Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Valuing Social Capital

I've been having an interesting conversation on Google+ with Patricia Kokinos of Change the Schools about the significance of the Occupy movement in the US.

Obviously, this is not a unique phenomenon - similar public uprisings against the injustice and inequality of "the establishment" have occurred in a number of countries around the world in the past year.  And, with the world in the grip of what is rapidly proving to be the biggest "global financial crisis" since the 1930's it is hardly surprising that the same kind of grass-roots demonstrations are showing up.

In that conversation, I posted:
Seems to me this genuinely may signal "the end of the world as we know it" - i.e. the collapse of the communist-capitalist industrial revolution social economies. The interesting question (apart from what else can we expect before the end of the Mayan Great Age in 2012?) is - what will [we] replace it with?

One of the critical factors for me that has eventually contributed to the downfall of both these post-classical social/economic models is the failure to find a way of accounting for - and therefore valuing - social capital, for example the value to society of parents being able to afford to spend time focusing on parenting their children well instead of being forced out into paid employment.

On what planet is spending 40 hours at a desk, or on a production line of more value to society than spending those 40 hours providing emotional and physical security for your children? And yet we have structured our society so that staying home to concentrate on providing those things for your children has no "value" because no money changes hands. Ironically, if somebody else cares for your children, that does have "value" because their motivation is financial.

So how do we - especially those of us involved in education and other social profit activities - change this?

Finding an answer is crucial. And urgent.
As I have been thinking about that some more, I've found myself wondering: if part of the issue is indeed "the failure to find a way of accounting for - and therefore valuing - social capital" appropriately in the economic fabric of our societies, (over-valued in the communist regimes, under-valued in the capitalist ones) then might the answer come from the "triple bottom line" concept?

 We have already got the beginnings of an Emissions Trading Scheme, where we assign a  value to the costs or benefits of various activities in terms of their contribution to carbon emissions. The idea of "green dollars"is not new either. So what about a system of transferrrable Social Capital Credits that recognise the social costs and benefits (as opposed to the private costs and benefits)  that activities have?

So for example, a teacher, nurse or counsellor might accrue SCCs as part of their salary package, as these activities have a social benefit as well as the private benefit to clients. Those credits could be traded off later to finance parental leave or vacation time.

Students would accrue Social Capital Credits as they progress through the education system,  since a more educated workforce has social benefits as well as private benefits for the individuals concerned.

People who are not in paid employment, but who work as caregivers in the home, or who do volunteer work in the community, would accrue Social Capital Credits to reflect the value of that work - which could be traded in to provide an income stream.  So parents could afford to stay home and take care of their own children, rather than being forced into menial "work" while someone else gets paid to do it.

The value of social profit (I don't like the term non-profit, and they're not all 100% unpaid /voluntary) organisations would become transparent, and could be accounted for in the national accounts. 

Presumably, activities deemed anti-social would attract Social Capital fines as well as or instead of simply financial penalties or  imprisonment.

It's a simple concept. Not necessarily an easy one to implement, but perhaps an idea whose time has come?