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Are The Trilateral Nations Really In Decline?,
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This review is from: Disaffected Democracies: What's Troubling the Trilateral Countries? (Paperback)
Are the trilateral democratic nations threatened by a steady disintegration of their social capital? Are individual citizens less trusting of their political institutions and even of each other? These are the central themes probed by the contributors of this collection of essays. This book represents a reassessment of an earlier study "The Crisis of Democracy" completed twenty five years ago by the Trilateral Commission. I found the central premise of the current study, though, to be highly suspect. After all, these same countries now experience vastly improved economic conditions, and perhaps more importantly---are less likely to declare war on each other. Could it be that some of the contributors fail to see the proverbial forest because the trees are in the way? It is admittedly an unhealthy state of affairs when people are hostile towards their government. Nevertheless, isn't a more pessimistic and realistic understanding of what is to be expected from the political sector to be applauded? Prudence is not cynicism. Governments are innately limited in responding to the total needs of the individual. Why be shy in conceding this fact?
Is there such a thing as too much social capital? The Japanese kamikaze pilots, regardless of how perverted it may seem to us, were splendid example of intense social bonding. Also, the trust and fellowship of ethnic Germans during that time period were at a very high level. A decreased interest in preserving social capital might indeed discourage bigotry. Might a society be overly worried about sustaining the social bonds of its dominant group? Couldn't this concern hinder the practical decisions required in the everyday business world? In the not too distant past, employers often indulged in the self defeating practice of hiring lesser talented members of their own immediate social group instead of more qualified outsiders. Those once perceived as alien and repugnant are now at least tolerated, if not eagerly recruited. Lifetime guaranteed employment and other projectionist measures underpinning an earlier interpretation of social cohesiveness resulted in weaker economic conditions. Contributor, Russell Hardin, perspicuously points out that the economic theories of F.A. Hayek and others of the Austrian school were not able to be empirically studied in the past, but now appear "to be acquitting themselves very well." Hardin's essay "The Public Trust" alone justifies seeking out this book.
Why remain in a bad marriage or job if we don't have to? New disruptive technological advances like the Internet are diminishing the importance of relationships premised primarily upon physical proximity. We often barely say hello to our next door neighbors. Increasingly, many of us form viable relationships with people on the other side of the globe. I seriously doubt , for instance, that I will ever personally meet most of the individuals who communicate with me on a regular basis. Relatively inexpensive means of transportation and communications make it easier to form and dissolve relationships. Nonetheless, my chosen role as something of a devil's advocate should not be interpreted as a lack of respect towards these scholars. Robert Putnam, Susan Pharr, and their fellow cohorts are onto something. Discussing these issues is not a luxury, but a mandatory necessity. We should not hesitate to join the conversation. Putnam even actively encourages the participation of non specialists. He believes the matter is too urgent for the hoi polloi to remain on the sidelines. A companion study "Bowling Alone" by the same Professor Putnam should also be added to your reading list.