Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TIMN table details: learning that tribes are about “club goods” — and rethinking “collective goods”

[UPDATE — August 11, 2013: Just a quick note to put down a marker for a new idea that may eventually deserve its own post. It occurs to me that “member goods” might be a more appropriate term than “club goods” for getting at what this post is about. Member is a broader, more inclusive term than club; families, clans, tribes, and other such groupings, including clubs and teams, consist of members. I don’t find, using Google, that anyone else has fielded the term. But it seems better than the alternatives I’ve tried so far (e.g., club goods, household goods). If sensible, then that means the corresponding line in my TIMN table should distinguish between member goods, public goods, private goods, and common or commons goods.]

This post concerns just one row in the TIMN table displayed in my prior post: the row about the “Key Product” for each TIMN form. Since I’m not an economist and not much interested in the production of goods, I’ve regarded that row as necessary but also boring — yet perplexing too, as indicated by question marks with the entries under the Tribes and Networks columns.

Figuring out what goes in that row has just become a lot more interesting.

Thanks to an unusual reference (and link) within a posting at the Zero Intelligence Agents blog by Drew Conway, I’ve learned about a kind of collective good known as “club goods” — where something is held in common for members, but everyone else can be excluded, unlike the case with a true commons. I knew about the concept of “clubs” and have regarded them as mini-tribes or mini-clans, worthy of note but not elevation in the TIMN framework. But this concept of club goods is another matter; it’s serendipitously intriguing, especially for improving that TIMN table.

As the “Key Product” of Tribes, the table presently lists “shared gifts” (an earlier version listed “household goods”). I now see that “club goods” would be a better entry. Indeed, not only reciprocal gift-giving and household goods, but also arranged marriages, dowries and brideprices, food stores, feasts, and a lot of other tribal/clan matters fit readily under the club-goods category.

The lineage of this concept traces back to a seminal paper by James Buchanan, “An Economic Theory of Clubs” (1965). What is extra-interesting, however, is the adjacent table about club goods that depicts its relationship to other kinds of goods. The table — a screen-grab (click to enlarge) — is from an article at Wikipedia, but appears to come from a similar table classifying types of economic goods posted at EconPort, (and may come originally from an economics textbook by Greg Mankiw).

What a clear, concise table! And it does more than just point me to club goods.

The existing entries for the Key Product under the Institutions and Markets columns — “public goods” and “private goods” respectively — remain correct. But the adjacent table, plus other writings I’ve perused in recent months, suggest that the entry under Networks should be revised. It presently says “collective goods.” That’s not necessarily wrong — it conveys the right spirit — but it is too broad, too indefinite. Club goods and public goods are often collective goods. So too are goods called “common goods” and “common-pool resources” — also known simply as “the commons.”

This latter set of goods — I prefer the less-used term “commons goods” for it — may be what most pertains to the Network cell of the TIMN table. Turning to that term would bring that entry, and thus the table, better into line with those thinkers who believe that the future belongs to the rise of a peer-produced, peer-governed information commons (e.g., Yochai Benkler, David Bollier), who are working to identify better organizational designs for managing common-pool resources (e.g., Elinor Ostrom), and who are building online endeavors on behalf of the commons (e.g., P2P Foundation, Cooperation Commons, The Commoner). Making this change would thus also respond to criticisms that I neglected to notice the rising importance of the commons and its theorists in my cyberocracy paper (2008).

So, if I were to repost the entire TIMN table today, it would be with those revisions about club goods and commons goods. But that may not be the end of the story. Commons goods are not specific to only that one cell in the TIMN table. Tribes often speak in terms of commons goods; at least that’s true for many indigenous-peoples organizations. Some public goods are tantamount to commons goods. Even market actors — notwithstanding the private sector’s historic disrepute in leftist circles for enclosing the ancient commons and converting it into private property — depend on promoting particular kinds of common goods, such as common standards for transportation, communications, and power.

Furthermore, there are still some other ideas on the rise. A popular notion among some policy analysts and activists is “global public goods” — but it may be too resonant with global institutions to be the best entry for this TIMN table. Potentially more interesting may be the notion of a global ecumene. Indeed, the opposite of the club (and being clubby) is not so much the commons as the ecumene (and being ecumenical). Perhaps “ecumene goods” or “ecumenic goods” would make for a sensible entry eventually.

Once again, this is a new area and a new set of concepts for me. I am open to suggestions and further discussions. Funny how one row in a table may become so pivotal. Funny too how roaming around the blogosphere can lead to insights missed through deliberate scholarly reading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Organizational forms compared: my evolving TIMN table vs. other analysts' tables

FINAL UPDATE — May 12, 2016: I have just posted a revised expanded iteration of this post. Which means this post is now obsolete and superseded. So please go here instead:


* * * * *

[UPDATE — October 18, 2013: I’ve added figures and ideas fielded by Allen Paige Fiske and by Clay Spinuzzi, plus corrected a chronological mis-order.]

[UPDATE — September 25, 2012: I've added a figure and discussion about Kim Cameron's and Robert Quinn's "competing values framework".]

[UPDATE — January 23, 2012: I've added a table about a distinction Jane Jacobs (1992) made between “guardian” and “commercial” syndromes.]

[UPDATE — June 16, 2009: I’ve added a table from a remarkable paper by Paul Adler and Charles Heckscher. (Many thanks to the blog for pointing it out.) I’ve also edited my bulleted overview remarks a bit.]

[UPDATE — June 15, 2009: Apropos tables, over at the growing changing learning creating blog, innovation specialist Tom Haskins has done a series of interesting posts with tables — more than a dozen, starting here, with possibly more to come — on how TIMN may relate to other frameworks, notably the Cynefin framework about problem-solving situations. Whereas I pitch TIMN mainly at the societal level, Haskins is interested in how TIMN and other frameworks may be useful for analyzing pressures and opportunities for innovative change at micro-levels — e.g., groups, firms, other small enterprises. I compliment him on his interesting efforts, but I also have some doubts and would suggest revisions. After one of his posts became the subject of a post at the P2P Foundation blog, I used that to offer some comments. Haskins added a reply. Our exchange was later re-posted here.]

[UPDATE — May 21, 2009: For some critical commentary and discussion about this post with Michel Bauwens at the P2P Foundation blog, go here. Many thanks also to ZenPundit for making this post “recommended reading” a few days ago. And on another note, yes, I edited the name of this blog; let’s try Visions from Two Theories instead of Apropos Two Theories for a while.]

[UPDATE — May 19, 2009: I added three more tables to the appendix.]

What follows are draft paragraphs for introducing an eventual chapter. There is some repetition with what I posted in a summary overview earlier. But this post offers more detail and some new elaboration. The table in particular is more elaborate (and I’m still wondering how best to lay it out and fill it in).

The main purpose is to post the table, along with a bunch of alternative tables by other analysts in the appendix. I’ve seen at least a dozen other such tables, but just don’t have them as handy. Suggestions for additional tables (and directions for locating them) are welcome, even months from now. I’d eventually like to have about a dozen tables laid out. (By the way, click on a table to enlarge it in a separate window.)

Most such tables are about hierarchies, markets, and/or networks. Some analysts include other forms as well, such as heterarchies, or use other terms, such as peer-to-peer (P2P). Far as I know, mine is the only table that treats tribes as an equally distinct, separate form.

My notion is that it can be instructive to have various tables available in one spot for side-by-side comparison. It provides a way to highlight differences in underlying assumptions and dimensions.

* * *

Table 1 (click to enlarge) summarizes many points that have been made (plus some not yet made) about the four TIMN forms. Its details indicate their differing strengths and limitations.

As an overview, the table conveys that each form, once it is subscribed to by many actors, is more than a mere form — it develops into a realm, even a system of thought and action. Each form embodies a distinctive cluster of values, norms, and codes of conduct; and these must be learned and disseminated for a form to take root and a realm to grow around it. Indeed, each form’s rise spells an ideational and structural revolution. Each is a generator of order, for each defines a set of interactions (or, if you prefer, transactions) that are attractive, powerful, and useful enough to create a distinct realm of activity, or at least its core. Each becomes the basis for a governance system that is self-regulating and ultimately self-limiting. And each tends to foster a different kind of worldview, for each orients people differently toward social space, social time, and social action. Indeed, what is rational — how a “rational actor” should behave — is different for each form; no single “utility function” suits all of them. Each attracts different kinds of personalities.

Thus each form becomes associated with high ideals as well as new capabilities. As each develops, it enables people to organize to do more than they could previously. Yet all the forms are ethically neutral — as neutral as technologies — in the sense that they have both bright and dark sides, and can be used for good or ill. The tribal form, which should foster community solidarity and mutual caring, may also breed a narrow, bitter clannishness that can justify anything from nepotism to murder in order to shield and strengthen a clan and its leaders. The hierarchical institutional form, which should lead to professional rule and regulation, may also be used to uphold corrupt, arbitrary dictators. The market form, which should bring free, fair, open exchanges, may also be distorted and rigged to allow unbridled speculation and profiteering. And the network form, which can empower civil society and its nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), can also serve to strengthen “uncivil society” — say, by enabling terrorist groups and crime syndicates to organize transnational networks. Thus, it is not just the bright sides of each form that foster new values and actors; their dark sides may do so as well. As Jane Jacobs (Systems of Survival, 1992, esp. p. 151) observed about what she calls the guardian (+I) and commercial (+M) syndromes, “monstrous moral hybrids” can take shape if they are mingled improperly.

Finally, note the bottom three rows. One points out that each form has a different architecture: Tribes, with their interlaced lineages and marriages, resemble circles and labyrinths (not to mention networks and webs). Hierarchical institutions are often depicted as pyramids or stovepipes, and markets as atomized billiard balls moving freely in space. Nowadays, information-age networks are said to resemble geodesic domes and “buckyballs” (after Buckminster Fuller). The next row observes that each form corresponds to a different aspect of anatomy: tribes to a body’s skin or look; hierarchical institutions to a musculo-skeletal system (as Thomas Hobbes implied); markets to a cardio-pulmonary circulatory system (as Karl Marx noted); and networks to a sensory nerve system (as Herbert Spencer thought, and many writers still suppose today). These are only analogies and metaphors, but they help impart the distinctive nature of each form.

The last row notes that each form is associated with a different information and communications technology revolution. In brief, the rise of the tribal form depended on a symbolic revolution: the emergence of language and early writing (runes, glyphs), enabling the storytelling that is central to tribal cultures. The rise of the hierarchical institutional form — as in the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, the absolutist states, and their vast administrative structures — reflected a mechanical revolution: the development of formal writing and printing, first penned script and later the printing press. This was important not only for keeping records and issuing commands, but also for inscribing laws that chiefdoms and states could apply to growing populations who were not kinfolk and often not well-known to each other. Next, the rise of the market form and its far-flung business enterprises was sped by the electrical technologies of the 19th century: the telegraph, telephone, and radio. Today’s spread of the network form extends from the digital revolution and its technologies, notably the Internet, fax machines, and cellular telephones, which are especially empowering for civil-society associations around the world and across political spectrums.

* * * * *

Appendix: Other Tables about Organizational Forms

For comparison and inspirational purposes, here are screen grabs (again, click to enlarge) and a little discussion about other tables. These are the ones I have handy; I know I have more somewhere, and I’ll add them as I find them. If anyone is reading, suggestions are welcome.

There are many write-ups about organizational forms, as I have discussed elsewhere. But not every write-up is accompanied by a table (or figure, or chart). This constrains whose ideas may get presented here. Indeed, some of the best write-ups are devoid of tables.

A few generalizations appear to cut across these tables:
  • The treatment of hierarchies and markets (and their cognates) is clearer and more standardized than is the treatment of networks.
  • Where networks (and their cognates) are discussed, the tables and related text are often more about social than organizational networks — and the analyst may not be clear about the distinction.
  • “Trust” is often listed as an attribute of networks, but not of hierarchies or markets — a sign the analyst may be thinking more in terms of social than organizational networking. And it’s not a good sign; in my view, some kind of trust is involved in each and every form — it is not unique to networks.
  • Tribes (or cognates, like clans) rarely show up as a distinct form, but their attributes often show up listed under the network form, especially when the analyst is thinking in terms of social networks.
  • There is little consistency to the order in which the forms are listed. Usually because the analyst is a sociologist or economist thinking in terms of the classic dichotomy between hierarchies and markets, either markets or hierarchies usually comes first, and networks later on the right side of a table. But I have seen tables where networks are given the middle position, especially if the analyst views it as an in-between or hybrid form. It depends on the analyst’s focus and rationale. In contrast, I have a specific, evolutionary order in mind: TIMN.

From William Ouchi’s article about clans as an alternative to bureaucracies and markets (1980 — walled but lately here):

Ouchi is a management professor and strategist. This table (p. 137) summarizes his proposal (p. 132) that: “Markets, bureaucracies, and clans are therefore three distinct mechanisms which may be present in differing degrees, in any real organization.” With this, the paper offers a rare early effort to add clans — a variant of tribes — to the established transaction-cost view that hierarchies and markets are the key alternatives. Accordingly, clans may, under some conditions, offer a better way to create efficiencies and avoid organizational failures from a transaction-cost perspective. The conditions Ouchi identifies are where harmony is essential — i.e., where teamwork and a strong sense of community are needed, and individualistic opportunism must be avoided — more so than is the case with hierarchies and markets. His concept of clans draws on Durkheim’s concept of organic solidarity, and he notes how common this was in preindustrial enterprises. But his focus is its rising significance in modern high-tech industries, notably in Japan.

From Walter Powell’s seminal paper on networks as neither hierarchies nor markets (1990):

This is a classic table, the first by an economic sociologist to add networks to the traditional dichotomy of hierarchies and markets as the paradigmatic options that business enterprises face. His particular focus was on craft and high-tech industries. What the table (p. 300) indicates is that, by comparison, network designs are (more?) relational, reputational, open-ended, and nimble. Among the points that the table misses but the text notes is that networks may also excel at gathering and processing information. I also like the point in the text (p. 303) that “In essence, the parties to a network agree to forego the right to pursue their own interests at the expense of others.” However, this kind of behavior is not unique to networks — it often crops up in other organizational settings as well.

From Jane Jacobs book Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (1992):

Jacobs lays out the “guardian moral syndrome” and the “commercial moral syndrome” as the two key “systems of survival” that lie behind successful social evolution.  For each syndrome, she specifies fifteen precepts (see chart).  Her view tracks with TIMN, for the syndromes correspond roughly to TIMN’s institutional and market forms.  She refers to practices that correspond to TIMN’s tribal form; but rather than separate them out, she embeds them mostly under the guardian syndrome — in my view a shortcoming that makes it more (T) tribal than (+I) administrative in some of her applications.  But I like very much her emphasis on keeping the syndromes separate and in balance.  For additional discussion, see my post about her concept of “monstrous moral hybrids”.

About Alan Paige Fiske’s work on “four elementary forms of sociality” and Relational Model Theory (1992, 2004):

Fiske, a behavioral anthropologist, posits that all social relationships, minor and major, reduce to four forms of interaction: communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, and market pricing. People develop their capacities for social interaction in mostly that order, from infancy onward. His own table about these forms is large and detailed; so I’m displaying a simplified table by a proponent. Fiske’s sharing, ranking, and pricing forms correspond to TIMN’s tribal, hierarchical, and market forms. But his equality-matching form, which is mainly about equal-status peer-group behavior, does not correspond to any single form — some attributes fit the network form, but other attributes (e.g., reciprocity, feuding, revenge) fit better under TIMN’s tribal or market form. So the overlap is limited. I hope to do a full post about his interesting work someday.

From Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps’s book on the rise of virtual teams (2000):

In this Toffleresque table (p. 36), management strategists Lipnack and Stamps highlight what they regard as the four ages of organization, beginning millennia ago. The first age is about small groups, but in the text these are equated with nomads and tribes — terms I prefer. The authors explain their distinction between hierarchy and bureaucracy, but I question its significance. Moreover, why markets are not featured as a form of organization remains a mystery to me — but it has something to do, I suppose, with their emphasis on the internal workings of organizations. In any case, the table barely does justice to their ideas. They were early, articulate pioneers in spotting that an “age of networks” was dawning, and in analyzing the rise of “virtual teams.” And I like their point (p. 46) that “The postindustrial model is inclusive of old models, not a replacement for them.”

From Bob Jessop’s paper on governance and metagovernance (2003):

Jessop writes about governance (and what he calls metagovernance) for solving coordination problems, particularly in the European Union. In this chart about the major modalities of governance (p. 3), the terms he prefers — exchange, command, and dialogue — correspond, as two rows indicate, to markets, hierarchies, and networks respectively. I like that it has a row about spatial-temporal horizons — a rarity among these kinds of tables, but an interest of mine. I also like that it has two rows about system failure, a focus of this particular paper.

From Mark Considine and Jenny Lewis’s paper about bureaucracy, network, and enterprise models (2003 — walled):

This paper and its chart (p. 133) are focused on alternatives ways of delivering services — the evolution from traditional bureaucratic, to new corporate, market, and network models of governance. A key finding is that “A new corporate-market hybrid (called ‘enterprise governance’) and a new network type have become significant models for the organization of frontline work in public programs” (p. 131), particularly in Europe and around the British Commonwealth. It’s a pertinent finding, but I don’t find the chart all that illuminating. Moreover, the write-up emphasizes trust and a shared organizational culture as being essential to network designs. This is not a wrong point, but as I’ve already indicated, it may well be that in the final analysis all organizational systems rest on trust and a shared acceptance of the culture most suited to the functioning of that form (even if it is a hierarchy).

From Federico Iannacci and Eve Mitleton–Kelly’s paper on heterarchies (networks) as lying between hierarchies and markets (2005):

This table (online, unpaginated) is from two scholars at the London School of Economics interested in complexity theory, information technology, and open-source networks. It represents their effort to add heterarchies to the usual dichotomy about their being two major forms of organization. What’s unusual here is that they locate heterarchies in between hierarchies and markets. Moreover, they claim that many heterarchies consist of nested hierarchies bound together by loosely coupled networks. So, heterarchies are networks, but not simply so. Indeed, they suggest in a couple spots that “Networks might just be sets of social practices rather than meta– or new organizational forms.” In any case, the table makes the point that heterarchies offer coordination processes different from what’s offered by hierarchical firms or autonomous market actors. And they see this as a boon for developments like open-source software.

From Paul Adler’s and Charles Heckscher’s remarkable paper on collaborative community (2005):

This table (p. 16) distinguishes three approaches to coordination: hierarchy, market, and community. The authors focus is the corporate business realm. Their concern is that hierarchy and market ways of doing things have eroded community ways far more than is desirable, especially now that collaborative knowledge production is becoming paramount. What’s needed is a new kind of community principle to go along with the hierarchy and market principles. By “community” they mean much that other analysts mean by “network” and related terms — thus their trifold array is quite standard. But their key point is unusual: They advise against returning to the old form of community, because it would draw sharp distinctions between insiders and outsiders, protect traditional values, and stifle individual autonomy and creativity. Instead, what’s needed is the development of a new, higher form — “collaborative community” — that would engage participants who have multiple identities, stimulate the collective creation of shared value, and place trust in peer dialogue, review, and accountability. Indeed, they say (p. 37), “without a rebuilding of communal institutions, the potential of a knowledge economy cannot be realized.” Their best examples presently lie in the scientific community and the open-software movement. (Of all the papers I have blurbed about here, I am especially taken with this one. More on this in a future post.)

From Karen Stephenson’s recent article commending heterarchy over hierarchy and network (2009 — walled, but maybe here or here):

This paper strives to make a useful point under a concept of heterarchy: that performance may improve when hierarchical organizations are interconnected by collaborative networks. Yet, the table (p. 6) and some of the text is conceptually problematic, as several of the invited counter-point commenters indicate. The paper’s notion of a network is often more social than organizational — it’s even called a tribal form at one point. And the notion of heterarchy is more what others view as some kind of network — as an organizational network, as a hybrid of a hierarchy and network (a networked organization), or as a networked set of otherwise separate hierarchical organizations (“silos”). Other analysts would probably blend the network and heterarchy columns into one; or perhaps make a case that heterarchy is not so much a distinct major form as a hybrid or amalgam of other forms. It’s good to see the mention of collective goods in the heterarchy column. But it remains unclear to me why networks are associated with personal interests. And there’s that word “trust” again; I’ve already mentioned my view of that. Even so, the text makes a point I like that is not reflected in the table — that heterarchies, not to mention networks, can operate perversely in some contexts, and may have a dark as well as a bright side.

From Kim Cameron’s and Robert Quinn’s work on the “Competing Values Framework” (esp. 2006 — figure on p. 16):

While early versions (in the 1980s) of this framework about organizational culture do not align well with TIMN, the current version does — with its four quadrants about Clan, Hierarchy, Market, and Adhocracy, so long as adhocracies are viewed as networks.  One criticism: they equate Clan with collaboration and Adhocracy with creativity, but adhocracies are as much about collaboration as are clans, just in a different way.  Another qualm:  theirs is not quite an evolutionary framework about corporate culture, but their presentation makes it seem that Hierarchy evolved first, Market second, Clan third (à la modern Japanese business models), and Adhocracy fourth (because of the digital information revolution).  While their point about Japan is sensible, a longer TIMN-type time perspective implies that family/clan models preceded bureaucratic hierarchical ones.  Yet, much of their framework is in keeping with TIMN dynamics:  They observe that organizations may be constructed around a dominant form, yet may draw on the other forms to suit particular goals and contexts.  They observe that the four value systems embody opposed and competing principles; and that using them in effective combinations means dealing with the necessity of paradox, the need for congruence, and the ever-present challenges of tensions and trade-offs.  Here’s a quote (pp. 21-22):  “The two upper quadrants share in common an emphasis on flexibility and dynamism, whereas the two bottom quadrants share an emphasis on stability and control. The two left-hand quadrants focus on internal capability whereas the two right hand quadrants focus on external opportunity. What is important to remember is that the quadrants represent clusters of similar elements and similar orientations, but those elements and orientations are contradictory to those in the diagonal quadrant. The dimensions in the framework, in other words, separate opposite, competing, or paradoxical elements on the diagonal.”  (Thanks to Clay Spinuzzi for spotting this framework.)  [UPDATE — October 17, 2012:  For more about comparing CVF and TIMN, see Spinuzzi's post and our discussion in the comments section here.]

From Clay Spinuzzi’s briefing on “Toward a Typology of Activities” (2013):

Spinuzzi, a professor of rhetoric and writing who is keenly interested in networks, has lately “been trying to characterize different sorts of activities and particularly how hybrids of those types lead to internal contradictions.” His preliminary typology looks at group activities according to whether an object of activity is defined internally or externally, and tacitly or explicitly. This leads to a two-by-two matrix — thus his typology — about clans, hierarchies, markets, and networks, as presented in the adjoining graphic. He lists seven main sources for this typology, of which five are among those above, including TIMN. As his work develops, he intends to examine hybrids — activities that combine two or more of the four types — with an eye out for “interference patterns and internal contradictions”. [UPDATE — 10/15/14: Spinuzzi’s article, “Toward a typology of activities,” now appears in the Journal of Business and Technical Communications, 2014, as specified here.]

* * *

Blog roll: a list of pertinent blogs:

I’ve gone looking for blogs where organizational forms get discussed — all the forms, not just networks. Here are the main ones that I have found so far:
Again, suggestions are welcome, if/when someone interested is reading, even if its months ahead from now.

Finally, don’t be surprised if I make small edits to this post in the few days after it appears. I seem to have a tendency to do that.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cuba: ready to exit its evolutionary cul-de-sac? — a TIMN perspective

I haven’t worked on Cuban issues for over ten years. But I still discuss Cuba and Castro with former co-authors. And I perked up when I saw that the Obama administration was offering to hold new talks with Cuban officials. I also recalled that I had once drafted a few paragraphs about Cuba’s system and Castro’s worldview from a TIMN perspective. As a result, I’ve gone and revisited my old notes, done a bit of new reading, and written the following little essay.

It may seem rather hard on the Castro regime and Fidel’s views, but that is not my main intent. I think Cuba is an interesting case for illuminating some theoretical principles that may be important for building the TIMN framework and understanding its implications for how to achieve social evolution. Fidel represents violations and departures from many of those principles:
  • Castro is about centralization and control, whereas TIMN is also about decentralization and decontrol.
  • Castro is about the fusion of two forms (T and I) and the rejection of a third (M). TIMN is about the balanced, separated, regulated growth of each and all forms.
  • Castro is about the bright sides of two forms (T and I) and only the dark side of the third (M). TIMN involves recognizing that all the forms have both bright and dark sides — and dealing with them.
I plan to be clear about all that and more in a new theoretical post before long. For now, I mention it as background for showing where I’m headed — and to hope that this post is of interest to readers other than maybe a few Castro/Cuba specialists.

* * * * *

One aim of the TIMN framework is to provide clarity as to why systems like Cuba’s are so limited — in fact, self-limiting. The framework also shows how to think about Cuba’s future from an evolutionary standpoint.

Briefly stated: In the name of revolution, Fidel Castro committed a strategic error of devolutionary proportions. He rejected developing Cuba in T+I+M directions, and fell back to construct a hyper T+I system. If this could have served to prepare Cuba for an eventual new transition to a +M system, the outlook for post-Castro Cuba might be promising. But his regime’s practices have not assured that Cuba will get a +M transition right, even though it is the inevitable next phase. Meanwhile, +N forces are even more suborned and restricted, especially among civil-society NGOs.

The current hoopla about U.S.–Cuban relations provides an opportunity for elaborating on this theme.

The current policy juncture

It is sensible for the Obama administration to alter U.S. policy in order to increase information and communications flows to Cuba, as it did in a recent memorandum. We — Cuba expert Edward Gonzalez and I — have long advised going in this direction:
[T]he present policy should be sustained but augmented with a parallel policy to increase information flows and build communication bridges to Cuba. . . This seems to be the best prescription for continuing to deal with a Fidel Castro who cannot change with the times, while preparing for a post-Castro Cuba that is bound to go through profound changes, requiring yet another U.S. policy. (Gonzalez and Ronfeldt, 1992, p. xii)
We recognized early on that the information revolution does not necessarily favor democratic forces, and that authoritarian systems can exploit it too. The Cuban regime will continue to do its utmost to guard and manipulate Internet access and other telecommunications. Nonetheless, expanded information flows and communications links should help strengthen some civil-society elements in Cuba, and provide U.S. policy with some benefits in the event of an opening-up or a major crisis on the island.

At the same time, it is sensible for the Obama administration to maintain the U.S. economic embargo, pending further developments. Simply lifting it remains inadvisable; conditions are still such that doing so would reward and strengthen the Castro regime and its hardliners, more than it would free up the Cuban people or induce evolution toward a +M system. Indeed, the recent expansions of Canadian, European, and other countries’ economic relations and commercial ventures in Cuba provide no confirmation that such expansions will induce democratic change, a market economy, or increased respect for human rights in Cuba.

Better to wait, maneuver, and negotiate a while before easing the embargo. Perhaps it is archaic, and perhaps it imposes only marginal constraints on the regime’s intentions and capabilities. After all, Castro’s own policy choices have placed the major constraints on Cuba’s potential for economic growth. Yet, lifting the embargo will be such a big deal, with so many ramifications, that it should be linked to when Cuba finally opts to exit its evolutionary cul-de-sac and turn in +M directions.

Cuba in TIMN perspective: past, present, and future

In the decades before Castro, Cuba represented a flawed, halting, muddled effort to evolve a democratic T+I+M society. Cuba’s political system was supposed to be based on political parties and democratic elections. But by the early 1950s, the government was again in the hands of a dictatorship, backed by the military (and U.S. government) and fraught with cronyism. Meanwhile, the economy appeared to be based on the capitalist market system. But in fact, it was rigged to favor corrupt government officials and oligarchic families. Moreover, it was dominated by foreign-owned sugar mills and gambling casinos.

Indeed, these foreign-owned enterprises often did more to reinforce local T+I practices that reflected Cuba’s colonial heritage, than to help instill a true +M system. As often happens in Latin America, Cuba had a kind of distorted, corrupt, oligarchic, crony capitalism that was not leading to an open, fair market system. Nor was it doing much to spread wealth and strengthen democracy.

Thus, when Fidel Castro seized power, he had plenty of grievances and distortions to deal with. He also had an opportunity to direct the Cuban Revolution to foster a liberal, democratic T+I+M society — and initially it looked as though he and the revolution’s moderate leaders might do so. But instead, in the name of what he claimed were forward-looking communist ideals, Castro reverted Cuba’s government, economy, and society back to a T+I system — and of a type that was more centralized and fused than ever. He installed a totalitarian single-party government, eliminated the private sector, suborned the cultural (T) realm to the state, and used his charisma to arouse a fervent, worshipful nationalism. Nothing — no TIMN realm or any individual — would be allowed to develop on its own. He demanded tribal solidarity and institutional solidity. He said this would end poverty and inequity, foster immense growth, and assure a home-grown culture, while also enabling Cuba to eradicate foreign influence and resist U.S. imperialism.

Thus, it is often said, Castro chose communism over democracy. My own view, at this point, is that he never really faced such a choice; his choice was mainly between fascism (a type of fused T+I+M system that he had long admired) or communism (an I-centric system). He opted for the latter partly because, from a TIMN perspective, he knew how to promote a nationalistic tribalism (T) and hierarchical institutions (+I), but not how to develop and rule over the kind of market system and private sector (+M) that fascism involves. Besides, he had a patron — the Soviet Union — to underwrite his turn to communism and his ambition to become a major actor on the world stage, the superclient of a superpower.

Fidel represents a supreme contemporary expression of the fusion of T+I ideals and principles. Accordingly, he has believed that if people would just behave like one big family under his chieftaincy, then everything would work fine. He did not see that the organizational forms on which his ideals rested — the tribal and institutional forms — have performance capabilities that are self-limiting, especially with regard to economic growth. Indeed, Cuba’s low level of development today reflects the inherent incapacity of T+I designs to promote and manage increasing levels of economic complexity. As with the feudal and absolutist systems of long ago, as well as recent Soviet systems based on central planning and social exhortation, this design can produce a strong, aggressive state and military, but not an advanced, multi-purpose economy and society.

By seeing only capitalism’s dark side, Fidel not only rejected adding the market form to Cuba’s capabilities, he also ignored that all four TIMN forms have both bright and dark sides. It is already becoming evident that his T+I regime is far from clean of the clannish cronyism, nepotism, arbitrariness, venality, crime and corruption that often infest the obscure echelons of such regimes. Meanwhile, the degeneration (or at least, stagnation) of Cuba’s economy and society is causing a return of many of the vices and distortions that Fidel denounced in the 1950s — e.g., prostitution, apartheid tourism. Is he blind to this? Or does he, through a self-serving logic, secretly want vices and distortions to return if Cuba abandons communism for capitalism?

Led by Raul Castro and the military, some regime elites realized years ago — especially after Soviet subsidies ended, and consumer shortages mounted — that the island’s inefficient, malfunctioning economy required reform. They initially supposed, in line with Fidel’s exaltation of institutional ideals, that all they had to do was “modernize” the regime’s administrative systems; surely then the economy and its state enterprises would finally work well. But administrative modernization did not succeed in revitalizing the economy, and some reformists recognized anew a need to experiment with selected +M practices.

Shifting to a market system was not an option, given Fidel’s antipathy to capitalism. Yet, selected liberalizing measures have been allowed since the 1990s, with his reluctant approval. These include peasant markets for foodstuffs; small, mostly home-based businesses (microenterprises) for restaurants, repair services, room rentals, and taxis; and large hotels and resorts for tourism that operate as joint enterprises with foreign investors.

All are productive, to a degree. But all exist under tight restrictions — most microenterprises can employ only family members, the resorts amount to tourism enclaves where most ordinary Cubans cannot go, and Cubans must submit to a dual-currency system. Moreover, all these enterprises must serve the state; their purpose is to strengthen institutions, not individuals. Indeed, the joint enterprises operate as army franchises — favored officers are assigned to run them, earning good salaries.

Meanwhile, Cuba has long had trade deals with foreign companies, lately expanded to include U.S. agricultural companies. These provide Cuba with access to world markets, but without marketizing its internal economy. (The U.S. embargo has constrained but never blocked Cuba’s access to non-U.S. markets and companies.)

The result is an anomalous political economy that remains statist — socialist if not communist — with allowances for limited market-like endeavors in a few selected areas. Some Cuban leaders may sense the limitations, if not obsolescence, of this T+I (or T+I+m?) system and desire further liberalization. Some may prefer to move to a kind of market socialism, even a market socialist economy like China’s or Vietnam’s where key sectors and enterprises remain in state hands but the economic system as a whole is becoming +M. But Fidel is determined to sustain his fused, collectivist, centrally-run T+I regime as the only true and trustworthy expression of the Cuban Revolution. There will be no +M for Cuba’s evolution on his watch.

U.S. policy and strategy: able to induce Cuba’s evolution to +M?

From a TIMN perspective — my view of it, anyway — a challenge for U.S. policy and strategy is to ameliorate Cuba’s hard-line T+I behaviors while nudging its evolution toward a +M system.

Washington has endeavored to do that for decades (though not in TIMN terms, of course), and nothing it has done has worked well. Some measures have proven worthwhile for specific goals (e.g., to enable remittances to needy family members). But Fidel has remained resolute; his worldview has not budged. For him, Cuba already represents the vanguard of social evolution. He does not understand or believe in +M (not to mention +N). Moreover, no cracks or other weaknesses have arisen in his regime that might open doors for promoting economic or any other kind of liberalization.

Today, Cuba does not pose a military threat to U.S interests, by itself or as an ally of a foreign power. Nor does it pose a criminal threat, though the island could serve as a base for some transnational smuggling operations. It is also doubtful that Cuba is offering much support to insurgent or terrorist movements anywhere. Thus, with Cuba’s external threat potential lower than ever and its internal economic needs higher than ever, the environment is riper than ever for calling into question the centerpiece of U.S. policy: the economic embargo.

I have no desire to review all the pros and cons, ins and outs, of U.S. policy or alternative options for dealing with Castro’s Cuba or preparing for a post-Castro Cuba. Others have done that. But I do want to comment on notions that relate to TIMN.

Idealistic notions are sprouting anew — here and here, for example — that ending the embargo would ameliorate Cuba’s hard-line T+I behaviors and induce +M effects: Thus, it is said, lifting the embargo would deprive the regime of an anti-American rationale — a scapegoat — for maintaining its tyranny and explaining away Cuba’s economic woes. It would generate maneuvering room for reformers who want political and social as well as economic liberalization. It would encourage free-market reforms, and a more open, pluralistic civil society.

Yet, there is no evidence — only speculation — that ending the embargo unilaterally would have such positive effects under current circumstances. More likely, it would reinforce Fidel’s sense that he is winning and provide him with extra resources and rationales for staying his course. And there is evidence for this contrary prospect.

The infusion of foreign investments and tourists from Canada, Europe, and elsewhere since the mid-1990s, by providing new income for the regime, actually enabled Fidel to slow or reverse the modest liberalizations he had grudgingly permitted in order to ease the economic shortages following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Little new liberalization has occurred since then. Moreover, European governments that have increased their trade and investment with Cuba have been rebuffed when they have pressed for even modest shifts in the regime’s human-rights behavior.

And then there’s this recent development: Fidel is aged and ailing, and he has passed the mantle of rule to his brother, Raul. But the way he barked back at Obama’s overtures for talks with Raul last month confirm that Fidel still has a grip on Cuba’s direction and is not about to alter course because of any shift in U.S. policy.

In a bit of a contrast to the idealistic views about lifting the embargo, a more nuanced, pragmatic U.S. view has surfaced in a U.S. congressional staff trip report. It recognizes that lifting the embargo may not have grand effects, but supposes it may be advisable to countenance anyway. In this view, the Cuban regime is so institutionalized and accepted among the Cuban people that it will probably endure without democratizing, even if the embargo were to be lifted. Yet, Washington should begin to hold talks about specific matters of mutual interest. The prospect of eventually lifting the embargo might give us some bargaining leverage. Besides, it would please U.S. commercial interests who stand to benefit from new trade and investment opportunities. It may also gratify some U.S. political sectors.

I have less to say about this pragmatic view. I see no reason to object to talking with Cubans along the lines the report suggests, for it makes few claims about inducing change in Cuba and some of its points (e.g., about improving the U.S. image abroad) have little to do with TIMN. But the report still contains a notion, partly modulated, that the prospect of easing the embargo may give U.S. officials leverage for negotiating some economic and political liberalization, through a process of “sequenced engagement.”

Again, this notion of leverage seems illusory. It is doubtful that the current regime would negotiate any kind of liberalization in exchange for easing the embargo. And easing it for any reason while Fidel still holds sway would mainly reinforce his and his fidelista cohorts’ efforts to preserve his T+I system, while preventing a transition to +M.

That said, the report’s proposal for increased dialogue with Cuban officials is a good idea. So is it’s proposal for a bipartisan U.S. commission to forge a future U.S. policy and strategy (echoing a 2007 proposal by Ed Gonzalez). The two initiatives could lay groundwork for an eventual propitious situation when Cuba may decide, on its own and in its own ways, that evolving in +M directions is advisable.

In sum, Fidel Castro remains committed to a theory of social evolution that is fundamentally erroneous. He is not entirely wrong to rail against the evils of capitalism — it can have detrimental effects, and what’s happening in the United States today provides new evidence. But by failing to see that the market system is essential for continued social evolution, and by not figuring out how to make it apply in a balanced, positive way in Cuba — even so that it deserves a name other than capitalism — he keeps Cuba’s potential arrested in an evolutionary cul-de-sac of his own fabrication.

Eventually a breakout will occur. Odds are, a multitude of U.S. actors will then rush ahead with their usual patterns about promoting democracy and freedom, including free enterprise. But if the objective is to see Cuba turn into a balanced T+I+M system, new kinds of advice and assistance may be needed. The United States has policies and strategies for promoting capitalism — basically saying, open your markets, and we will come. But do we really have adequate policies and strategies for building a properly free, fair market system? I gather not, for that’s never been as major a goal as promoting capitalism. It’s time to rethink. Otherwise, assuming that the post-Fidel regime endures, the model it prefers next may be a mild kind of fascism rather than a potential liberal democracy.

[Many thanks to Ed Gonzalez for sharing his knowledge and providing edits on an earlier draft.]

[UPDATE — May 8, 2009: The original version of this post, yesterday, indicated I would do a second, follow-up post on Cuba, but of a much more theoretical bent. I've changed my mind. I'll be doing a more theoretical post before long, but it won't be focused just on the case of Cuba. So I've edited this post to remove references to its being the first of two. It's now a stand-alone post.]

[UPDATE — July 7, 2015: While I’ve refrained these past six years from updating this post, two recent articles in The Wall Street Journal are worth noting, because they track with my TIMN analysis above: Dr. Jose Azel, “Cuba after the Castros: The likely scenario” (June 15, 2015, The Wall Street Journal, as re-posted here), warns that Cuba’s military will benefit more than democracy from future U.S.-Cuban relations. Mauricio Claver-Carone, “When helping ‘the Cuban people’ means bankrolling Cuba’s Castro dictatorship” (June 24, 2015, The Wall Street Journal, as re-posted here) warns that improved economic relations will benefit the regime more than the people.]

[UPDATE: September 20, 2015 — Former RAND colleague and co-author Edward Gonzalez makes a valuable point when he writes, in a letter to the NYT editor, that “As an academic and policy consultant specializing in Cuba, I came to the conclusion several years ago that the United States faced a moral and political conundrum in its Cuba policy: how to help the Cuban people without helping the Castro regime.” (source)]