The (in)tangibility of capitals

In this world, there are generally three types of capital that can be owned by human. Economic capital, human capital, and social capital. Economic capital is the most tangible one. It is things that you can ascribe monetary value on it such as your smartphones, books, house, or money itself. You can see it, you can touch it, and people can rob it from you. The next one is human capital. It is less tangible than the economic capital. Human capital is about skills and knowledge and humans acquire it through learning and experience. In some ways, you can see this capital when a drummer plays the drums, a football player dribbles the ball, or a professor teaches in the classroom. But you can only see it to a certain extent.

Then, what about social capital?

As you might guess, social capital is even more intangible. It is about who you know and how close you know them. You can’t tell how much friends a stranger standing in front of you has, even you can’t tell how much friends your friend has. Let alone how close they are. So, family and friends are the basic of social capital.

To know the true quality of something, we have to test it to the extreme. Well, let’s imagine if a massive earthquake hits your area in the morning. Your house crumbles in seconds. Luckily, you and your family are fast enough to escape the catastrophe and go outside to an open area. From the outside, you see the neighborhood. Many people are injured, few even trapped inside the ruins. Some people die. As soon as the earthquake stops, people start to gather and help each other to search and rescue. In the next few hours more people coming in trying to provide some emergency shelters. You stay there, sit and reflect, albeit severely shocked.

Through this situation, we can see that economic capital is the one that is easily swept away. Human capital is also as fragile as human being. When people die it is gone. But the social capital is what make people organically organize themselves and helping each other. The support from your family and friends is what makes you going. Social capital endures the test.

To know the true quality of something, we have to test it to the extreme

It is fascinating to see how the more intangible a capital is, the more sustainable it becomes, the more effective it is in the long term. On contrary, economic capital as the most tangible one is highly effective in short term, but it provides no guarantee for the long term.

Then this one came to my thought: if there is a capital that is more intangible than social capital, that thing must be more sustaining, more effective, and more enduring in the long term! But what on earth it could be?

I call this one as faith capital. It is a strong belief we have deep in our heart regardless to what we believe in. It is a belief that even goes beyond something we can see and touch, beyond our senses but we certainly feel. While social capital is a relationship between humans, faith capital is a relationship with something beyond human. When we have faith that our idea is worth pursuing through our venture, we will move forward no matter what. When you believe that she is your true love, you will love her no matter what. And when we have faith that in every hardship there is an ease, we will be brave to face anything that may come. That is what makes us going. What we have may be useful for this month, but what we believe is certainly more critical for the upcoming decade to come.

Well, faith capital might not be scientifically provable since there is a boundary in science when it comes to faith. But we certainly know that it is there. We can feel its presence. It is the logic behind the forms of capital and its strengths in the face of adversity that I wanted to highlight.

The more intangible something is, the more powerful it becomes. We humans are born from nothing. Well, of course from a sperm and an ovum, but technically what makes humans human is the soul. And a soul is intangible until it is instilled to a flesh inside the womb. We were intangible, and will eventually come back to be intangible once we pass the gate of death. This life is a journey to intangibility, to reach infinity.


This thought came to my mind when I was writing a thesis on social capital in post-disaster recovery.