Social Capital and Social Justice

Why Liberalism is Essential

Originally published in Journal of Private Enterprise

Influential figures within communities are sometimes able to exploit their position and then leverage their social standing to avoid accountability, often in spite of their community’s nominal commitment to just conduct. This outcome may lead individuals to blame social capital for injustice, abuse, and outcomes at odds with “social justice” (particularly social equality between racial, gender, ability, and other socially constructed groups). We argue that neither social capital nor hierarchies are to blame per se, but a lack of liberalism is. Hierarchies are more dangerous when individuals have fewer exit options and fewer alternative opportunities for social support and mutually beneficial exchange. Liberal institutions are necessary to foster the pluralism, polycentricity, and economic growth that create these types of exit options. To mitigate the abuses associated with hierarchy and social capital networks that face little competition, thoroughgoing liberalism that itself relies on social capital is necessary. Misdiagnosing the problem risks exacerbating it.

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