Sunday, July 28, 2019

Toward a new sectorism — #3: an attractive but flawed “fourth sector” proposal?

I’ve come across a proposal I should have found years ago: a forward-looking call for recognizing and developing a “fourth sector.” It’s from Heerad Sabeti and associates in the Aspen Institute’s and Kellogg Foundation’s Fourth Sector Network, created in 1998. This is the first I’ve heard of Sabeti, currently the head of the World Economic Forum’s Fourth Sector Development Initiative and CEO of The Fourth Sector Group (4SG).

This is all news to me. Is anyone here familiar with Sabeti’s “fourth sector” proposal? Any comments about how it’s regarded? I’d like to know more before I continue.

Here’s why it’s of interest: TIMN theory forecasts the rise of a fourth cardinal form of organization: the +N or info-age network form. TIMN further says a brand new sector of society will take shape around it. Remember, the rise and consolidation of the T/tribal form millennia ago led to what is now known as civil society, along with a confusing surfeit of names for its sector(s) — e.g., civil sector, nonprofit sector, voluntary sector, etc. Ages later, the rise of the +I hierarchical-institutional form resulted in governments and what we now call the public sector. Next, a few centuries ago, the rise of the +M market form led to what we now call the private sector. Today, we’re just a few decades into the rise of the +N network form, and it’s not yet clear what new sector will result from it — but there will be one.

I’ve previously mentioned my own deductions from TIMN regarding this next/new/fourth sector. I’ve also kept my eyes open for other forecasts, and mentioned them before too. But what about Sabeti et al.’s proposal? How does it compare?


According to Sabeti (2018), “The emerging Fourth Sector is fundamentally comprised of organizations that pursue social purposes while engaging in business activities.” Thus, he/they view the Fourth Sector — a term they coined in 1998? — as “a new economic space at the intersection of the three traditional sectors (public, private and non-profit).” In their view, the “non-profit sector” is also the “social sector” (a term they borrow from Drucker’s usage a few years earlier?). Its key actors will be for-benefit organizations.

What I discuss here is derived mostly from Sabeti’s paper “The Emerging Fourth Sector: Executive Summary” (2018 — see link at end).
“Stripped to its essentials, its thesis is as follows: a new class of organizations with the potential for generating immense economic, social, and environmental benefits is emerging — and this sector can be consciously developed and expanded through broad recognition and engagement.”


His/their Fourth Sector (FS) framework overlaps well with the TIMN framework, in that both rest on the following observations:

• Our society is in transition from a three-sector to a four-sector system. Whereas FS calls them the social, public, private, and fourth sectors, TIMN is headed toward calling them the home, public, private, and commons sectors.

• Boundaries are blurring among the sectors, and new kinds of hybrid organizations and partnerships are forming, in ways that indicate a fourth sector is already taking shape. Today’s non-profit and for-benefit organizations, including collectives and cooperatives, seem best suited, in terms of ethos and structure, to enabling its emergence.

• Eventually, entirely new organizational forms and models will have to be designed explicitly for the fourth sector. But whereas FS favors for-benefit designs. I’m not sure about TIMN yet. This is partly because, unlike Sabeti, I am sure the fourth sector won’t be a primarily economic and business-oriented sector — see below for clarification.

• Information-age network structures are crucial for the development and performance of this new sector, not only for individual parts but also across the entire sector. Both FS and TIMN lead to requirements, in Sabeti’s words, for “new networking structures that enable collaboration and coordination” among individual actors, as well as “new models of networks … that enable large-scale, cross-sectoral, cross-disciplinary collaboration.” But TIMN implies extending this far more than FS does — see below for clarification.

• To take hold and endure as a distinct separate sector, vast supportive infrastructures will have to be created: laws, regulations, services, associations, etc. FS is way ahead of TIMN in specifying this “ecosystem” — as Sabeti notes, “Social entrepreneurs, funders, non-profits, businesses, employees, members of the public, associations, policymakers, academics, lawyers, accountants, consultants, and others all have vital roles to play”. I’m aware of this, for comparable infrastructures help explain the cohesion and power of the earlier public and private sectors — I just haven’t written much up for TIMN yet.

• Even though evolutionary dynamics will eventually induce the rise of a fourth sector, it is advisable to start making concerted efforts now to construct and define it. In Sabeti’s words, “The Fourth Sector is an idea whose time has come. … The counter-forces of inertia and sectoral constraints stand in the way, sharply reducing the odds that it will develop in an accelerated and coherent manner. The evolutionary process needs to be facilitated by the addition of a layer of conscious support — not to control or shape the process, but to enable those involved to develop a shared framework of effective design principles and supportive infrastructure.” That’s pretty much my view for TIMN as well.


So, there’s plenty of agreement between the two frameworks — somewhat better than TIMN has with other forecasts about a future sector. However, the FS framework does not track well with TIMN in other respects, largely because the two have different theoretical underpinnings. FS is based mostly on observations about current economic trends, whereas TIMN is based on observations about long-term social evolution.

• Sabeti et al. view the fourth sector as a new economic sector, albeit one that operates for social-benefit rather than private-profit purposes. He, like most everyone I’ve found writing in this future-oriented area, foresees not only that it will be an economic sector, but also that a key purpose/effect will be to contain and reform capitalism, particularly its negative excesses and externalities.

According to TIMN, it’s wrong to think that this next/new sector will be, in essence, an economic sector. Yes, the rise of this sector can be viewed from economic perspectives (as can all the other sectors). Yes, it’s emergence will have profound economic effects on all other sectors, and on society as a whole. Yes, it will alter the nature of capitalism. And yes, the fourth sector’s functioning will involve new kinds of business organizations. Yet, according to TIMN, this new sector will be as different from the older three sectors as they are from each other. It will be a distinct and separate sector. And it will function according to its own ethos and logic, as do the other sectors. The challenge, for TIMN at least, is to identify what may make this next/new sector that distinct and separate.

• As Sabeti et al. see matters, the fourth sector consists businesses that serve social purposes. That sounds worthwhile, but it’s awfully vague. The FS framework is also vague and open-ended as to exactly what types of actors and activities will define the sector. Sabeti lists a hodge-podge of organizational types (non-profits, cooperatives, etc.) that are currently in business for social purposes; and he expects new types of for-benefit organizations to supersede them. But there is no specification of what, or even whether, particular problems or issues will/should be the sector’s principal focus and strength. Seemingly anyone who engages in business for social benefit belongs in the fourth sector — the more the better for the future of society, no matter the issues and problems at stake. (P2P theory is like this as well — seemingly any actors who subscribe to pro-commons beliefs belong in a future commons sector.)

In contrast, TIMN implies an evolutionary logic for deducing/predicting the next sector’s nature. This future sector will arise and take hold according to the same logic that has characterized the rise of the three old sectors. In brief, (1) sectors take shape based on the TIMN form of organization that is finally coming into its own at the time — in our time, this means the +N/network form. This future sector will thus operate far more according to information-age network (+N) principles than according to the kinship (T), hierarchical institutional (+I), or market exchange (+M) principles that, in turn, drove the rise of the earlier three sectors — the civic/social, public, and private sectors. More to the point, (2) each sector in turn, as well as the organizational form behind its rise, emerges in ways that enable a society to address and resolve a crucial problem whose importance and difficulty has grown as that society has advanced, outgrowing what it could accomplish by using its existing sectors. Thus, the civic sector still serves, as it did ages ago when societies were basically tribes, to address problems related to community identity and belonging; the public sector, problems of large-scale administration and endeavor; and the private sector, problems of wide-ranging trade and commerce. So, the question looms, what about the next sector in this progression?

• While the FS framework doesn’t (can’t?) specify exactly what actors and activities will define the new sector, it behooves a TIMN-ista to try to do so by using the evolutionary dynamics noted above. My own deduction is that this next sector will form around what have become the most critical complicated matters our society faces today — problems that have grown so serious it’s increasingly evident they cannot be resolved long-term by relying on the old public-private framework, nor even by adding the older civil sector back into it; problems also for which the network form seems more relevant than the civic-kinship (T), hierarchical-institutional (+I), or market-exchange (+M) forms.

So, exactly what matters are these? Best I can tell, they’re education, health, welfare, the environment, and related insurance matters — matters that, in aggregate, concern collective and individual care, broadly defined to include social, economic, cultural, and environmental care; in short, people care, life care. Indeed, these matters bundle well together as an interrelated set when viewed from a societal care perspective, in contrast to how they are viewed and treated quite separately within today’s economistic public-private framework.

For decades these matters were manageable enough to fit into our old public-private policy framework, and/or be left to individuals, families, communities, and related civil-society associations. This is no longer the case — these matters have grown too large, too complex, and too interconnected for standard solutions to work. America’s decades of progress have brought us to a turning-point for resolving care-centered matters. They have outgrown that two-sector framework in ways our politicians and policymakers don’t perceive yet.

• The FS framework is correct to emphasize cooperative network principles and designs for the fourth sector’s growth and performance. However, TIMN implies going farther than FS in this direction. This new sector will be able to emerge and grow precisely because the information age has enabled massive network forms of organization to finally take hold as the latest of TIMN’s four cardinal forms to arise. The network form, not the other forms, is what will glue this sector together, undoubtedly in ways we’ve not detected yet.

I have a few tentative speculations: Compared to the earlier sectors, this next/new sector will be structured very differently, woven together by means of collaborative network principles. Constituent entities will be non-profit and for-benefit, committed to the common good. Many may be organized as cooperatives, collectives, collaboratives, trusts, platforms, and other networked associations; none will be allowed on the stock market. They will be constructed as belonging to a mutually shared and boundaried commons — indeed, they’ll form a commons sector. As befits a commons, pooling of information and financing will occur across all sub-sectors and the entities that move (or are moved) into this fourth sector: health, education, welfare, environment, and related insurance (including social security). If some entities acquire excess earnings, these may be shared across all sub-sectors, as needed. Funds to pay for the sector may still have to come from the usual sources — government, business, philanthropy, membership — but, presumably, the sector itself will generate new savings and earnings, compared to the current mess. I’m unable to discern what new array of laws, rules, and regulations may be required to foster and protect such a new sector — not my bag — but they will surely have to be quite different from those pertaining to the other sectors. In any case, this new commons sector would be about the kinds of “assurances” — that’s right, assurances, not entitlements — that an advanced next-stage society can and should be able to warrant for the common wellbeing of its people.

N.B.: These are speculative notions, so preliminary and tentative that I’m barely willing to field them here. Advice and comments invited. But if I’m making mistakes, I’m sure my overarching point will remain valid — this sector will be characterized by new and unusual organizational designs. I’ve read many times that better education is essential to improve people’s health, and that better health is essential to improve people’s education. But I read this only in specialized writings, not yet in strategic overviews about systematically bundling health, education, welfare, and the environment into its own sector — a commons sector governed by collaborative network principles. According to TIMN theory, as I understand it, it’s time we start thinking this through.

• The FS framework depicts its fourth sector visually as a small circle sitting atop and growing at the intersection of the three major sectors (the social, public, and private sectors), which are depicted as large circles. Those three are shown as touching but not overlapping, whereas the FS sector sitting atop overlaps them all. This looks appealing and communicative to the eye — it surely helps convey the FS message — but it is inherently inaccurate. (See Venn-like FS diagram at

A TIMN visualization would/will be quite different: All circles depicting the four realms and their sectors would be sized equivalently and in the same plane (though the fourth would be smaller for now). Moreover, all circles would overlap somewhat to help depict that the sectors all interact, and that hybrids of two or more sectors may exist in those overlapping areas. This is easy to depict in a pretty Venn diagram if there are only two or three circles. But a Venn diagram of four or more circles is difficult (impossible?) and even ugly to draw, if it is to capture all possible intersections and interactions. What’s needed is a three-dimensional molecular visualization — unfortunately, I’ve not done that yet.


• Many discussions, whether from the Left or the Right, discuss care-centered matters — health, education, welfare, the environment, etc. — as though they are about people’s rights and/or entitlements. FS does not delve into this. But TIMN dynamics indicate that responsibilities and assurances may be as important as rights and entitlements, though the former rarely figure as much in contemporary policy analyses and debates.

According to TIMN, each sector’s rise across the ages has advanced the responsibilities and assurances that a society can and should provide its people in the long march toward an evermore civilized complexity. The next sector, presumably a care-centered commons sector, may well reflect that dynamic even more than the earlier sectors. As envisaged here, it would be bound to advance individual and collective responsibilities as well as provide assurances of greater wellbeing for society as a whole, and for individual people. Doing so may well be essential for civilizational progress.

A care-centered “assurance commons” could build in that direction better than would an economy-oriented “fourth sector.” From a TIMN perspective, then, the best that can be said about FS is that it aims to develop an array of socially-minded hybrid actors and activities which, if properly oriented, may help foster the transition to the full-fledged four-sector system implied by TIMN.

Here’s the principal statement about Sabeti et al.’s fourth-sector concept:

Also see:

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Toward a New Sectorism — A Way to Rebalance Our System and Its Politics: #2

Continuing where I left off in #1, in the hope I’m headed somewhere new and useful, and knowing I have sections to go yet:


So, how true is that two-sector public-private framework? It wasn’t true in the past. It’ll be even less true in the future. For it neglects that there are two other sectors — one very old, the other so new it’s barely recognizable so far. Not expanding the framework to include them will prove evermore pernicious for politics and policymaking.

The first sector to remember is embedded in civil society and is thus far older, more foundational, less formal, and harder to assign a name, partly because it represents more a cluster of sectors than a single sector: what is often termed the “civil sector” or “civil society sector” — our country’s original base sector of families, communities, and related associations; the sector that Alexis de Tocqueville lauded, without naming it, in Democracy in America (1835) as the source of America’s strength and uniqueness. Its actors and activities are defined primarily by kinship and similar associational dynamics, not market incentives. And its activist groups — e.g., nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civil-society or community-service organizations (CSOs) — tend to be voluntary, non-profit, charitable, small, and service-oriented, by choice. Most strive to alleviate local health, education, welfare, and environmental problems, including via poverty- and disaster-relief. Thus, terms like “nonprofit sector,” “voluntary sector,” “independent sector,” “community sector,” and “social sector” are often applied. The term “third sector” was in vogue for a while as well.

By one name or another, this informal sector, or cluster of sectors, used to receive wide recognition and acclaim, notably for its actors’ abilities to supplement government and business initiatives at local levels. But not today. Now, whenever our political leaders can’t resolve an issue via the public and/or private sector, they may just toss it off to burden people in this community-oriented home-based sector, without acknowledging it as a crucial sector that deserves far better recognition, treatment, and involvement.

Myriad social philosophers, theorists, and other analysts have called for greater attention to family, community, and other civil-society matters, while also lamenting their neglect by government and business in recent decades. Currently prominent voices who lean Left include Gar Alperowitz, Amitai Etzioni, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Eric Liu, Roger Putnam, and Michael Sandel; and to the Right, Arthur Brooks, David Brooks, Rod Dreher, Yuval Levin, Charles Murray, and Roger Scruton. A recent entry is Raghuram Rajan’s new book The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind (2019) — a telling title indeed.

But their luminous efforts to revive viewing society as a threefold combination of civil society, government, and a market economy have had no noticeable effects on the two-sector policy framework. It remains entrenched, particularly in Washington political circles. One explanation may be that the above efforts have not been cast in terms of sectors per se. They’ve rarely called for viewing civil society as embodying a sector (or set of sectors), and none has yet explicitly called for making that sector — whatever term they use — as much a part of the policymaking framework as are the public and private sectors. Nor have they called for recognizing the emergence of a next/new /fourth sector. Those calls have come from elsewhere (see the next section).

Meanwhile, rarely noticed, a separate new sector is slowly emerging — initially termed a “social sector” (Peter Drucker, 1994), later a “fourth sector” (Heerad Sabeti, 1998?), and lately a “commons sector” (David Bollier, 2008). Views differ as to what its name should be, whether its time is truly at hand, how distinct and separate it will be from the other three sectors, what imperatives and impulses will define it, which actors and activities will move (and be moved) into it, how to formalize it in practice, and where its funding will come from. Forecasting the formation of this next sector is still so unusual that, so far, only a smattering of theorists on the Left have done so, mostly treating it as a new kind of economic sector (erroneously, in my view). No one on the Right has noticed or warmed to the possibility, except for Drucker decades ago (and he fit more in the Center than on the Right). All of which I shall detail in the next section.

To preview my own sense, derived from an ongoing study of social evolution, this next sector will form around what have become the most critical and complicated matters our society faces, problems that have grown so serious that they cannot be resolved long-term by relying on the old public-private framework, nor even by adding the older civil sector back into it. And what matters are these? Specifically, education, health, welfare, the environment, and related insurance matters — a set of matters that, in aggregate, concern collective and individual care, broadly defined to include social, economic, cultural, and environmental care; in short, people care, life care.

For decades these matters were manageable enough to fit into the established public-private framework, and/or be left to individuals, families, communities, and related civil-society associations. This is no longer the case — these matters have grown too large, too complex, and too interrelated for standard solutions to work. America’s decades of progress have brought us to a turning-point for resolving care-centered matters. They have outgrown that two-sector framework in ways our politicians and policymakers don’t perceive yet.

In short, there are four cardinal sectors, not simply two. Our politics would benefit if our politicians and policymakers would return to recognizing the sector(s) associated with civil society — i.e., reinstitute a three-sector framework. Even better will be when they start to recognize that a new/next/fourth sector is emerging — auguring a four-sector framework for the decades ahead.

But doing so won’t be easy. Our politicians and policymakers, not to mention others, are deeply invested in and committed to the two-sector framework, for that’s where most of the power, privilege, and money reside. Furthermore, difficulties naming and defining the other two sectors pose big conceptual and practical problems, a source of chronic confusion and hesitation. Ways must be found to maneuver through that.

Toward a New Sectorism — A Way to Rebalance Our System and Its Politics: #1

I’m aiming to draft a new paper under the above title. It should be easy enough to finish, but most everything these days is proving more difficult than I anticipate. What would help spur me onward are comments that aim to clarify/improve statements I make, or that point me to additional source materials I’ve missed along the way.

What I like about the sectorism concept is that it may enable me to deploy TIMN and my ideas about quadriformism without sounding too theoretical, jargony and abstract. Or so I hope.

Here’s my lead-off section, the first of maybe 5-7 sections:


Every day I’m told our society, our system, has two sectors: the public sector and the private sector — the former referring to government and its agencies, the latter to the market system and its businesses. I’m also told that one sector or the other, or both in partnership, say as a public-private hybrid, offers the best way to deal with this or that domestic policy problem.

Our politicians, policymakers, and media commentators constantly rely on this public-private framework when they talk about fixing America’s health, education, childcare, housing, welfare, infrastructure, energy, communications, and environmental issues. Some proposals call for broader government programs; others urge more privatization; a few recommend improving public-private collaboration.

Meanwhile, our society has become so tribalized that Democrats and others on the Left have become overly identified with public-sector solutions, Republicans and others on the Right with private-sector solutions. Political tribalism has made it all the more difficult to agree on mixed public-private solutions. Yet all sides continue to rely on this binary framework — they’re quite unable to see beyond it.

Indeed, so much effort goes into upholding this binary view, especially among libertarian conservatives, I’ve even seen it argued that “the market” means more than just private business — it extends to all that revolves around individual choice and enterprise: family, religion, philanthropy, voluntary activities (Tucker, 2019). What a gross expansion of the market concept!? What an erroneous way to view civil society, ideologically absorbing it into the market realm!? But that’s what can happen when binary side-taking becomes an entrenched feature of partisan political dialogue.

Not even a sensible corrective effort by libertarian-conservative voices at the Niskanen Center (Brink Lindsey et al., 2018) has helped much. They’ve tried to tender “a whole new way of thinking about policy … one that sees government and market not as either-or antagonists, but as necessary complements.” Though not new, their argument for a balanced collaborative relationship between government and market does indeed break with conventional libertarian-conservative views that remain intently anti-government and pro-market. Nonetheless, their sensible re-envisioning tends to reinforce rather than move us beyond the binary public-private framework. What’s needed is a radical break from that framework.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #11: anticipating a political realignment with new political parties

Here’s some of what I’m starting to conclude, based on my pursuits about TIMN theory and prospects for a prolonged phase transition to quadriform societies:

• At present, our two leading parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, look increasingly obsolete. Valiant thoughtful efforts by individual leaders in both parties keep generating hope that this is not so. But as collective institutions both parties seem evermore unable to work together, and too rigidly focused on immediate matters to generate truly new visions for the way ahead. The Democrats, especially those way to the Left, are stuck on old themes about reforming capitalism or adopting more socialism. The Republicans, especially those way to the Right, still talk about libertarian individualism but keep drifting toward tribalized corporatism. If Trump is reelected, that drift will surely deepen and harden.

• Meanwhile, both sides behave as though there are only two sectors for addressing policy problems: the public sector and/or the private sector. They may acknowledge, if pressed, that we live in a triform society — meaning there is also an informal civil-society homefront sector — but then they still act as though policymakers have only a binary choice: the government or the market. No one in either party foresees that an additional sector is emerging — a “social sector” (Peter Drucker’s term) or “commons sector” (David Bollier’s term)? — and that it’s rise will alter not only the policymaking framework but also the political-party landscape as leaders catch on.

• Looking ahead, there’s little reason to think that the existing public-private framework can provide durable solutions to the most critical, complicated matters our society faces, problems for which there are no easy answers and which keep coming to the fore: education, health, welfare, the environment, and related insurance issues — matters about care, broadly defined (I’ll elaborate in future posts). Decades ago these matters were manageable enough to fit, or be stuffed, into that binary framework. This is no longer the case, for they’ve all become too large and too complex, partly as a result of America’s continued growth, but more because they’ve outgrown that old binary framework in ways our parties’ politicians don’t perceive yet.

• Formal recognition and construction of a new sector, alongside and distinct from our existing public and private sectors, may prove so jarring, so disruptive, that our current Republican and Democrat parties will have to undergo, and survive, radical reconfigurations. Far more likely is that they are not up to the challenge — that ideological and political realignments will result in new parties with new names, thus a new party system. While such a reconfiguration or realignment may revolve around politicians voicing their views about particular values and issues (like today), the key underlying dynamics will be about the nature of each sector — the homefront sector, the public sector, the private sector, and the new social / commons sector — and what are deemed to be these sectors’ capabilities, responsibilities, boundaries, limits, and balances vis à vis each other.

• If TIMN is correct, it will be more essential than ever that America’s political leaders think, propose, and plan in terms of all four sectors, not just the two that dominate political dialogue today. A new sectorism should take hold, spelling the obsolescence of today’s triformist debates about capitalism and socialism, while resulting in new kinds of conservatism and liberalism suited to a quadriform society.

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The idea that the next/new/fourth/+N sector will engulf and focus on care-related matters — e.g., education, health, welfare, the environment, and related insurance matters — is my own, so far. The idea that its emergence will cause a political party realignment is also my own. But the idea that a party realignment may already be brewing comes from other analysts, as does an idea that the 2020s may give rise to increased political violence.

Here are three recent articles about all this:

— Frank Distefano’s marvelous article about “The End of the New Deal Era — and the Coming Realignment” (in The American Interest, March 2019), which proposes that “an entire stale order is crumbling down. The great debate of the 20th century is over. America is heading toward its next realignment.”
Source: era-and-the-coming-realignment/

— Adding to Distefano’s argument (without acknowledging it) is George Packer’s ”Is America Undergoing a Political Realignment?” (in The Atlantic, April 2019), which speculates that “A new Democratic coalition could be coming to power — but don’t count on it.”

— Peter Turchin’s “A Quantitative Prediction for Political Violence in the 2020s” (at his blog Cliodynamica, January 2017) that “the violence spike of the 2020s will be worse than the one around 1970, and perhaps as bad as the last big spike during the 1920s.”

[First posted on my Facebook page, May 9.]

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #10: proposing a new sectorism via comment left at Niskanen Center

I’m still trying to figure out whether “new sectorism” is a good idea as well as a good way for advancing the broader idea of quadriformism across the political spectrum.

With that in mind, I continue to follow the philosophical-ideological reorientation underway at the center-right Niskanen Center. My post #9 in this series lauded but also criticized the new policy vision it issued a while back, “The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes” (December 18, 2018). It was followed by a Niskanen conference on “Beyond Left And Right: Moderation in an Era of Crisis and Extremism” (February 25, 2019), which assembled our nation’s leading center-right thinkers. I’ve now read through the opening remarks by David Brooks and the three panel discussions that followed.

Along the way, I spotted a surprising analytical lapse that aroused me to leave the following comment, urging anew that consideration be given to a developing a new sectorism, in theory and practice. Hopefully I’ll eventually do better at writing up the idea, but for now here’s my my latest iteration:

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So…I’d like to point out you never mention here a factor highlighted in other writings — the treatment of society’s sectors, notably the public and private sectors. Yet the right treatment may contain the keys to reviving moderation and centrism.

I’ve read all three panel presentations, as well as Brooks’ talk. I welcome your search for ways to revive moderation (even radical moderation) in American politics, along with the facets you discuss: centrism, balance, equilibrium, the middle, incrementalism, pragmatism, even centrist radicalism to American. The presenters make valuable points about how reviving moderation requires new efforts to identify: “an animating idea” and “radioactive thought” to “tell a [new] story” (Brooks); a “unifying principle” or “organizing principle” (Hoover); “a better set of ideas” (Lee)): an “overarching vision” and “some account of a larger whole in which those parts belong” (Linker); all to “reclaim the symbols of America” and “our vision of the future” (Mounck). It’s correctly noticed that “We may be going through a tremendous transition moment” (Gurri) at a “critical moment in our history” (Wilkinson). Indeed, we have “an opportunity for the center-right and the center-left to begin to build a new national narrative that is one of unity and cohesion, and which is an antidote to the moment of polarization in politics” (Hoover).

But nowhere — not once — does the word “sector” appear in these conference proceedings. That’s very odd — a grievous omission — since “sector” features prominently in the new center-right policy vision paper that four of you published some months ago, partly as background for this conference. That paper made valuable points about the public sector and the private sector and, looking ahead, about the importance of their working together better.

How people view and treat our society’s sectors may be crucial for reviving moderation and constructing a new centrism across the political spectrum. In my view, what’s needed for a forward-looking framework is a new sectorism. And it must be broader than just the public and the private sectors. Partisan dialogue nowadays has come to emphasize only those two sectors, turning them into another binary dichotomy, with the Right over-identifying with the private sector, the Left with the public sector. This flawed reduction neglects that there are two other sectors.

One is much older, more basic, less formal, and harder to assign a name: what’s often called the civil-society sector — our base sector of families, communities, and related associations, many of them voluntary and non-profit. When our political leaders can’t resolve an issue via the public and/or private sectors, they may just toss it off to burden this homefront sector. Yet, it’s a crucial sector that deserves far better recognition and treatment as a sector.

A new fourth sector is emerging now as well: tentatively named a “social sector” (Peter Drucker’s term, 1994) or “commons sector” (David Bollier’s term, 2008). It’s rise will alter not only the policymaking framework but also the political-party landscape as leaders catch on. Views differ greatly as to what imperatives and impulses will define it, and what actors and activities will move (or be moved) into it, with some coming from the other earlier sectors. My sense, for reasons I give elsewhere, is that this next sector will form around the most critical, complicated matters our society faces, problems for which there are no easy answers and which keep coming to the fore: education, health, welfare, the environment, and related insurance issues — matters about care, broadly defined, that are best addressed in non-profit and/or not-for-profit ways. For decades these matters were manageable enough to fit, or be fitted, mostly into the binary public-private framework. This is no longer the case, for they’ve all become too large and too complex, partly as a result of America’s continued growth, but more because they’ve outgrown that binary framework in ways our politicians don’t perceive yet.

This means our society increasingly has four sectors that should be recognized and utilized. I urge you to consider pursuing this view. Properly doing so should help with countering binary constructs about public vs. private, state vs. market, collectivism vs. individualism, Left vs. Right, etc. It should help with moving us away from extremism and tribalism. Recognizing a fourfold framework would oblige politicians, policymakers, and others to approach problems more in terms of sector limits and balances, to think more in terms of sectoral relations and connections, to revive a focus on family and community, and perhaps to decentralize power away from Washington.

In short, developing a new moderation, a new centrism, may depend crucially on designing and advocating a new sectorism.

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Here’s the URL for the third and final conference panel, where I left my comment:

Brooks’ opening talk and the earlier panel discussions can be found elsewhere at this website.

That was the third comment I’d left at Niskanen’s site, all evidently unnoticed. The first was at the post about “The Alternative to Ideology.” The second at the post about a new policy vision, “The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes.”

[First posted on my Facebook page, May 5.]

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #9: how the Niskanen Center’s new center-right vision leaps ahead but falls short

I keep scanning for new views on the Right (Center and Left too) that look encouraging to me as a proto-quadriformist. Thus this note applauds the Niskanen Center for recently offering a new center-right policy vision, better than anything I find elsewhere on the Right. Niskanen is not headed toward quadriformism, but it’s rectifying its original libertarianism in ways that make for a sounder fit with TIMN theory.

As my prior post deplored, specious right-wing thinking about individualism vs. collectivism, particularly as voiced by Ayn Rand and her drove of admirers, assures that conservatives will resist an idea like quadriformism. Fortunately, other thinking is at work in conservative circles. In an environment where most think-tanks on the Right (e.g., Heritage, Cato, AEI) keep going in their customary directions, the Niskanen Center is turning away from libertarianism toward a rebalanced vision of society and policy.

The key Niskanen write-up is “The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes” (December 2018) by Brink Lindsey, Will Wilkinson, Steven Teles, and Samuel Hammond. Other recent writings by Lindsey, Wilkinson, and Jerry Taylor speak to its points as well.

According to the authors, America is at a “perilous juncture” where “The challenge before us is as simple to state as it will be difficult to achieve: to restore the promise of the American Dream.” To that end, they call for “idealism without utopia” based on “deep commitments to the basic liberal principles of a free and open society: individualism…; pluralism…; the rule of law; representative democracy; a competitive market economy; and a government that secures those collective goods that private efforts cannot.” America, they say, presently faces a “crisis of legitimacy”; nonetheless, “the liberal democratic capitalist welfare state” remains “the best model of governance,” and it “can still work to improve ordinary people’s lives.”

These points, scattered across the document, are all to the good — but they are not unusual. What makes Niskanen’s vision distinctive and innovative compared to other visions from the Right is that the authors call for “a whole new way of thinking about policy” whereby “it is necessary to use a new ideological lens: one that sees government and market not as either-or antagonists, but as necessary complements.” Their advocacy of a balanced collaborative relationship between government and market breaks with conventional libertarian and other conservative views that remain intently anti-government and pro-market.

Here are passages that explain their shift toward recommending “the free market welfare state,” based on their finding that “The freest economies generally feature big welfare states”:
“Our hybrid vision combines the best of both sides and marks us as clearly pro-market and pro-government simultaneously. In other words, we reject the current polarization as a false dichotomy. In our view, dynamic, innovative markets and strong, energetic government go together and cannot be separated.”
“We reject the current package deals and offer a new package of our own: the free-market welfare state. Our package reflects not the relative status we happen to accord to government versus market actors, but the clear evidence that a wide scope for economic freedom and robust social spending are complements rather than antagonists.
The authors take an additional stance that is normally anathema on the Right: They recognize the value of and the need for regulations — for, properly applied, regulations work to protect competition and prevent collusion and over-concentration in capitalist systems. Thus, they say,
“Where we differ from many on the right is in our insistence that free markets are not spontaneous and self-executing, but rather the product of well-crafted regulations. Specifically, regulations are necessary to ensure that the ideas that are profitable in the marketplace really are good ideas — in other words, that they actually advance social welfare and make society richer than before. Good regulations, then, are what make Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” possible: They align the private interest of profit-seeking with the public interest of wealth creation.”
They further recognize that a well-regulated polity is needed to go with a well-regulated economy: “just as we emphasize that markets are institutionally constructed, so is democracy — and free-for-all democracy is no better than free-for-all capitalism.” Hence they oppose willy-nilly privatization schemes as well as government corporatism. They also oppose constraints on access to information, while at the same time advocating “deliberative constraints” (I’m not sure about what that means). For in their view “Democracy, like the market economy, needs to be properly regulated to function effectively.”

Overall, then, Niskanen seeks to foster a “daring, reformist spirit” of “bold moderation” by pulling together “what is best in a variety of ideological traditions” in order to “help move our divided society toward the best version of itself, and away from the toxic tribalism of our current politics.”

These are striking reconsiderations for the Niskanen Center to advance — quite a departure from doctrinaire libertarian principles that ordinarily call for “unregulated markets” and a “minimal, night-watchman state.” Which is why the document has received acclaim in centrist conservative circles, notably in David Brooks’ column about “A New Center Being Born: The market and the welfare state go together,” and Jonathan Chait’s article observing “I Have Seen the Future of a Republican Party That Is No Longer Insane.” (For citations, see comments section.)

Now, regarding TIMN, here’s what I appreciate about Niskanen’s new vision: Unlike most visions on the Right, it’s equally in favor of the institutional (+I) and the market form (+M); the authors don’t deprecate the former and overvalue the latter. Niskanen also recognizes that both forms (+I and +M) have bright and dark sides — capitalism can go wrong as readily as government — and that wise leadership is essential to make the bright sides prevail over the dark. The authors further recognize that both forms, and their respective public and private sectors, work best when kept within limits and in balance vis à vis each other. They also show that regulations are necessary to assure this. All these points fit with TIMN theory.

The new Niskanen vision recognizes that a properly ordered economic market system is crucial for a healthy political democracy. This too brings it into harmony with TIMN, which holds that political democracy arises when +M market principles about freedom and competition flow into the +I realm of hierarchical government institutions, enabling market-like representative politics to take hold. The Niskanen vision doesn’t quite go on to add, as TIMN does, that if a capitalist economy turns more corrupt, concentrated, and collusive, thereby diverging from the best standards of the +M market form, then similar patterns are likely to arise in politics as well, thereby undermining and distorting the practice of political democracy — but Niskanen comes close to implying that.

Furthermore, Niskanen’s new stand values not only individualism but also pluralism. And by inference it acknowledges collectivism too, given the positive references to collective goods, collective enterprise, and collective endeavor, as well as to government insurance risk pooling. According to TIMN, each of its cardinal forms of organization entail different mixtures of individualism and collectivism — both isms are inherent in each form. Today’s ideologues on the Right are remiss in arguing that individualism is good and collectivism bad (see my prior post).

None of these positives should be a big deal — they are basic TIMN dynamics — but matters are so out of kilter nowadays that it is a big deal to see this rethinking occurring on the Right. Yet I can’t be entirely upbeat about Niskanen’s new vision, for it has significant shortcomings from a TIMN perspective: In particular, this write-up is mostly about the two standard sectors — the public sector and the private sector — plus an occasional nod to the existence of civil society, its families, communities, and associations, as a less coherent sector. Which means that Niskanen’s vision remains triformist, and therefore not so visionary about the future. The authors mention education and healthcare as growing challenges throughout the document — but seemingly as challenges to be resolved via better public- and private-sector cooperation. I had hoped for some recognition that a next new sector may be emerging — say a “social sector” or “commons sector” — that would be more appropriate and effective for addressing such challenges. But for now, Niskanen doesn’t seem ready to foresee quadriformism. At least they foresee that revitalizing the “American Dream” requires overcoming the “toxic tribalism” that is undermining our society’s potential — a sound TIMN note on which to conclude this review.

For the full document, go here:

For David Brooks’ opinion column, go here:

For Jonathan Chait’s article, go here

Friday, April 5, 2019

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #8: rubbish-nonsense from the Right about individualism versus collectivism

This post is about a specific arch-conservative saying, and thus may seem to have little to do with quadriformism. But it is pertinent, for it shows that some arch-conservative mindsets are so devoted to old binary formulations — like individualism vs. collectivism — that they may be unable to accept new ideas about shifting from triform to quadriform visions of the future.


Conservatives often say they’re for individualism and against collectivism. Plainly stated, as a tendency, that seems sensible. But that’s rarely how it’s stated. Instead, I’ve heard for years the aphoristic claim that conservatives are for individualism, whereas liberals (i.e., lefties) are for collectivism. That’s a divisive insensible canard — and it runs deep in right-wing thinking.

The people saying so are always arch conservatives, most vociferously the NRA’s head Wayne LaPierre in speeches at CPAC and NRA conferences. Another example is Craig Biddle, writing in 2012 in The Objective Standard, a magazine that reflects Ayn Rand’s thinking, where he says that “The fundamental political conflict in America today is, as it has been for a century, individualism vs. collectivism” — from which he concludes that collectivism is evil, immoral, “utterly corrupt from the ground up,” and will lead Americans “down the road to statism and tyranny.” This view also crops up on Fox News shows now and then, implicitly if not explicitly — probably on some AM radio talk shows too, but I’m not as aware of them anymore. (See

Ayn Rand is evidently a leading source of this strain in right-wing thinking. As I found at a website devoted to her thinking, “In her novel The Fountainhead [1943] (and in her other writings), Ayn Rand challenges the doctrines of collectivism and introduces a radical new conception of individualism. She rejects the tribal mindset at its deepest roots and offers a vision of human existence in which we are not interchangeable members of some collective, but sovereign, independent individuals, whose true interests align.” It’s even said that “her philosophy of individualism can serve as the antidote to our era’s increasing tribalism.” (See and

But while she may be a famously extreme proponent, this view is found in some mainstream conservative thinking as well. For example, William Buckley, when he was a college student who would later write God and Man at Yale (1951), reportedly “hoped to find "allies against secularism and collectivism" — but instead … he found himself fighting against "those who seek to subvert religion and individualism."” (See

Fortunately, not all conservatives fall for this right-wing saw. I don’t hear it being voiced by the Burkean conservatives I read and admire; they know the limits to individualism and how to keep it in balance vis à vis other isms. For example, NYT columnist David Brooks has often criticized the spread of excessive individualism throughout American society, as in noting that true love-of-country nationalism is “threatened by extreme individualism — people who put the needs of the individual above the needs of the community.” However, thoughtful Burkean conservatives are outnumbered these days by Faustian conservative leaders, as well as by ordinary supporters of President Trump. (See

By itself, this aphorism may not seem too significant; I don’t hear it voiced very often. But as a thread in a tightly-woven fabric of right-wing binaries — big government vs. free markets, capitalism vs. socialism, “us vs. them,” etc. — it is significant, perhaps particularly so for alt-rightists, arch libertarians, and anarcho-capitalists, not to mention some Tea Party and Freedom Caucus members. They help hold that fabric together by divisively contrasting individualism and collectivism; for its notional and emotional content interlaces with many other themes that comprise the right-wing “memescape.”

Partly because of this positional significance, voicing the aphorism may trigger enthused responses — e.g., head nods, fist pumps, shouts of agreement, as occurs when the NRA’s LaPierre rouses a crowd of conservative gun-rights proponents with his fiery orations. I have the impression that, whenever this aphorism is deployed, ordinary conservatives, say those who listen to Fox News and AM radio talk shows and who attend pro-Trump rallies and CPAC conferences, tend to react positively. The aphorism appears to fit with years of conditioning to assure a tribal mindset. It would be difficult to undo belief in it through logic alone.


This aphorism is rubbish-nonsense. Its divisive binary framing, pitting individualism against collectivism, may suit tribally correct thinking on the Right, but it cannot withstand outside examination.

For starters, all the liberals and progressives I know strongly favor individualism, even though they may also favor government solutions to many policy problems. Indeed, classic liberalism was founded on Lockean principles of individualism, including that the state should serve to protect and promote individual freedoms. As Gideon Rose notes, handily for me, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, “The United States began as a radical experiment with grandiose ambitions. Its founders believed in Locke’s idea that free individuals could escape the perils of anarchy by joining together and cooperating for mutual benefit — and they created a country to show it wasn’t just talk.” So much so that, far to the Left, even socialist icon Eugene Debs praised individualism. (See

More to the point, the notion of individualism voiced in this arch-conservative saying is very broad, but the notion of collectivism is very narrow. It refers mainly to “big government,” and in most usages only to big government. Lately, it’s code for denouncing socialism, just as the term “socialism” spells “collectivism” in conservative thinking. But if we put individualism and collectivism on similarly broad conceptual footings, then collectivism means far more than statism. Then, family and community become expressions of collectivism, and so do military institutions, business corporations, farmers’ co-ops, evangelical and other churches, and sports teams, not to mention patriotism, and “collective security” — all of which most conservatives rightly favor, but fail to rightly acknowledge when subjected to this tribal meme. More to the point, pro-conservative organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation, Liberty University, and Bikers for Trump represent collective endeavors, even though they oppose ideological “collectivism.” Maybe it would help if ”mutualism” or “institutionalism” or “groupism” were substituted for “collectivism” — but I don’t see that happening.

Plus there’s the irony that tribalism, both its healthy and toxic manifestations, corresponds to a kind of collectivism. And few phenomena nowadays are more collectivist than the malignant political and cultural tribalisms that keep growing on the Right as well as the Left; for tribalists often demand group conformity and oppose individualized expression. This pattern shows up in Republican rules (e.g., the Hastert Rule, also the practices of Gingrich and McConnell) that no Republican shall speak ill of another, nor negotiate independently with a Democrat. It also shows up in litmus-test culture-war issues — e.g., about marriage, abortion, gun ownership, voting rights, etc. — where conservative call for collective solidarity among themselves, and seek to deny individual rights inside and outside their fold. And it shows up in episodic desires among conservative Republican to institute the so-called “unitary theory of executive power” — a collectivist notion.

Which leads to a second irony. The aphorism supports individual freedom and liberty. But by encouraging “memetic tribalism,” it thereby turns to stifle individualism and induce collective conformity. This is contrary to the correct functioning of liberal democracy, a true expression of individualism. Instead, the aphorism may help rally people to accept a more authoritarian, more collectivist forms of governance where their tribe dominates — even neo-fascism, or short of that, to unitary executivism. Compounding this risk is knowing that President Trump’s own inclinations lean toward corporatism (along with tribalism), not liberal democracy. (See

In sum, far-right conservatives depend on collectivism as much as anybody, far more than their rhetoric allows them to recognize. Indeed, today’s crop of tribalized conservatives is the most ominously collectivist I’ve ever seen.


I could go on, for this arch-conservative aphorism is not only philosophically fraught, it’s also scientifically unsound. There are vast writings on the roles of individualism and collectivism in the social sciences. Of particular note is the point that all societies combine expressions of both, to varying degrees. Individualism and collectivism co-exist symbiotically — healthy societies cannot have some of one without also having some of the other.

All four TIMN forms (Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks) entail different mixes of both isms — a point I should elaborate someday. In the meantime, let’s note that sociologist Geert Hofstede’s “cultural dimensions theory” is particularly renowned for modeling and measuring how societies vary according to six values — one being individualism-collectivism. According to Wikipedia, “This index explores the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.” Individualistic societies have loose ties that often only relate an individual to his/her immediate family. They emphasize the “I” versus the “we.” Its counterpart, collectivism, describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and others into in-groups. These in-groups are laced with undoubted loyalty and support each other when a conflict arises with another in-group.” Points made elsewhere show that, in Hofstede’s view, “Individualism is the extent to which people feel independent, as opposed to being interdependent as members of larger wholes.” And collectivism “means that one "knows one's place" in life, which is determined socially.” He even offers a metaphor from physics, whereby “people in an individualistic society are more like atoms flying around in a gas while those in collectivist societies are more like atoms fixed in a crystal.” (See and

If I/we were to go through this scholarly material carefully, it would only reinforce my earlier points: The polarized aphorism at hand is insensible and dysfunctional. Arch conservatives, while claiming to be solely for individualism, are plainly collectivist as well, in their own way. All of which goes to show that there is much merit to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation decades ago that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” The aphorism fails this test.