Newly elected Labor member for the seat of Fraser in the ACT, Andrew Leigh, argues that Canberra has the highest level of social capital of any of Australia’s capital cities.
The former ANU economist contends that social capital – essentially the level of trust and reciprocity within communities – has declined in Australia. He points to declines in active membership of associations, in religious participation, and in membership of political parties and unions.
We even have fewer close friends now than in the 80s – we’ve two fewer friends who could keep a confidence and we’ve lost half a friend who’d help us through a hard time.
Andrew concludes that there are several plausible explanations for this decline, including people working longer hours, the feminisation of the workforce and greater ethnic diversity. In addition, more time spent watching television, using a computer and commuting means less time spent face-to-face with others.
Most of these changes also have benefits, so he cautions against trying to return to the past. We need new and innovative ways to build social capital. He argues that the place to look for how we might increase social capital is Canberra. This is where it gets really interesting. Read the rest of this entry »