Friday, March 8, 2019

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #7: early concepts about adding a new sector to our society

I wish to speculate more about an implication of TIMN theory: Those Democrats who are advocating socialism for our society should stop, and instead call for “socialism in one sector” — perhaps a new “commons sector” — to be developed alongside our old public and private sectors. Socialism as a society-wide system won’t sell politically, and it wouldn’t work anyway. But socialist principles limited to helping create and animate an innovative new sector could be attractive, viable, and beneficial. A “new sectorism” could invigorate America’s evolution from its current triform system to a next-generation quadriform system. True conservatives would end up benefitting from such a quadriform sectoral redesign as much as anyone on the Left, for it could mean healthier families, stronger communities, a less burdened government, and more freed-up market system.

I’ve begun to argue for this vision in prior posts in this series, and want to continue doing so. But right now I’m intent on a less exciting, more academic, historical task. I’m trying to back-track early ideas that foretell how and why our America should turn to add a strong new sector of activity — like a commons sector. From a TIMN standpoint, it would be a fourth sector and would complement the rise of TIMN’s fourth form, the +N networks form.

Our liberal-democratic system has long had two formal sectors: the public and private sectors, corresponding to government and business respectively. Our leaders try to fit policy issues and problems into one of both of those; and when they can’t, they often toss it back onto the shoulders of civil society at the community, family, or other associational level. This level amounts to a kind of informal sector that in a sense predates the other two, and is sometimes known as the civic or civil sector. Thus, in TIMN terms, we have a triform system consisting on one informal (related to T) and two formal sectors (one related to +I, the other to +M).

Increasingly, however, new theories — TIMN in particular — foretell that these three sectors will not suffice much longer for organizing and dealing with how complex our society has become. Thus, as I keep arguing à la TIMN, our society is on the verge of a long unsettling transition for evolving (or failing to evolve) beyond our current triform system, toward developing a more-complex quadriform system that has a fourth sector (based on +N), in addition to the one informal and two formal sectors noted above.

Since I’m not the first social theorist to try to foretell the rise of a new sector, it may help to know: (1) Over the years, what other theorists have foretold the emergence of a strong new sector that would fit, formally, alongside the public and private sectors? (2) What names have they proposed for it? (3) What actors and activities do they expect will go into this new sector?

Post #6 in this series highlighted Peter Drucker’s (1993) call for adding an “autonomous social sector” to America’s system, so that it would consist of three formal sectors: a public, private, and social sector. His is the oldest such call I’ve found. And he placed in it many of the actors and activities that make sense to me from a TIMN perspective — i.e., nonprofit NGOs, most of them performing community services, particularly in areas of health and education. Moreover, it’s striking that this pioneering call for a new sector came from a conservative, for almost all other such calls are more-or-less leftist.

Here’s what else I find:

Right after Drucker’s (1993) call for a “social sector”, Lester Salamon (1994) and Jeremy Rifkin (1995) called for recognizing a “third sector,” which they also viewed as a “nonprofit sector” and “voluntary sector.” Ann Florini (2000) continued in this “nonprofit sector” and “third sector” vein. Then, William Drayton (2002) referred to a “citizen sector” comprised of “social entrepreneurs.” Paul Light (2008) added “social benefit sector.” David Bollier (2008) proposed “commons sector” — a concept developed by Michel Bauwens as well. Lately, Henry Mintzberg (2014) has proposed “plural sector.” And Ina Praetorius (2015) called attention to a “care sector.” Other terms, whose origins I’ve not found, include “civil sector,” “civic sector,” “community sector,” “volunteer sector,” and “public-interest sector.”

The earliest proposals — Drucker’s “social sector,” Salamon’s and Rifkin’s “third sector” based on a “nonprofit sector” — all appeared in the mid 1990s, over two decades ago, and they still read quite prophetically. They are all resolute about America’s need to recognize and construct a new formal sector. So are recent proposals for a “commons sector” — à la Bollier, Bauwens. My impression is that these five theorists are the true proto-quadriformists of the lot. They (and Florini) often used the term “third sector” — but that’s because they only recognized the public and private sectors as formal sectors, treating civil society less as a real sector than as a vast sphere from which new actors and activities arise. (Besides, over time, the term “third sector” has dropped out of use.)

The other proposals — Drayton’s “citizen sector,” Light’s “social benefit sector,” Mintzberg’s “plural sector,” Praetorius’s “care sector” — are not about evolving a quadriform system, but about clarifying and reforming the existing triform system. They aim to do so by singling out certain rising actors and activities in civil society and according them greater significance, even formalizing their roles — not as a brand new sector but as valuable new sub-sectors of civil society and the economy. Drayton and Mintzberg focus on renaming and redefining what’s new in civil society; they would make civil society’s role a more formal part of the triad. Our system would thereby consist of a more formal “citizen” or “plural” sector, plus a public and private sector — it would thus still be a triform system. Light and Praetorius also illuminate the rise of new kinds sof actors and activities that mean new sub-sectors are growing in civil society and the economy.

My preliminary conclusions regarding TIMN are as follows:

• All these past proposals, whether triformist or quadriformist, observe that non-profit civil-society NGOs (non-governmental organizations) were, and will likely remain, key actors behind the rise of this nascent sector. While these NGOs are viewed as new actors emerging from civil society, later proposals that emphasize “social entrepreneurs” (see below) have them emerging from the economy as well as civil society.

This accords somewhat with TIMN. My first publication on TIMN (1996) likewise emphasized that non-profit NGOs and CSOs (civil society organizations) were gaining power and influence, by operating conjointly through the use of new information-age network formations. But today, decades later, my sense of what a “fourth sector” will look like involves much more than NGOs and CSOs — my current projection has sizable healthcare and educational enterprises moving into the new sector.

• All these proposals see their respective new sectors as arising in response to shortcomings and failings by government and business actors to fulfill people’s needs, now that America has become so complex. Accordingly, the new sector may help counter-balance the powers of the old public and private sectors, but the new sector should also lead to new ways for all sectors to cooperate with each other and become more effective.

This accords well with TIMN. For it too is concerned with identifying proper limits and balances and recognizing cooperative relations among TIMN’s four forms and the sectors they generate.

• The earliest of these varied proposals emphasized social and cultural as much as economic concerns. But over time these proposals have increasingly emphasized economic actors and activities. The terms “social entrepreneurs” and “benefit corporations” (“B Corps”) come into use to portray the kinds of actors who will define a new sector — in writings first by Drayton (who coined the term “social entrepreneurs”), then by Light and others, and lately in new work by Rifkin (2014). Thus a contrast appears between business and social entrepreneurs, with the latter playing growing roles in the provisioning of social goods and services. Moreover, by emphasizing the economic nature of the proposed new sector, these theorists can make their views part and parcel of their desires to criticize capitalism. They make the new sector’s importance more about the economy than anything else.

This does not accord with TIMN, for TIMN implies that a new +N sector will be entirely distinct. It may be viewed in economic terms, just as people today often take an economic view of the existing family/community (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. But the next sector will not be simply an economic sector — of TIMN’s four forms and their sectors, only the +M sector is primarily economic in nature. Theorists have not yet grasped the likely distinctive nature of the new sector. It may well include many actors and activities that are viewed from economic perspectives today — e.g., in areas of health, education, and the environment — but they will be viewed in entirely different terms in the future. Remember, the rise of each of the earlier TIMN forms and their sectors generated entirely new fields of analysis: e.g., anthropology, sociology, political science, economics. This will occur again. (Perhaps resulting in something like “commonomics”?)

• Several proposals treat “wellbeing” and “care” as key purposes of the new sectors — notably Drucker, by observing that “The task of social-sector organizations is to create human health and well being.” Praetorius also insists on the importance of the “care sector” of the economy, and urges that economics concepts be made far more “care-centered,” particularly to value in-home health services. (More to the point, I just ran across an NYT op-ed by Courtney Martin that asks “Why does our care infrastructure get left to nonprofits that rely on philanthropy and good will?”)

This seems a positive precedent for TIMN. The actors and activities I foresee defining the next new sector — notably for health, education, and the environment — have in common that they are all about “care” in the broadest senses, both individually and collectively, and across people’s life spans.

• All past proposals recognized that the new information and communications technologies were empowering new actors, especially ones that were relatively small and isolated, by enabling them to connect and coordinate as never before. The later proposals also observed that these actors were gaining advantages by using new network forms of organization.

This accords with TIMN. It has long held that the information and communications technology revolution favors the rise of new network forms of organization, and that their spread would prompt a vast reorganization of society, leading to the emergence of a new +N realm or sector of activity, quite distinct from the established +I public and +M private sectors.

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD: I’m not sure how useful is this look-back. But it helps to show that ideas and other impulses for generating a major new sector have been gathering for decades. This look-back also reminds me that, of all the theorists discussed here, I most wish Drucker had lived longer and written more about his “social sector” concept. And I’d like to have consulted him about it. He would have been accessible; for he lived in Claremont, my home town, taught at the Claremont Graduate University, and retired to nearby San Antonio Gardens, same place as my parents. I even shook hands with him there in quick passing —another opportunity I didn’t seize. In any case, I find Drucker’s “social sector” concept and Bollier’s and Bauwens’ “commons sector” concept to be the most germane for the further development of TIMN — but not if such concepts keep being projected in overly economic terms, for the next new sector will not be primarily about economics, as I shall continue to elaborate.

My own hypothesis remains what I’ve long said: Aging contentions that “government” (+I) or “the market” (+M) is the solution to particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to new ideas that “the network” (+N) is the solution. For now, I think that “social sector” and “commons sector” are the most promising of the foregoing ideas. Even so, I remain uncertain what a +N sector may end up being named, what its key purposes will be, and what actors will define it. But I have some inklings and will continue to share them.

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Right after Drucker’s (1993) call for a “social sector,” Lester Salamon (1994) and Jeremy Rifkin (1995) called for recognition of a “third sector” alongside the established public and private sectors. In Salamon’s case, this grew out of his work on the growth of the “nonprofit sector” around the world, in Rifkin’s case more because of his interest in understanding changing work conditions and the growth of a “social economy” in the United States.

Here’s how each framed his call:

According to sociologist Lester Salamon, writing in “The Rise of the Nonprofit Sector,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 1994,
“A striking upsurge is under way around the globe … people are forming associations, foundations and similar institutions to deliver human services, promote grass-roots economic development, prevent environmental degradation, protect civil rights and pursue a thousand other objectives formerly unattended or left to the state.
“The scope and scale of this phenomenon are immense. Indeed, we are in the midst of a global “associational revolution” that may prove to be as significant to the latter twentieth century as the rise of the nation-state was to the latter nineteenth. The upshot is a global third sector: a massive array of self-governing private organizations, not dedicated to distributing profits to shareholders or directors, pursuing public purposes outside the formal apparatus of the state. The proliferation of these groups may be permanently altering the relationship between states and citizens, with an impact extending far beyond the material services they provide. Virtually all of America’s major social movements, for example, whether civil rights, environmental, consumer, women’s or conservative, have had their roots in the nonprofit sector.” (p. 109)
Salamon held that “politicians on both the political right and left have tended to downplay these institutions” (p. 110). Indeed, “The nonprofit sector has clearly arrived as a major actor on the world scene, but it has yet to make its mark as a serious presence in public consciousness, policy circles, the media or scholarly research” (p. 121). So, looking ahead, he urges that the third sector “must now find ways to strengthen its institutional capacities and contribute more meaningfully to the solution of major problems.” Particularly decisive will be finding “a modus vivendi with government that provides sufficient legal and financial support while preserving a meaningful degree of independence and autonomy.” (p.122)

Economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin made similar points about the rise of a “third sector” in his book The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era (1995):
“The foundation for a strong, community-based third force in American politics already exists. Although much attention in the modern era has been narrowly focused on the private and public sectors, there is a third sector in American life that has been of historical significance in the making of the nation, and that now offers the distinct possibility of helping to reshape the social contract in the twenty-first century.” (p. 239)
“Despite the fact that the third sector is gaining on the other two sectors in the American economy and boasts economic clout that exceeds the GNP of most nations, it is often ignored by political scientists, who prefer to view America as being made up of just two realms — the private and the public. Yet it is the independent sector that has traditionally played a critical mediating role between the formal economy and the government, taking on tasks and performing services that the other two sectors are unwilling or incapable of handling, and often acting as an advocate on behalf of groups and constituencies whose interests are being ignored by the marketplace or compromised in the councils of government.” (p. 241)
“The third sector is the most socially responsible of the three sectors. It is the caring realm that ministers to the needs and aspirations of millions of individuals who, for one reason or another, have been left out, excluded from consideration, or not been adequately taken care of by either the commercial or public spheres.” (pp. 242-243)
For Rifkin, this third sector represented mostly an informal “social economy” that revolves around service-oriented nonprofit and voluntary organizations. Yet he held that “the spirit of the social economy has yet to gell into a powerful countervailing world view capable of setting the agenda for a nation … due, in large part, to the extraordinary hold that the values of the marketplace continue to exert over the affairs of the nation.” (pp. 245-246) Thus, looking ahead, he too advocates “[f]orging a new partnership between the government and third sector” (p. 250).

At present, two decades later, Rifkin is continuing in this vein, but with variations, notably in his book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (2015). Instead of identifying the “third sector” with the “social economy”, he now sees the latter more as part of a new hybrid economy that consists of “one, a capitalist economy operating in the market, and the other a social economy operating on the Commons” (p. 322). Thus his “third sector” has morphed into being about “social Commons” and “collaborative commons.”