What happened? A tale of two Americas, 1900 - 2000


Friday, March 4, 2016, 2:00pm to 4:00pm

See also: Seminar


K450, CGIS Knafel Building, 1737 Cambridge Street

Please join us for the CAPS Seminar with Robert Putnam as he speaks from his forthcoming book, "What happened? A tale of two Americas, 1900 - 2000."

Measures of material well-being in America (e.g., per capita income; life expectancy) rose monotonically and mostly linearly throughout the 20th century. By contrast, measures of major aspects of American society, politics, and economics from 1900 to today following a puzzling, but uniform pattern - rising strongly and steadily from about 1900 to about 1970, then falling strongly and steadily from about 1970 to today. The measures that follow this pattern include (1) income and wealth equality, (2) associational membership and personal philanthropy (social capital), (3) cross-party collaboration (vs. party polarization), (4) social integration as measured by inter-class intermarriage, (5) union membership, (6) progressivity of the Federal income tax, and (7) native-born fraction of population. Though some of these individual trends have been studied in isolation, no one has (I believe) yet observed or explained the entire pattern. What happened?  Understanding the origins of such a massive pendular swing from individualism to communitarianism and back again could inform our thinking about how to restore balance to America.

Robert Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, where he teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. Professor Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association. In 2006, Putnam received the Skytte Prize, the world's highest accolade for a political scientist, and in 2012, he received the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities.  Raised in a small town in the Midwest and educated at Swarthmore, Oxford, and Yale, he has served as Dean of the Kennedy School of Government. The London Sunday Times has called him “the most influential academic in the world today.”