Why is it that we put so much emphasis on valuing our financial and not our social assets -- things like helping a neighbor or volunteering for a charity?
The obvious answer is that money is easy to quantify while "social capital" is more nebulous. It's much easier to measure stock performance than figure out how much a kindness to a stranger is worth. Or is it?
Systems for measurement and valuation are easy to develop for pretty much anything. It's really just a matter of priorities. In our culture, we have built a system of worth tied directly to material accumulation. Our banking and financial systems are all built around getting and not giving. That's largely how we measure, and devote time to measuring, our individual worth. In other cultures, like in the Potlatch tradition among tribes of the Pacific Northwest, it was the opposite.
But it doesn't have to be an either-or scenario.
If credit card companies and financial institutions offered an integrated financial/social measurement system, it would be a far more useful way to understand our overall worth. Think of a monthly bank or credit card statement which also lists charity donations and volunteer hours -- placing financial credit and debt squarely alongside social credit and debt.
It would send a message that what we give back can be just as important as what we take in, borrow, or spend.
In fact a tough economy is the perfect environment in which to begin equal emphasis on financial and social capital.
Let's say you could earn frequent flyer-style points (we'll call them "frequent giving points") for each hour you volunteer at a local food bank or each $1 you contribute to the Red Cross to support the flood relief efforts in Pakistan. If those accumulated points could be used to purchase real goods or services, and/or given as a follow on donation to a charity, wouldn't that make a lot of financial and social sense in a time of great individual and global need?
Instead of getting credit card offers for a 0% APR and a free airline flight, we would receive a "Social Credit Card" offer including 0% APR and 200 social points. Those points would be available for a donation to the charity of your choice. They could also be traded for the purchase of everyday items, but significant purchases would require additional volunteer hours and/or charity donations.
It's a win-win for both the individual and society as a whole.
A social credit approach would inject badly needed money into social services as more people are incentivized to give back. In fact a whole new giving market involving the trading of social credits might even emerge?
Not that a Social Credit Card is going to change the world, but a marriage of financial and social transactions might just take the hard edge off of capitalism. And it would help place more value on our contributions to, and not just what we take away from, society.
Frankly, we all deserve more credit...for doing good.
More information on the social credit card.