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Commentary By Aaron M. Renn

Are We Still Bowling Alone?

In broken communities, the focus should be on social capital  not just the economy.

When I was growing up in a small town in rural Indiana, many people left their doors unlocked and their keys in their cars. This was in the 1970s and 1980s -- hardly ancient history. Everybody knew everybody to some extent, and there was a sense of strong community solidarity. Kids knew that if they got in trouble at school there would be even more trouble when they got home. There were no jobs people weren’t willing to do. A classmate’s mother was a cook in the school cafeteria. I bagged groceries. It was hardly idyllic, but to a great extent it did resemble the traditional stereotypes of small-town life.

On the other hand, much of rural living in that era was very basic. Water service, trash collection and cable TV were not available. We had to rely on wells or cisterns, burned our trash in a 55-gallon drum and were limited to the handful of TV channels we could bring in through our aerials. We shared a party-line telephone with our neighbors. And the road I lived on was gravel when I first moved there.

But while life in these places was poorer and technologically rudimentary, it was socially intact and cohesive. Now, that’s inverted. Although the comforts of everyday life are in many ways better, social conditions have collapsed for many. What has happened calls into question the idea that social well-being is tightly linked to economic health -- that just providing more and better jobs can by itself turn broken families and communities around.

Read the entire piece here in the September 2017 Issue of Governing Magazine


Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in Governing