After reviewing many definitions of social capital, Claridge concluded that the thread of meaning common among them is “social relations that have productive benefits.” The qualities of social relationships that enable a group to produce desirable results or to create value are trust, reciprocity and accepted roles and norms of behavior.
High social capital was found to be correlated with better health, improved longevity, better educational achievements, lower rates of child abuse and less corruption in the government (see the review by the U.K. Office for National Statistics)
However, social capital is double-edged. Cultivating unity within a group is improving its “bonding” social capital“. However, some social groups achieve this through exclusivity or greater enmity against outsiders or their considered enemies – which is at the expense of inclusive social cohesion across the wider national/planetary system or “bridging” social capital“.
Bonding social capital is unity within a homogenous group, while bridging social capital is unity across heterogeneous groups (horizontal). A third concept is “linking social capital” between a social subgroup and mainstream society including the government (vertical).
When a nation is at war with itself: in Congo, Georgia, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka and many other places, billions of dollars are diverted away from production to maintain armed forces. GNP suffers. This is negative social capital. No wonder that Francis Fukuyama in his book “Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity” observed that developed economies are also societies characterized by high social trust.
At worst, when relationships between militarily powerful nations deteriorate, and a regional or global nuclear war threatens Planet Earth, we risk the destruction of all other forms of capital, natural and man-made, that have grown or been built over our home planet over the last centuries. Trust and goodwill – through bridging social capital – are among the most important intangible assets for world peace.