Wealth,  Reading

The inevitable “big break”?

  Francis Fukuyama’s “The Great Break” was translated and published in China in 2015. The book I bought is already the sixth printing in 2020.
  This book aims to point out some prominent problems in the post-industrial Western society—mainly pointing to the rapid loss of capital in Western society. Social capital refers to the density and stickiness of social interactions between people. Through intensive and extensive social interactions, people form the spirit of participation, organizational ability, sense of responsibility, spirit of contract, etc., which is the basis for the effective operation of democracy.
  The book is divided into three parts. The first part points out that there is a “big break” phenomenon in developed countries such as the United States, that is, social capital is dying; the second part demonstrates the foundation of “social capital” – morality; the third part Discuss how to change the status quo.
The “Big Break” – the loss of social capital

  In the second half of the twentieth century, some problems that scholars at that time were generally worried about appeared in developed countries. For example, the decline in the birth rate and the negative growth of the population; the rate of married births is also decreasing; the divorce rate is soaring; Trust levels are declining and so on.
  Fukuyama pointedly pointed out that this more complex information-based economy, in addition to bringing people various benefits, also deconstructs society and the original moral life. Mental labor replaced physical labor, and more women went to work, subverting the original family model. The rise of “individualistic” culture has weakened the cohesion of families, groups, and countries. On the basis of emphasizing the individual’s “unrestrained” feeling and emphasizing the tone of personal self-esteem, a series of movements have emerged from this – the sexual revolution, women’s liberation and feminist revolution, the gay rights movement, and so on. All these pose challenges to the original social rules. Fukuyama worries that extreme individualism can be dangerous, leading to the loss of community.
  Not all shared values ​​will form social capital, and the values ​​that can bring social capital must contain some “human virtues”, such as honesty, trustworthiness, reciprocity, etc. Some communities share values ​​that are not like this (some gangster culture) and that will inevitably lead to chaos.
  Since it is necessary to judge the existence of a “big break”, it is bound to involve the measurement of social capital. How to measure it? Fukuyama suggests that there can be two different indirect measures. One is a positive measurement, investigating trust and values, etc.; the other is a negative measurement, investigating crime rates, family breakdown, drug use, lawsuits, and so on. In this book, Fukuyama cites a large amount of data from these two aspects, and based on these survey data and the research results of other scholars, he worries that there may be a loss of social capital and the risk of society slipping into disorder.
  What caused the “big break”? Fukuyama explores four possible causes: poverty and inequality, increased wealth, wrong government policies, and cultural shifts. But after thinking about it, Fukuyama believes that none of these reasons can explain the “big break” phenomenon well. He tried to comprehensively explain the above phenomenon from the aspects of population, economy and culture.
  Fukuyama first reviews various studies on rising crime rates, and then reviews studies on trust. From these phenomena, Fukuyama focused on the role of women. Indeed, since the 1960s, the legalization of contraception and abortion has gradually become widely accepted in developed countries, which some believe has led to a decline in the birth rate.
  The “Great Rupture” that Fukuyama describes will have serious consequences. The declining fertility rate may lead to social security risks; it may also lead to the weakening of kinship relationships and weaken social cohesion; family breakdown causes growth trauma to future generations and other issues; the high crime rate is not conducive to community stability and community communication; In short, the frequency of communication between people decreases and social capital is lost.
  Can such a big break be avoided? Fukuyama believes that it may be unavoidable. Cultural differences may delay the “big break”, but it cannot avoid its arrival. Fukuyama specifically used the examples of Japan and South Korea to illustrate. These two countries have low crime rates, relatively stable nuclear families, and low illegitimate birth rates. They seem to be very different from the “Great Break” in the West. He further pointed out that the employment rate of women in Japan and South Korea is low, and their wages are also low. Japan did not fully allow the use of contraceptives in 1999, and Japanese and South Korean women put a lot of energy into child rearing, etc. It can be seen that the influence of culture on economic choices, but the authors believe that sooner or later shocks will occur. The characteristic of culture is that it is constantly developing and changing, although it is relatively slow, but “even though it is far, it will reach”.
  If everything that happened today makes you feel “off” then you adjust your behavior. Human culture changes quietly in the adjustment behavior of thousands of individuals. Therefore, to understand the “Great Break”, we must understand “human nature” and “morality”.
The Foundation of Social Capital – Human Morality

  Therefore, Fukuyama turned to discuss “On the Genealogy of Morality”. He mentioned Hayek’s “extended order”, the order of human society can come from hierarchy (class, formal, rational) or spontaneous (informal, irrational). Therefore, Fukuyama classified the sources of order into four quadrants, and discussed the position of some phenomena and some disciplines in the quadrants of order respectively. For example, formal laws belong to the quadrants of “hierarchy” and “rationality”; markets belong to the quadrants of “spontaneity” and “rationality”; rural customs belong to the quadrants of “spontaneity” and “irrational”; religious organizations belong to the quadrants of “hierarchy” and “rationality”; Irrational” quadrant.
  Previous scholars’ understanding of human behavior (culture) tended to be the result of social construction, that is to say, culture-driven influence. People instinctively loathe the notion that we are all different, and biological differences in humans were not discussed at the time. Since the second half of the 20th century, with the development of molecular biology, people began to discuss the relationship between biology and human behavior or culture. New Biology believes that the differences in human culture are not as great as it appears on the surface, and that different cultures reflect common social needs, and the fundamental reasons behind these needs are biological reasons. Of course, what Fukuyama wants to express is not biological determinism, but an interactive and more balanced view of cultural formation. Emerging evolutionary biology actually supports the hypothesis of social man rather than economic man more strongly. In fact, “cooperation”, “altruism”, “competition” and “self-interest” are written into human genes at the same time.
  The author discusses the decline of political (country) and economic (enterprise) hierarchies since the 1960s. In the Internet age, with the sharp reduction of transaction costs, the original hierarchy seems unnecessary and increases transaction costs. A flattening trend is beginning to appear. But why is there still an industrial concentration like “Silicon Valley”? In addition to broadband and the Internet, do people need something else to connect socially in this day and age?
  Fukuyama tried to think about the boundary between spontaneous order and hierarchy. In fact, if he changed the words, he was discussing the advantages and disadvantages of “market” and “planning”?

  Fukuyama mentioned the shortcomings of the market (the lack of spontaneous order): Insufficient scale (it may not be possible to concentrate our efforts to do big things; the Internet may help us make up for the shortcomings of the original lack of scale, but the subsequent data security problems will appear again. ); unclear boundaries (do not know who counts as their own); need to have repeated interaction scenarios (otherwise people may not restrain themselves); need to share a common culture; cannot resolve the question of whether the common culture they share is just (of course, Whether a culture can be justly or unjustly judged is itself a moot point); lack of transparency; the persistence of bad choices.
  Despite the Internet age, organizational flattening did happen. However, the operation of a flat organization requires social capital, and the formation of this kind of social capital often depends on the leadership charisma and the hierarchical system of golden signs. Therefore, hierarchy will not disappear from the organization soon, because human nature has an inner need to like to be “on top”. The pursuit of status is rooted in the human emotional system. Fukuyama believes that hierarchy is necessary to correct and compensate for the above-mentioned defects and limitations of spontaneous order. The benefits of hierarchy are at least reflected in: creating norms through legislation; creating conditions for a stable market; charisma of leadership can create more social capital, etc.
  Fukuyama believes that social order has an important natural and spontaneous source. In the Internet age, people’s cultural and moral concepts will continue to evolve with changes in technology and economic conditions.
How to rebuild social capital

  Fukuyama uses fluent writing and various examples to illustrate that the development of capitalism both promotes and hurts moral behavior. Fukuyama believes that social capital is not a public product, it is created by selfish individuals out of long-term interests, although it is not a public product, it is full of externalities (with many beneficial spillover effects on the wider society).
  Social capital is not only created by the private sector, the government (public sector) can also create social capital. Fukuyama used “enemy and friend” to describe the relationship between the government and social capital. For example, the education system plays an undeniably important role in creating social capital. But Fukuyama also pointed out that the government will also be the biggest destroyer of social capital.
  Fukuyama pointed out in the last part that the “Great Rupture” is not a unique phenomenon since the 1960s. There have been many “big breaks” in history. How to solve the problem of “big break”? The book mentions possible answers in two directions:
  the first is a bottom-up solution. Old forms of cooperation are broken, and people adapt their cooperation to the situation.
  The second is a top-down approach. The government can intervene in this process, providing incentives for cultivating new social capital.
  In fact, such bottom-up programs did happen. In the introduction, Teacher Liu Yu mentioned that after the 1990s in the United States, with the rise of the Internet, people formed intensive associations in new ways. Social capital is not declining, but transforming.
  After reading this book, I can’t help but think, what is the essence of individualism? In the end is “egoism”, or to understand others as a “self”, that is, “humanism”. If it is the latter, the rise of individualism is actually not contrary to the development of social capital, but will promote the development of social capital.

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