Explain the term social capital. How does it enhance good governance? (150 words)

The question Explain the term social capital. How does it enhance good governance?." was asked in the Mains 2023 GS Paper 4.  Let us look at the model answer to this question.

Answer: Social capital refers to the social networks, norms of trust, reciprocity and civic participation that facilitate cooperation within a society. It enhances good governance by promoting connectivity, social trust and citizen participation.

Defining Social Capital

  • As defined by Robert Putnam, social capital refers to “features of social organisations such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate action and cooperation for mutual benefit”.
  • It arises from everyday interactions between people through social networks and norms of reciprocity and trust. Higher social capital indicates greater connectedness.

Social Capital Enhances Good Governance in the Following Way

  • Builds trust and cooperation:
    • Social capital promotes trust between citizens and government institutions, which enhances cooperation, compliance and policy implementation.
    • With high social capital, citizens are more likely to pay taxes, follow rules, and participate in governance. This reduces the costs of monitoring and enforcement for the state.
  • Improves information flows:
    • The networks fostered by social capital facilitate flows of important market and social information that improves socio-economic outcomes.
    • For instance, professional and business associations can effectively communicate issues to policymakers.
  • Increases Citizen Participation:
    • A civically engaged society with high levels of voluntarism and philanthropy leads to better articulation of public needs and demands.
    • More inclusive participation of citizens in public affairs also promotes responsive and accountable governance.
  • Strengthens checks and balances:
    • Cross-cutting networks spanning different social cleavages promote pluralism and balance of power. This enables healthier democratic deliberation and constraints on state power.
    • The capacity of civil society groups and media to hold governments accountable is also strengthened.
  • Promotes inclusive growth:
    • Bridging social capital that transcends group boundaries is crucial for equitable development. It enables broader access to essential services, opportunities and support networks.
    • For marginalised groups, it expands aspirations, capabilities and rights awareness.

Social capital is critical for overcoming barriers to collective action and enabling participatory development. The state should actively nurture it by promoting civic engagement, anti-discrimination laws, volunteer programs and transparency. However, bottom-up efforts by civil society are equally important