Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #6: revisiting Peter Drucker’s (1993) pioneering concept for creating a “social sector”

In post #2 in this series, I highlighted recent calls for greater socialism from political leaders such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortes. And I suggested it’d be more sensible if they limited their calls to “socialism in one sector” — meaning the creation of commons sector that would be comprised mainly of health, education, environmental, welfare, and related insurance entities and activities. For these no longer fit well in either the public or private sector, and would benefit from being migrated into a new commons sector. I also indicated that this progressive-sounding idea for a new sector, would benefit conservative ideals as well, for it should help with strengthening families and communities, reducing and unburdening the size of government, and freeing up market actors.

In multi-part post #3 in this series, I identified three other quadriformists besides myself — Kate Raworth, Michel Bauwens, and Koji Karatani — who, to varying degrees and in different ways, foresee the rise of a fourth form/sector, much as my TIMN approach does. One commonality among them is that they are way to the Left of me — two of them even foresee that the rise of the fourth form/sector may bring the end of capitalism. I’ve yet to find a quadriformist on the Right. And by today’s triformist standards, I seem to be a Centrist — Center-Left on some matters, Center-Right on others.

All of which may make it seem as though the idea for this new sector is brand new, and comes mostly from the Left. But this perception would be wrong.

In my case, the hypothesis that a new form/sector will arise over time emerged from my first formulating the TIMN framework in the mid-90s. Then, when I went looking for substantiation, lo and behold, I happened upon Peter Drucker’s idea, fielded in the mid-90s, that a “social sector” was emerging alongside our longstanding public and private sectors. Drucker was then a prominent management theorist and something of a futurist as well. If politically ideological at all, I gather he was a Center-Right conservative, very critical of the “megastate … either in its totalitarian or in its democratic version.”

In other words, the first proposal I’ve found for a distinct new sector came from the Center-Right, not the Left. Moreover, it appeared about 25 years ago — meaning it’s not a recent concoction (I’ll cite other proposers in my next post).

Drucker’s notion first appeared in his book Post-Capitalist Society (1993), where he observed (p. 171) that “the post-capitalist polity needs a “third sector,” in addition to the two generally recognized ones, the ‘private sector’ of business and the “public sector” of government. It needs an autonomous social sector.” For my purposes, it’s easier to draw on a follow-on article he wrote, “The age of social transformation,” which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in May 1994 (then again slightly longer in November 1994).

His article, which still reads quite prophetically, is mainly about the rise of the knowledge society and its knowledge workers. Toward the end he starts remarking about the rise of a new sector:
“The right answer to the question Who takes care of the social challenges of the knowledge society? is neither the government nor the employing organization. The answer is a separate and new social sector.
“It is less than fifty years, I believe, since we first talked in the United States of the two sectors of a modern society — the "public sector" (government) and the "private sector" (business). In the past twenty years the United States has begun to talk of a third sector, the "nonprofit sector" — those organizations that increasingly take care of the social challenges of a modern society.”
The kinds of organizations and activities that, in his view, are already comprising this social sector range from long-established churches, to new nonprofit and charitable organizations, most of them performing community services, often by way of volunteers, particularly in areas of health and education. In reviewing them, Drucker finds, firstly, that “The task of social-sector organizations is to create human health and well being,” and secondly, that “They create citizenship”. Indeed, our modern society and polity has grown “so big and complex that citizenship — that is, responsible participation — is no longer possible” except for voting and paying taxes. Drucker further observes that many social-sector organizations “although partners with government, also clearly compete with government. The relationship between the two has yet to be worked out — and there is practically no precedent for it.”

Thus Drucker concludes that the knowledge society needs three formal sectors to function and progress properly — a public, a private, and a social sector:
“But one thing is already clear. The knowledge society has to be a society of three sectors: a public sector of government, a private sector of business, and a social sector. And I submit that it is becoming increasingly clear that through the social sector a modern developed society can again create responsible and achieving citizenship, and can again give individuals — especially knowledge workers — a sphere in which they can make a difference in society and re-create community.”
Moreover, the three sectors must learn to work together: The emergence of a social sector is “a central need of the society of organizations. But by itself it is not enough — the organizations of both the public and the private sector must share in the work.” He worries that “we do not have even the beginnings of political theory or the political institutions needed for effective government in the knowledge-based society of organizations.”

Indeed, in a remarkable passage that reads even more timely today, Drucker chastises the unhelpfulness of our political parties:
“There is thus in the society of organizations no one integrating force that pulls individual organizations in society and community into coalition. The traditional parties — perhaps the most successful political creations of the nineteenth century — can no longer integrate divergent groups and divergent points of view into a common pursuit of power. Rather, they have become battlefields between groups, each of them fighting for absolute victory and not content with anything but total surrender of the enemy.”
Wow! Except for Drucker’s basic proposal for recognizing a social sector, I’d long forgotten about his elaboration. Many of his points overlap with TIMN: e.g., by identifying health and education as key components of the new sector; seeing that many of its actors are non-profit organizations; finding its animating purpose in the promotion of people’s care and well-being; and arguing that the public, private, and social sectors must all work together. All such points reinforce my sense of TIMN’s future implications.

His observation about the citizenship-cultivating purposes of a social sector is new to me. I should consider adding that into TIMN, whether this new sector is called a social or commons sector (or something else).

Yet his proposal has some shortcomings too, both on its own and vis à vis TIMN: He makes no reference to the rise of the network form as a new dynamic enabling the growth of this social sector. He makes only passing references to how the public, private, and social sectors may and should interact. And there is nothing about the kinds of legal and financial initiatives that may be needed for a social sector to stand on its own and thrive. Of course, TIMN still has shortcomings in those regards too — and I’m still searching, open to suggestions.

To see the Drucker’s May 1994 article in full, go here:
For the November 1994 version, go here:

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