In our chapters on civic culture and interest groups, we discuss Tocqueville's observations on associations in American life. In The Wall Street Journal, Niall Ferguson writes:
Tocqueville would not recognize America today. Indeed, so completely has associational life collapsed, and so enormously has the state grown, that he would be forced to conclude that, at some point between 1833 and 2013, France must have conquered the United States.Ferguson, however, overlooks some important data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the volunteering rate has remained pretty steady in recent years:
The decline of American associational life was memorably documented in Robert Puttnam's seminal 1995 essay "Bowling Alone," which documented the exodus of Americans from bowling leagues, Rotary clubs and the like. Since then, the downward trend in "social capital" has only continued. According to the 2006 World Values Survey, active membership even of religious associations has declined from just over half the population to little more than a third (37%). The proportion of Americans who are active members of cultural associations is down to 14% from 24%; for professional associations the figure is now just 12%, compared with more than a fifth in 1995. And, no, Facebook is not a substitute.
Instead of joining together to get things done, Americans have increasingly become dependent on Washington. On foreign policy, it may still be true that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus. But when it comes to domestic policy, we all now come from the same place: Planet Government.
- 2008 26.4%
- 2009 26.8%
- 2010 26.3%
- 2011 26.8%
- 2012 26.5%
Even with households across the country feeling continued financial pressure, Americans donated an estimated $316.23 billion to charitable causes in 2012. Modest overall gains in total contributions mirrored the nation’s recent economic trends, Giving USA Foundation™ and its research partner, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, announced today.
The 3.5 percent year-over-year growth rate (1.5 percent adjusted for inflation) in gifts from American individuals (both households and bequests from their estates), corporations and foundations matches the same figurative portrait of 2012’s economic indicators – some trends were positive, others were negative, but overall, there was growth. Federal tax policy shifts likely also played a role in giving decisions made last year.