Book Review: The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die by cerebral Harvard Professor, Niall Ferguson.

I have just read The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die by cerebral Harvard Professor, Niall Ferguson.

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As in every book I read, there is always a message buried somewhere I find useful and worthy to share.

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Somewhere he talks about the decline of “Social Capital.” Here is the evidence he presented.

He bought a nice beautiful house by the beach in his native South Wales, to be beside the sea. Problem was the coastline was always filled with dirt as people dumped all kinds of rubbish there. Nobody was doing anything about it, not even the local authorities. The dream house project was fast turning into horror and regret.

Then he decided to do something about it. He tried to pick up some of the stuff himself. The task was too much for one person. Then he asked for volunteers throwing in free lunch. Progress was modest.

Then it got interesting. He was put in touch with the local Lions Club. He had never heard of the Lions Club. He says with their involvement and mobilisation, the shoreline was transformed. The number of locals and visitors who now enjoyed strolling along the coastal path surged. It became beautiful. Thanks to the Lions Club.

He says, this experience taught him the power of voluntary associations as an institution.

But that sadly, most of us have become lukewarm or even inactive towards them compared to the past. He cited the example of the 112 Protestant churches in Manhattan and the Bronx in New York which at the turn of the 20th century were responsible for:

48 industrial schools
45 libraries or reading rooms
44 sewing schools
40 kindergartens
29 savings banks
21 employment offices
20 gyms and swimming pools
8 medical dispensaries
4 lodging houses

He says above does not even include those set up by Roman Catholic, Jewish and other voluntary associations.

But these days, he says the indicators of “social capital” have declined:

– attendance at a public meeting on town or school: down 35%

– service as an officer of a club: down 42%

– membership of PTAs: down 61%

– etc.

He says that Facebook and its ilk create social networks that are huge but weak. And then he poses the question: Could I have cleared the beach by “poking” my Facebook friends or creating a new Facebook group?

Prof’s point is that government alone can’t solve all our problems. We have a part to play to compliment government. America with perhaps the most effective democracy also boasts the most vibrant voluntary service.

When was the last time you attended or did something at a voluntary organisation?

Join one today. If you cant give money, you can give time or other resources.

Martin Udogie
Author of How To READ MORE
No 1 on Channels TV Best Books of 2014.
On sale at Laterna Bookstore V.I. Lagos and on Amazon and Jumia.

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