Wednesday, June 5, 2019
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.]