Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The benefits of voluntary collectivism

The Telegraph reports (R) on research (funded by the ESRC) on the social benefits of voluntary action.
Researchers have found that the neighbourhoods with the highest level of voluntary work have less crime, better schools and happier, healthier residents than districts withour community spirit.

I have not read the research, but it would be interesting to find out what promotes voluntary action in communities. How important are factors such as geography, demography...? Is there a correlation between freedom and voluntary action? For example, do individuals with extensive freedoms choose to form socially cohesive communities more frequently and successfully that oppressed individuals?
The answer, if there is a clear one, would seem to be yes.
1. Individuals in despotic countries, particularly Communist/Socialist..., act under unfortunate institutional incentives that destroy social capital. If everyone has to look to the State for succour, in a manner similar to the cover of Hobbes' Leviathan, they are less likely to look to each other.
2. In relatively free countries, such as the US and UK, there is a long history of voluntary provision of public goods, such as healthcare, education, policing... An excellent book on this is The Voluntary City, one the most valuable books I have ever read.

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