that last to this day. In a world of individualism, it has been highly important for my personal development to have been part of this diverse global break dance community.
This community differs, however, substantially from the typical post-war communities that are often referred to in the books. The world has changed over the last decades. Today, we live in a more global and digital world. Traditional gender and ethnic hierarchies have been weakened, although not disappeared. Just to name a few developments.
Good economic policy, cultural change or localization?
My first question is therefore, what kind of communities should we aim to develop and how will they be different from earlier post-war communities? An important aspect in this, for me, seems to be how we can properly value the work that is crucial for communities. Whether it is teaching or care work, these kinds of work have often been undervalued as well as gendered, sometimes being called pink collar jobs. If someone wants to be successful, respected, or rewarded, in today’s society, these jobs, unfortunately, are not the best options. What can we do to change this?
And secondly, how do we expect these new communities to develop? Or in other words, what is our theory of change? It seems to me there are three possible answers to this question, or a combination of them:
- One option is to prioritize the economic situations of communities. In this answer, the cause of today’s problems lie in technological changes and bad economic policies. The solution, therefore, is good economic policy that tackles the regional inequalities. This can be done through place-based policies that enable declined communities to recover economically and become successful parts of the global economy with the help of funds from prospering cosmopolitan metropoles.
- Another option is to prioritize cultural changes. In this answer, the reason communities collapsed, is not that economic activities and resources disappeared, but that people became more individualist in their behavior and thinking. The solution, according to this logic, lies in a societal debate about our identity and culture, rather than in economic policy.
- And finally, another option seems to be to put emphasis on the geographical level in which economic and political life happens. The problem is that too many economic and political activities have moved beyond the local, to the national and even global level. The main solution, in this answer, is therefore to localize our societies again. Political power should be decentralized and economic globalization should be undone by making supply chains local.
I wonder how both professor Rajan and professor Collier think about these issues. Thank you.