March 05, 2009

The more we get together

St. Florian, patron saint of fire fighters.

In this blog, El Cabrero has often referred to the research of Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam about the importance of social capital for solving all kinds of problems. Social capital can be defined as all the different ways people associate with each other in formal or informal settings.

The era of the Enlightenment was one that saw the blooming of social capital in many settings. Just one example of this is the Junto formed by the young Benjamin Franklin and friends (see yesterday's post). Short version: Franklin and pals would meet regularly to discuss and debate various issues of general interest "on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy."

Sometimes these discussions led to tangible results. Here's a major example taken from Franklin's Autobiography:

About this time I wrote a paper (first to be read in the Junto, but it was afterward publish'd) on the different accidents and carelessnesses by which houses were st on fire, with cautions against them, and means proposed of avoiding them. This was much spoken of as a useful piece, and gave rise to a project, which soon followed it, of forming a company for the more ready extinguishing of fires, and mutual assistance and removing and securing of goods when in danger. Associates in this scheme were presently found, amounting to thirty. Our articles of agreement oblig'd every member to keep always in good order, and fit for use, a certain number of leather buckets, with strong bags and baskets (for packing and transporting of good), which were to be brought to every fire; and we agreed to meet once a month to spend a social evening together, in discoursing and communicating such ideas as occurred to us upon the subject of fires, as might be useful to our conduct on such occasions.

The idea proved its usefulness and let to the formation of many similar companies throughout Philadelphia. Over time, the Union Fire Company procured fire engines, ladders, fire-hooks and other equipment. Writing more than 50 years after the original founding of the fire company, Franklin wrote

...I question whether there is a city in the world better provided with the means of putting a stop to beginning conflagrations; and, in fact, since these institutions, the city has never lost by fire more than one or two houses at a time, and the flames have often been extinguished before the house in which they began was half consumed.

THE STATES AND THE RECESSION. Here's a good source for state foreclosure and unemployment information.

RIGHT TO ORGANIZE? Employees fire pro-union workers in one out of four organizing drives, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

THE CHEERFUL GIVER. This item discusses the psychology of giving.

MORE SUPREME FUN. Here's yesterday's NY Times on the Massey Energy/Don Blankenship/WV Supreme Court case that was argued Tuesday before the US Supreme Court and here's the latest from the Charleston Gazette.

EXERCISE IS GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN, especially as you get older.


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