Bank approach to social capital criticised

15 March 1999

Ben Fine, Professor of Economics at SOAS, University of London, has produced a 30,000 word paper which reviews and severely critiques the World Bank’s approach to social capital. Social capital is a term describing peoples’ interaction or “the glue that holds society together”. It is being rapidly picked up by Bank staffmembers as a new interdisciplinary analytical tool and even hailed as the “missing link” which explains variations in country and regional development performance.

Fine argues that the Bank is extending neo-classical economics tools into the social realm, and is basing its interpretation of the social capital on conservative scholars such as Coleman and Fukuyama. He points out that

“social scientists are struggling for status within the World Bank and believe they have won some through engaging with economists over social capital. Whatever the realism of their sense of achievement, it is not the basis on which to revive development studies in the wake of the Washington Consensus”.

Ben Fine’s paper can be obtained from the Bretton Woods Project or from Jaya Balakrishnan:

The Bank’s dedicated social capital website is on: