beyond civil society, governments, and markets

Binary thinking is an easy sell. It appeals to our emotions which we developed as children. Binary thinking blinds us. It’s not black and white, or right and wrong, or even Left and Right. Human society is many shades along various spectra. But often politicians and others tell us it’s a simple, binary choice — ”You’re either with us, or with the terrorists.’‘ —President George W. Bush (2001)

Thinking of our society as only Markets and Government (Institutions) ignores the influence and potential of families, communities, and the volunteer sector.  For instance, Public-Private Partnerships are not inclusive. They ignore the Civil sector.

“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.” —David Ronfeldt

Incorporating the third sector, civil society, into decision making is becoming evident in our connected world, especially with an ongoing pandemic.

“No combination of government fiat and market incentives, however cleverly designed, will produce solutions to problems like the pandemic. What we call civil society (or the community) provides essential elements of a strategy to kill COVID-19 without killing the economy.

The dual elements of the new theory – the limits of private contract and governmental fiat, along with a new view of a (sometimes) socially oriented economic actor – open up a space in which economic discourse can engage with the pandemic, as illustrated in Figure 1. The blue line at the top is the left-right (government-versus-market) continuum of choices that has dominated policy debates for a century. We develop these ideas further in a related paper (Bowles and Carlin 2020).” —VOX EU 2020-04-10

Three levels are better than two binary levels to govern society, but are they sufficient for a networked world? Do they address the complex and chaotic issues we face? Is this triform model sufficient to deal with the pandemic? The unprecedented cooperation amongst research scientists may indicate a globally connected fourth sector is emerging.

While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Nearly all other research has ground to a halt.

Normal imperatives like academic credit have been set aside. Online repositories make studies available months ahead of journals. Researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. More than 200 clinical trials have been launched, bringing together hospitals and laboratories around the globe.

“I never hear scientists — true scientists, good quality scientists — speak in terms of nationality,” said Dr. Francesco Perrone, who is leading a coronavirus clinical trial in Italy. “My nation, your nation. My language, your language. My geographic location, your geographic location. This is something that is really distant from true top-level scientists.” —NYT 2020-04-01

For now, I call this fourth sector the Commons.

My work has been significantly influenced by the work of Marshall and Eric McLuhan. I have combined their perspectives on media with the model developed by David Ronfeldt: T+I+M+N — overview, video, original paper (1996). My assumptions to date are as follows

  1. The three organizing forms for society, chronologically — Tribes, Institutions (Governments), Markets — are widely applicable across history.
  2. Each form builds on the other and changes it.
  3. The last form is the dominant form — today that would be the Market form (remember the effects of the 2008 market crash?)
  4. A new form is emerging — Networks (Commons)‚ and hence the T+I+M+N model.
  5. This form has also been called the noosphere.
  6. I have found evidence that what initiated each new form was a change in human communication media — T+I (written word), T+I+M (print), T+I+M+N (electric/digital).
  7. I believe we are currently in between a triform (T+I+M) and a quadriform (T+I+M+N) society, which accounts for much of the current political turmoil in our post-modern world.
  8. This model can help inform us how to build better organizational forms for a coming age of entanglement.

“The noosphere and noopolitik concepts relate to an organizational theme that has figured prominently in our work about the information revolution: the rise of network forms of organization that strengthen civil-society actors.” —Ronfeldt & Arquilla

Yes, we need to reinforce the first sector — tribes (civil society) and give it voice, before we can start developing new metamodern structures for the Commons. For example, voting every four years for (mostly) binary choices is not a voice. Then we can promote global conversations to develop the Commons. Scientists are leading the way but there are many other globally connected initiatives that can move us beyond a market-dominated society.

While civil society needs to be strengthened, we are in need of a larger, more connected form of organization that ensures worldwide cooperation. Nation states are too narrow-minded. For example, the $8Billion Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator joint venture, which includes a private/civil sector partner, is missing two key nations — China and the USA. Thinking beyond civil society, beyond governments, and beyond markets, will be the challenge of this century. We need a networked global commons.

One Response to “beyond civil society, governments, and markets”

  1. David Ronfeldt

    A delight to see. A delight also to see comparison to Bowles and Carlin’s work. I left upbeat comment on other sites, LinkedIn and Facebook. Onward.

    P.S.: I’m still working on all this, but very slowed-down nowadays. Next publication will be final version of “Whose Story Wins: Rise of the Noosphere, Noopolitik, and Information-Age Statecraft” — but it barely mentions TIMN, even though TIMN undergirds it.


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