Jun 05 2009

Charlie Wilson: Throwin’ weak links left and right

by at 10:00 am under Uncategorized

For whatever the movie is worth, one scene in Charlie Wilson’s War has always been memorable to me.  Wilson wanted more funding for Afghan fighters against the Soviets, but the chairman of the appropriations committee wasn’t biting.  So Wilson took him to see the war-torn villages in person, resulting in the chairman having a change of heart. Wilson made it look easy. Why can’t we just expose our political leaders to all of the bad situations in the world and get them to sympathize like any person with a heart would do? Narayan might provide some insight into this question.

Narayan partially builds off of Putnam’s work. Putnam argued that social capital clearly makes a difference. To me, it was refreshing to see someone back up common sense and good intentions with a reasonably sound framework and empirical evidence.  Although it seemed ironic when he use Machiavelli to demonstrate his ideas. I remember old Nick’s book justifying doing wrong for the common good, which makes him seem more like Putnam’s southern Italians rather than the northerners.  Putnam shows even more how Machiavelli was definitely a shark in the northern Italian fishtank.

In a sense, Narayan takes a step after Putnam and creates a framework. But how does he inform Wilson’s case? He says that informal institutions and networks pick up where formal institutions leave off.  In Wilson’s case, the formal networks were Congress and the chairman’s links to his constituents, the military, and the Soviet Union; the informal network was the weak link he made with the Afghan village.  Narayan says that, in developing nations, informal networks provide cohesion through tying together disparate groups — those in power and those not. This, in turn, creates cohesiveness and helps everyone rise.

This gets to the idea that national and international leaders need to get their hands dirty once in a while — create weak ties to add major value now and again. “But no,” you say, “a Congressman who makes connections with problems all over the nation and the world would be too bogged down to get anything done. Leaders can’t fix ALL the problems.”  Well, with an attitude like that, we’d end up with some pretty close-minded leaders. Maybe even something resembling… the Washington Consensus! Gasp!

If we follow Narayan, leaders should make all of the connections they can; or at least he says that if government won’t do it, civil society will or should.  It seems that formal policy institutions usually aim to 1) put most of the problems on the table, 2) organize and value them by their impact, 3) prioritize them, and 4) create action plans for solving them — then 5) sit around and talk about it all for a while. (Just kidding.) Creating all of these loose connections “builds social capital,” that is, it opens peoples’ eyes to others’ worlds and problems, and it helps them value and prioritize what needs to be done first. So to answer the question, there is no good reason why we shouldn’t expose our leaders to more, especially with the organization and presentation powers of technology being readily available.  Let’s get on it!

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.