Strong community, from close family to the broader society at large, is a fundamental requisite to a healthy democracy. In a strong community, people interact, they share, they are mutually supportive. Most importantly for democracy they communicate based on shared interests and sense of need. I believe that we have strong communities today, but they are isolated and not pervasive. More critically there are not shared interests to foster broad communication and discussion of challenges faced by local communities as well as the nation. Most glaring is the widening financial gap – haves, the ‘1%’ and the have nots. We are also divided by racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation differences. Disagreements will always exist and in many ways are healthy if they produce constructive understanding and discourse. Sadly the ties that bind us as a greater community are badly frayed and disappearing – to the detriment of a healthy democracy.
I was motivated about this topic, ‘ties that bind’, when I read a recent New York Times article, “The Great Disconnect – Megacities Go Global But Lose Local Links”. This is a case of fraying ties that is not so obvious. The article discusses an industrial city of San Francisco in the past. One where the city was dependent on many smaller cities in the country to supply materials and products. Ship building was one example. This mutual dependency created common interest – and a sense of community – ties that bind. Today San Francisco is part of Silicon Valley. It thrives producing digital product, largely software. What hardware it produces is mainly sourced overseas. The national ties have frayed. This is not an isolated example. The US economy has shifted from manufacturing (with all its interdependencies) to services. Arguably this has also contributed to the increasing financial gap in our society.
If we believe that strong community is critical to healthy democracy, then the challenge is clear. How do we as a nation implement policy that reverses the trend and sets us on path to stronger community. There are many paths. I believe that whatever the path two components are essential – shift the economy back towards tech-enabled low cost manufacturing and financial policy to reduce the financial gap in our society.