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- Renewing democracy through associations | openDemocracy!
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Peter Botsman 26 July This word article was originally published in Social Alternatives 25 February and was first presented as a guest lecture within the School of Politics at the University of Newcastle, October 20, Shopping cart There are no products in your shopping cart. Brand new Book. Seller Inventory AAV Seller Inventory FTH Book Description Frank Cass , This item is printed on demand. Brand new book, sourced directly from publisher.
The Real Third Way: Associative Democracy & the Challenge to Economic and Political Rationalism
Dispatch time is working days from our warehouse. Book will be sent in robust, secure packaging to ensure it reaches you securely. Book Description Routledge , Condition: NEW. For all enquiries, please contact Herb Tandree Philosophy Books directly - customer service is our primary goal. Delivered from our UK warehouse in 4 to 14 business days. Book Description Frank Cass, Book Description Routledge. Seller Inventory Veit Bader. Mutual institutions have considerable inherent economic advantages over conventional plcs, but these need explicit defense not only as good value to savers and borrowers but also in political terms.
This defense associationalism can provide. In both England and Denmark in the nineteenth century social conditions were favourable to the building of new institutions. The physical character of medium-sized English manufacturing towns favoured collective action. Workers were concentrated in mines and factories and in housing close to the plants.
In the Danish case peasant society was reconstructed as part of a national renaissance in response to the events of and , and it enjoyed elite support and leadership in promoting cooperation through the cultural renewal movement of N. It is as much a part of institution building as the creation of states and companies. It requires agency and leadership; this need not be directed by the state, but it does require public policies that favour it and do not impede it. Thus the existence of pressures against existing forms of association, current declining memberships and levels of participation are not an intrinsic reason why associations cannot be re-built.
However, such re-building needs new substitutes for the forms of collective action that worked in the nineteenth century and which social conditions militate against today.
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It also needs new forms of membership and not just the old activist participation. Indeed, many voices see new forms of association as the way to renew democratic politics. Many international reformers see action across frontiers by a new transnational public drawn from different nation states as the only way to create the political pressure necessary to address world problems like climate change or global inequality.
In a similar vein social theorists like Manuel Castells have emphasized the growing salience of network power and the declining role of formal institutions. Such networks are built up by interaction and can be regarded as a form of association. Networks within and between nations, public and private, legitimate and criminal are the emerging forms of governance. Whilst it is helpful to see other arguments for the continued relevance of association, I am not going to rely on such claims here because I think they are deeply flawed.
There are good reasons to be skeptical about the claims of the advocates of a new network politics and of theorists like Castells. The main problem with network governance, as I have claimed above, is that networks tend to be exclusive, and thus of differential benefit to insiders, and also evanescent, because they are weakly institutionalized they are difficult to sustain. States remain far more central than either the advocates of global democratic associations or of network governance believe.
The kind of associations that are necessary to renew national level democracies are institutions and primarily nationally focused ones concerned with the provision of services. Such institutions are voluntary but they have rules, they persist through time, and they are inclusive in the sense that anyone who subscribes to their objectives can join them. Relatively stable institutions are needed to address the problems of uncertainty and risk. Networks are either, too fluid to do this alone, or, they are themselves institutionalized to a considerable degree, using forms of monitoring to ensure the commitments of their members.
Networks that can ensure compliance and thus routinize contributions from members are more robust than those which need constantly to renew cooperation and which rely on voluntary compliance. Networks made up by links between associations, with robust mechanisms for ensuring compliance, are a valuable supplementary means of extending the scale and scope of associational governance.
It is also the case that new communications media, like the Internet, simplify coordination, making it easier and less costly. Thus they help to overcome problems of collective action created by social dispersal, but only if there are real associative foci around which such virtual networks can constellate.
Virtual networks cannot replace real associations, not least because they create new problems of monitoring and compliance. They can, however, help the formation of associations by finding new members at low cost. To return to the reform issues to which associative governance is a possible solution. There are three main ones: in welfare, community self-governance, and corporate governance. My examples will be derived from the UK. First, welfare states in the developed world are under increasing pressure from three main sources: tax aversion, an aging population and conflicts over the content of services.
In each of these areas a shift to provision through associations would have distinct benefits. In the UK for example tax aversion has become a major constraint on the possibility of enhancing welfare services. The UK spends a lower percentage of its GDP on education, health and social protection than most comparable European countries, but these are of relatively poor quality and not subject to consumer control.
Funding and standard setting are highly centralized. Services that people identify with are those they are more likely to be willing to pay for. To enjoy the advantages of collective consumption citizens must feel the goods are worthwhile. In Denmark by and large that is the case, although taxes are among the highest in the EU.
In the UK education and health are perceived as poor services by upper income earners who typically seek private provision, and in consequence they regard taxes as a reduction of their welfare and are reluctant to pay more. Equally, for most citizens collective provision is necessary, they cannot provide for all services and contingencies on the open market.
Moreover, international competition means a tendency to shift taxes from capital to labour and consumers, thus increasing the constraint of tax aversion. The solution is to reform the UK welfare state so that consumers have both more direct control over the services they are offered, so that they can craft them to their own needs, and also augment basic state funding with their own additional contributions.
This means a switch to the insurance principle in health funding with a small number of competing mutual insurers. Citizens would receive a tax credit for their basic contributions and the poor would receive income transfers to fund their subscriptions. Citizens would have the option of switching between funds at regular intervals. Something similar could be constructed for pensions, merging the state and private systems into a system of mutual funds each large enough to ensure economies of scale, but sufficiently diverse to ensure competition.
The UK may be an extreme example of centralization and state control, but it shows why the mutual and associative elements of other systems need to be preserved and enhanced. An aging population poses severe threats to conventional welfare based on conventional paid labour.
The Real Third Way: Associative Democracy & the Challenge to Economic and Political Rationalism
Yet the aged are an untapped resource and in a system that gave a central role to the third sector the divisions between service providers and recipients, paid and unpaid labour, could be broken down. This will only happen if voluntary contributions become valued and incentives are provided for people over 50 who are not in employment to do voluntary work.
Voluntary work in associations providing public services might thus attract tax credits or additional contributions to future benefits.
Volunteering should not be seen as something spontaneous, independent of public policy. However, once supported third sector activity will tend to expand and encourage wider commitment to associations. It is also the case that while public policy should not discourage strongly participatory and local associations that a shift to associational provision should make provision for large ones and also for limited commitments of members. In Associative Democracy I have argued that the possibility of exit, making it possible to switch periodically and without excessive complexity or financial penalty between providers, is a central democratic device.
It both promotes individual choice and acts as a constraint on unsatisfactory performance. Exit is a constraint on large organizations, where voice seeking to change the elected board may be difficult and costly. Converting organizations into mutual associations with the option of exit is thus a key way of challenging the organizational society.
Lastly in the welfare agenda there is a central issue of the way services are provided and not just the quantity of those services. Value positions are increasingly diverse, people have very different ideas of what education and health should be like and they should be accommodated as far as possible in public provision.
Associative Democracy | The Real Third Way | Taylor & Francis Group
Some people may prefer highly participative and alternative services, and they should be able to use their basic public entitlements to do so. Competition in the content and the manner of provision of services is essential to the health of institutions. One of the things people do want to choose in the way services are delivered is locality.
Yet many people especially in rural areas find the withdrawal of local schools and hospitals highly unsatisfactory - a 15 km drive to a secondary school or 30 km drive to a general hospital are not unusual. Associative provision gives localities the option of choosing less elaborate but easy to reach services under their own control.
Second, there is the necessity of accommodating plural communities with differing values and standards, including ethic, religious, and lifestyle groups.
People have very different ideas of how life should be regulated, how risks should be contained, and the type public goods they deem necessary. The obvious solution is to embrace such pluralism fully and to accept parallel governance by community associations, different communities applying different standards side by side. This idea terrifies traditional social democrats and republicans, who believe in universal provision and a common political culture. Yet we are closer to a common political culture than we have been for a century, all significant political forces accept representative democracy and the primacy of the market.
Rightist and Volkisch parties want to exclude refugees and migrants, but they cannot impose cultural homogeneity and they know it. There are two ways of accommodating self-regulating communities, geographical exception and parallel rules. In the latter communities apply their own customary laws to their consenting members, to some extent this already applies, for example, in the case of Jewish family law. Such practices can be extended to remove most conflicts over social standards, with the proviso that citizens must be free not to consent and to exit communities, and that such rights be upheld by the state.
The state remains the arbiter of which rules have primacy and it is still a representative democracy in which the majority has the option of insisting that certain rules apply to all. There is significant support for such community governance from many minority communities, including strongly the various Muslim communities. This frightens those who fear Islamic extremism, yet most Muslims wish quietly to govern themselves alone, are not fanatics and not wish to impose their will on others.
Empowering minority communities is more likely to promote their adaptation to a pluralistic host society than more or less open policies of assimilation. Facilitating community services through public funds available to associations proportional to membership, for schools, welfare centres and so on, is one way to allow local control and prevent alienation. This does not just apply to ethnic and religious minorities. Many interests are ill served by the existing system. Gays often find existing medical treatment condescending, and many parents of dyslexic children in London would like public funds to establish a secondary school, to pick two examples at random.
A society of strong communities is more likely to sustain democracy, albeit a conflictual and contestational one, than a society of isolated and passive individuals. Third, there is the necessity of renewing the governance of organizations. We live in an organizational society, yet the forms of control over large organizations both public and private have atrophied. This is most evident in the case of companies. Shareholders in Anglo-Saxon systems seldom exercise the political rights they do have, they exit if they are not satisfied and the secondary market in shares lets them do so easily.
They also rely on the market to sanction company management.
Other stakeholders have no political rights and often no easy exit option through the market. Modern companies exhibit a clear divorce of ownership and control, where dispersed and indifferent shareholders leave policy to managers. It would hardly be possible to claim that corporate governance performs its political functions well, almost no aspect of the current system is satisfactory from passive shareholders, to weak non-executive directors, to compliant auditors.
Yet corporations organized the major part of formal social life. It is thus essential to consider the role of alternatives to corporate structures. Corporate careers do not breed democratic habits, but compliant and conformist personalities. Low institutional accountability within companies is coupled with the absence of an external challenge from alternative institutions.
The presence of such alternatives is an essential check on the power of hierarchical organizations over people. They give people the option of exit and to the extent they are readily available temper the power of managerial hierarchies and the conformist norms they impose.
Unions did this to some extent, but in the private sector in the UK and USA union density is low, and the current tendency of unions is to promote the further bureaucratization of work. It is unlikely that any generalized reform of corporate governance is possible in the foreseeable future. The managerial class has too much influence and people will identify it with socialism. Promoting alternatives is by no means impossible, however.
Thus promoting a strong small business and artisan sector gives individuals an alternative to big corporations and it encourages competition. Likewise defending and extending the mutual sector has the same effect, if mutuals are recognized a distinct institutions that need to be run on the basis of different goals to conventional corporations. This can only happen if public policy makes such alternative options attractive and ring fences them by protective laws.
The scope for mutual initiative is considerable, but it depends on the revival of cooperative and mutual political movements. There is some sign that this is happening on a local level, but so far it has been met by indifference from the major political parties. This paper has attempted to examine the current crisis of modern representative democracy and how associationalism might contribute to its resolution. Democracy can be renewed but on two conditions. First, that the burden placed on representative institutions by complex public service states is reduced but without reducing public services.
Associationalism provides for governance that is public but non-state. Second that the role of non-state institutions in promoting the habits of association and participation is promoted.