I am not a social scientist nor a political economist, but the battles over union rights in an age of (what) anxiety seem to raise that age-old question of whether Americans are, at base, individualistic or communal. Robert Putnam argued in 2000 in his book Bowling Alone that Americans were impoverished in terms of social capital. In other words, we didn’t want to hang out together, not in labor unions, not at bowling leagues (the photo to the left is a bowling alley laid low).
Bowling Alone or Shock Doctrine?
In her recent book, Naomi Klein suggests that in times of disaster, measures that would otherwise be relatively unthinkable become acceptable to large swaths of the public–or as Klein writes here: “using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — [free marketers] achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.”
Clearly, struggles in Madison, Columbus and Indianapolis have shown that Americans are not faced with a choice simply between being an individual or being part of a community. Yet, in the flurry of commentary about the impasse between governors and their state employees, what do we make of observations like the one detailed at PEW that Americans don’t like unions or big business? I know there is the American allergy to “bigness” in the abstract and that scores of books have now been written on the left’s ineffective attempts to awaken the people to their plight. But who out of Putnum or Klein has come closer to the key for understanding this cyclical problem?