Social Capital and Social Justice: Why Liberalism Is Essential.

AuthorCraig, Alexander W.
  1. Introduction

    In October 2017, the New Yorker released a report detailing the years of sexual harassment and assault Harvey Weinstein perpetrated against women in the entertainment industry. Despite numerous victims, extensive public attention, and even jokes about the matter on popular television programs like 30 Rock over those years, it took an investigative report in the New Yorker to bring Weinstein to account. Why was a man who was well-known and who worked in a conspicuously public industry able to get away with such abuse? Why was he not socially ostracized and professionally shunned long before reaching dozens of victims?

    Weinstein's case is an instance of a more general phenomenon of individuals with substantial social influence evading responsibility for things that less influential individuals would never be able to get away with. These cases are generally surprising because interpersonal relationships are such an important part of their livelihoods. A high degree of social influence generally means lots of social connections, and lots of social connections generally means lots of monitoring.

    We argue that Weinstein and others like him can get away with such objectionable behavior because of the perverse dynamics in organizational hierarchies. Such individuals can exploit their positions to force others into undesirable situations and abuse them. Social capital networks, which are likely to be present in concentrated industries, can exacerbate these dynamics, making densely connected hierarchies particularly prone to risk of abuse. We argue that the solution to these dynamics does not have to be, and in many cases cannot be, the abolition or abandonment of social capital, groups, or hierarchies. Instead, the solution is a set of institutions prized by liberal political theorists. By allowing individuals to freely exit groups and enter others, individuals may escape groups with perverse dynamics and find groups with desirable ones. Within a group, liberal organizational structures can help avoid social dynamics that facilitate abuse.

    Our research contributes to at least three literatures. First, we contribute to the literature on organizational behavior in nonprice decision-making environments (Coase 1937; Alchian and Demsetz 1972). We discuss hierarchies' role in facilitating abusive behaviors and the (in)evitability of those dynamics, arguing that the nonprice dynamics and noncontestability of certain hierarchies and hierarchical positions enable abusers. Second, we contribute to the literature on social capital and economic behavior (Lin 2001; Granovetter 1973). We show how individuals with many social ties can use those ties to further their ability to act abusively and how institutional arrangements can help facilitate or prevent this abuse.

    Third, we contribute to the literature on polycentricity and the benefits of exit rights (V. Ostrom, Tiebout, and Warren 1961; E. Ostrom 2010; Kukathas 2003). A system is polycentric if it is characterized by "many centers of decision-making that are formally independent of each other" (V. Ostrom, Tiebout, and Warren 1961). The benefits of polycentricity have been documented in diverse contexts, including the scientific community (Polanyi 1951), metropolitan policing (Boettke, Lemke, and Palagashvili 2016; Boettke, Palagashvili, and Piano 2017; Ostrom, Parks, and Whitaker 1973), medieval cities (Young 2017), international trade law (Benson 1999), and corporate polities (Salter 2016). We build on this literature to argue that polycentric institutions, by enabling exit, provide important checks against sexual harassment and similar abusive behavior by well-connected individuals who hold power in hierarchies.

    The paper proceeds as follows. Section 2 explores the relevance and meaning of social capital and organizational hierarchy for the problems under consideration. We explore how hierarchies might facilitate abuse and how social capital may exacerbate such problems. In section 3, we examine solutions to the perverse dynamics described in section 2, prescribing liberal institutional features as the means by which to discipline hierarchies and social networks into desirable forms. Section 4 concludes with implications for activists concerned with avoiding and reforming abusive social systems and future directions for research on hierarchy, social capital, and abuse.

  2. Hierarchy and Social Capital

    One can easily confuse social capital and hierarchy because paradigmatic examples of each often appear alongside the other. The distinction between them matters when analyzing the unique contributions each can make to abusive social dynamics.

    1. A Distinction and a Relationship

      Hierarchies, in the sense in which we use the term, exist as organizational forms wherein inhabitants hold positions relative to one another that give at least one individual the power to direct the behavior of some other(s). Perhaps the archetypical hierarchy is a military. Commanding officers have the power to issue instructions of varying degrees of specificity to their subordinates, who must then fulfill those orders. Firms also use this kind of organization to enable broad directives from executives to become specific actions on the part of laborers lower in the hierarchy.

      Social capital is the usefulness to an individual of relationships in achieving that individual's goals. For example, during a job search, social ties with individuals who are socially distant may be useful, as those individuals are likely to have information about job opportunities yet unknown to the job-seeker (Granovetter 1973). Close, strong bonds that form within social groups, called "bonding" social capital, are likely to be useful in preserving resources an individual already possesses, as those individuals are likely to have similar access to opportunities as the tie-holder under consideration (Lin 2001). Distant, weak ties, called "bridging" social capital that form between rather than within social groups are more likely to be useful in obtaining new or different kinds of resources from what the individual already possesses (Lin 2001). Social capital's usefulness lies in individuals' ability to request favors and expect reciprocation. By trading information, services, goods, and so on, individuals can utilize their social connections to achieve more than would be possible through pure contract, anonymous trade, or other organizational possibilities.

      Hierarchy and social capital clearly have some relationship, and that relationship bears further exploration here. Social capital is not the same thing as one's position in a hierarchy. An individual may have a relatively low rank in a hierarchy, whether formally or informally, but nonetheless have considerable social capital. That is, having lots of social ties is compatible with having low position in a hierarchy, as one may develop many relationships with equals in the hierarchy. At the same time, one has an incentive to build relationships with those in higher positions, because those in higher positions have more resources. In higher positions, one may be able to issue commands to those lower in a hierarchy, but social ties with individuals lower in the hierarchy may nonetheless be useful for information transmission purposes, among other things. Furthermore, relationships between superiors and subordinates may assist in assuring tasks are accomplished in...

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