We Must Rebalance the Market Economy and the Public Benefit Economy

Sector Policy and Structure on August 31st, 2009

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The description of the public benefit economy has resonated with many in the nonprofit sector and is now frequently incorporated into discussions about the sector. The flood of thoughtful feedback I received to my initial article has helped me move my thinking along. Following up on my article that developed the concept of a public benefit economy I am now calling for a rebalancing of the market and public benefit economies.

Today after the meltdown of the market economy, paying closer attention to the public benefit economy seems like a good idea. The public benefit economy operates in our communities on principles that are fundamentally different from those of the market economy. In the public benefit economy success is measured not by how much wealth is amassed but by how much our common wealth is shared, preserved for future generations, or given away.

A key rebalancing player is Government. The capacity and function of government over the last twenty years, similar to the nonprofit sector, has also suffered from our society’s preoccupation with the market economy. Government is an important component of the public benefit economy. With the economic collapse, governments around the world have become more active on behalf of the public good and we are seeing renewed energy and purpose from government in the public domain.

As individuals, we all participate in both economies as we go about our daily lives. The two economies are inextricably intertwined and both are needed components of strong communities; but the importance and contribution of the public benefit economy to our well-being has been neglected for too many years. In recent times the market economy has commanded all of our attention. Now, with the world wide economic difficulties it is time to pay more attention to the quiet, behind the scenes, other economy.

When times get tough, individuals, communities and nation states rely more heavily on the public benefit economy. Helping out your neighbour, coaching the local soccer team, and social agencies helping people in distress are the kinds of activities we know and expect from this economy. Less well understood is its contribution to creativity and innovation. Public benefit organizations are structured so as to retain their assets (creative and material) in the public domain now and for future generations. Arts organizations, social enterprises, community and religious groups, cooperatives and other charitable or nonprofit organizations nurture, and nourish new ways of doing things, new ideas, new solutions to the challenges we face.

Government and public benefit organizations need to work together to enable, value and grow the contribution of the public benefit economy. If we can revalue the public benefit economy - our capacity to give and share with each other, we can approach our challenges with new perspective and new opportunities.

We must seize this opportunity if we are to build the caring communities we all want to live in. Government, the Nonprofit Sector and Business all have important contributions to make our collective well-being but no single component has all the answers. Government and the nonprofit sector are not commercial businesses, we do not respond to the laws of the market nor should we. We work for the public good. It is time there was more recognition of the contributions of the public benefit economy.

What can you do to advance our collective understanding of the public benefit economy? What should others be doing? Share your ideas. I want to hear from you. Please contact me.

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