Resolving Ferguson by Strengthening Community Capital

Everyone seems to know that the problem in Ferguson relates to a white police force in a

predominantly black community. Whether the community leaders were blind to the problem, or

aware of it but unable to find African American people qualified, is argued from both sides.




At issue here is what some are calling community capital. In our free market system capital is

being expanded beyond Marx’s limited view of financial capital to include just about everything

worthwhile. Education, training and experience give one personal capital; friends and networks

give one social capital; and now, participation in a diverse community gives one community

capital. This is a pretty neat way of describing what can happen when our human adaptations

are centered on building communities rather than on accumulating money; on diversity rather

than survival. So how can we promote such an orientation so that we have no more Fergusons?


Well, the problem is much bigger than Ferguson. Our whole nation is short on community

capital. Our prison population is item number one; it reflects the lack of community capital that

permeates our country and in 40 participating states costs close to a billion dollars annually per

state. Drug offenses are the main reason for most incarceration, and our drug economy is a

main occupation for many who see no future in our legal free market economy. Our significant

income disparity also reflects reduced community capital. Altogether our penal system and drug

wars cost close to a hundred billion dollars every year, but that financial capital is likely far less

than the value of the human, social, and community capital that is wasted in the process.


In searching for alternatives we tend to laugh at the U.S. Army’s “Be All You Can Be” ads, but

the military has a valid record of bringing people from poverty into the middle class. Many have

argued for expanding its role by establishing a program of a year of government service for

all young people, and we agree. Eighteen year olds who are searching for work often fail and

are among the highest groups of unemployed, and are also at highest risk for drug abuse and




Young people would have some military training, as well as options for volunteer military,

UN Peacekeeping Forces, as well as Peace Corps. Some of them could be appropriately

paired with Police Officers in their hometowns to help avoid situations of racial disparity like

we see in Ferguson and elsewhere. And they could also be used to help rebuild our crumbling



Young people could work in Nursing homes, day care facilities, and as teachers aids. Included

in these jobs would be training in child development, nutrition, parenting, and education.


This kind of a program would not be cheap in terms of money, but we agree with the effort to

replace our measuring stick of GDP with something better that measures the value of individual,

social, and community capital instead of just the dollars. Giving something back to our country

would be a good place to start.

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*Insurance is designed to pay for the unexpected crisis. Health insurance started that way in the U.S. but gradually, because the companies we work for were paying for it and getting a better tax break, it morphed into paying for it all. That means we have less interest in getting the ounce of prevention than if we were paying for some of those costs. Children we talk to about the dangers of drugs just say they’ll get a brain transplant if they burn theirs out. That’s why we think that Health Savings Accounts should be promoted by the government more; they put the individual back in a position of responsibility in making more choices in their health care. With Health Savings Accounts an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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