March 21 - 27% Problem

Letter to Ed Fouhy re: Pew Foundation Report on the Media


I read in the Boston Globe today about the newest Pew Foundation survey and it's grim statistics with respect to viewership and readership: lower and getting worse.

Frankly, I am not surprised. Either, I suspect, are you. It strikes me that the 'media' are still stuck telling an old story that nobody wants to buy any longer. And what is that story? The 1950s gone awry, if not totally wrong; the single minded pursuit of the maximum amount of money [profit, political contributions, lottery winnings etc] as well as scandal and calamity. Who Cares! Clearly, fewer and fewer citizens.

This story fails to provide any useful information what so ever about how to survive the transition to that New Economy - the one that is already disrupting peoples lives and about which we have no idea how to thrive in

I am asking the following question far and wide and getting very little reply. Here is how I posed it to Jon Katz re his article on page 49 of the current WIRED:

RE your article in the April WIRED:

What is post postpolitical? Politics?

Having been engaged in this field for some years now, the question I would like to understand is the role of social capital in a capitalist economy and the role of the internet, for lack of a better term, in the process.

Adam Smith recognized that the worst excesses of 'capitalism' had to be constrained, perhaps by dominant middle class values: a father would take care of his family before he succumbed to infinite greed. In America, Emerson and Thoreau, amongst others in the 19th century, were concerned with community and other non market aspects of society. Today, on the one hand we have Etzioni on communitarianism, Fukuyama on Trust, and Robert Putnam on 'Social Capital'. On the other we have the worst excesses of market fundamentalist and libertarian cowboy capitalists.

What did your researches reveal on the topic of the social capital as a proper subject for political thought? Is social capital the nutritive environment without which market capitalism shrivels and expires? How is social capital created, nurtured and increased? What role do connected computers have in this process, it values and the resulting politics?

As I discussed this with an Apt and BBN researcher, his reaction was that there were many things a culture needed to maximize - for example, the concerns of Emerson and Thoreau.

In short, I think the American people may be waking up to the fact that there is a lot more to life than simply maximizing market capitalism. Yet nowhere in the popular media is this explored or covered. What if it is true that we are hollowing out our culture from within by destroying the very wellsprings of social capital? Can a market economy survive, much less flourish, if its social capital is depleted beyond some critical level? My gut tells me not.

Which force is most likely to tame virulent chaos: social capital or market capital? This is a topic going begging yet one which the man on the street understands on some fundamental common sense basis. So why would an informed buyer invest time and money in products, politicians, and other institutions, which completely ignore this fundamental challenge to our viability? Why should an informed buyer think that lamenting the loss of the 50s is any guide to survival in the next era - what ever it is. I suggest that strong reserves of social capital is one of the key requirements for a successful transition.

So a question is: what is the state of social capital, its formation and its conservation, in America today? Is our social capital experiencing the law of increasing returns or decreasing returns?

In any case, even if I have the fundamental issue wrong, I would still venture that the problem is that a key issue is being ignored. What is your guess as to what that issue might be?



Jock Gill
Penfield Gill, Inc.
Boston,  MA