WikiSummary, the Social Science Summary Database

Putnam: Making Democracy Work

From WikiSummary, the Free Social Science Summary Database

 

Putnam. 1993. Making Democracy Work. Princeton: Princeton Universitiy Press.

In Brief

From the conclusion: "In all societies, to summarize our argument so far, dillemas of collective action hamper attempts to cooperate for mutual benefit, whether in politics or in economics. Third-party enforcement is an inadequate solution to this problem. Voluntary cooperation (like rotating credit associations) depend on social capital. Norms of generalized reciprocity [for favors received] and networks of civic engagement encourage social trust and coooperation because the reduce incentives to defect, reduce uncertainty, and provide models for future cooperation. Trust itself is an emergent property of the social system, as much as a personal attribute. Individuals are able to be trusting (and not merely gullible) because of the social norms and networks within which their actions are embedded." (177)

  • The conclusion, and Putnam's argument that social capital is a necessary ingredient for government functioning. It's a bit unclear on causality here, which he acknowledges: although the differing patterns of social capital in the north and south are largely due to centuries of history (thus dooming the institutional reform, one might think), Putnam also says that the changed institutions will have a gradual (perhaps imperceptible in the short term) effect on improving social capital.
  • At the same time, he views social capital as simply one of two equilibria: either societies choose "always defect" in their daily collective action problems, or they choose "always return favors," thus building social capital and general trust. Keep in mind: like all equilibria, these are self-reinforcing. That means that saying institutions cause social capital which reinforces institutions isn't necessarily circular; any equilibrium is circular in that sense, since being in the equilibrium increases the probability that you will stay there.

For an important critique, see Jackman and Miller (1988).

Design

A natural experiment: in 1970, the highly centralized Italian regime devolved much authority to 15 newly-created regional governments with essentially identical institutions. A most similar design. The treatment: differences in political culture. Areas with more social capital enjoyed better institutional performance than areas lacking in social capitial. Within this broad design, smaller designs were also at work. Some parts are based on a comparative case study of only 6 regions. Some use statistical techniques that also include 5 "special regions" that are similar but were created right after WWII (so N = 20). Chapter 3 discusses an experiment conducted by the researchers.

Chapter-by-Chapter Notes

Chapter 1:

  • New Institutionalism stresses two things: (1) rules matter. Outcomes depend not only on individuals or on social forces, but on the rules that govern their interaction. (2) Institutions are shaped by history. Path dependence means that what you had yesterday affects what institutions you'll have tomorrow.
  • Putnam, however, wants to look at variance even when institutions are held constant. He doesn't deny that rules matter, but he wants to see why governmental performance varies even when the rules don't.

Chapter 6:

  • The conclusion, Putnam's argument that social capital is a necessary ingredient for government functioning. It's a bit unclear on causality here, which he acknowledges: although the differing patterns of social capital in the north and south are largely due to centuries of history (thus dooming the institutional reform, one might think), Putnam also says that the changed institutions will have a gradual (perhaps imperceptible in the short term) effect on improving social capital.
  • At the same time, he views social capital as simply one of two equilibria: either societies choose "always defect" in their daily collective action problems, or they choose "always return favors," thus building social capital and general trust. Keep in mind: like all equilibria, these are self-reinforcing. That means that saying institutions cause social capital which reinforces institutions isn't necessarily circular; any equilibrium is circular in that sense, since being in the equilibrium increases the probability that you will stay there.