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Dossiers and Documents : Discussion Papers : Non-state Actors and World Governance

Non-state Actors and World Governance

The theory of governance places growing importance on the role of non-state actors at every level of regulation

Non-state Actors and World Governance


Pierre Calame ¤ 2 June 2008 ¤
Translations: français (original) . Español . 中文 .

In analyzing regulation implemented by societies to ensure their survival and long-term development – which is the basis of the general definition of governance – is it impossible to isolate what is happening on the world stage from what is happening at other levels. Their development derives from the same changes in social realities and ideologies.

Therefore, no matter what the level of governance, a new vision has gradually come into being in the last fifty years: coproduction of public goods. Moreover, it is this evolution that has largely lead to the use, albeit controversial, of the term “governance”

In many countries, especially those adhering to Protestantism, state intervention has always been considered subsidiary to other forms of intervention. Family responsibility, community commitment and local administration are prioritized before public intervention, the very meaning of the word subsidiary. The latter should only be called upon when other levels of intervention have proved powerless. This is the definition of the confederation model, inspired by Germanic societies, in which the confederation level is theoretically a temporary delegation of power to a superior sphere for functions such as defense or international relations which cannot be addressed at a lower scale. At least… theoretically, similar to permanent taxation, born in Western civilization from temporary taxes linked to war efforts, and afterwards made permanent.

In monarchies and Catholic countries, mainly of Roman influence, public goods were provided by the King or Church and it was from this monopoly that the areas in which families and local communities could act were defined. The French Revolution did not change the fundamental aspects of this concept of governance. The people replaced the King and the state replaced the Church but in each case, the monopoly of power was maintained. From an absolutist point of view, the implication of non-state actors in public goods has always been seen as subordinate or with suspicion. It is not surprising in these countries to see taxation over voluntary contributions and associative movements being financially dependent on the state or territorial entities. Foundations are considered with suspicion as they may present a competitive threat (a private entity which claims to provide public goods and who, on top of this claims fiscal benefits!) This easily explains the difference in the number of foundations in Protestant and Catholic countries. China, as is demonstrated by its growing number of non governmental associations, is quite close to the French model. The Chinese Government is encouraging development of the tertiary sector to take on functions that neither the State nor the Communist Party can or are willing to assume. These are primarily social functions, but the development of associations is very strictly organized and each association is under the control of a Ministry; in the same way as in France for example, the foundations that are so called ‘for the public good’.

Over time these contrasting models, one that we could label as confederation and the other as centralized, have become more alike than discourse would have us think. As no problem can be addressed at one single level of governance confederate and federal states have therefore seen their central administration strengthened. At the same time, the majority of centralized regimes have undergone policies of decentralization. The co production of public goods using different actors is becoming increasingly favored and clearly cooperation between different actors is essential to this objective. This model based on the co production of public goods has substituted the dualist model of a public sector in charge of public goods and a private sector interested only in its own profit.

This is particularly valid when the state is seeking a presence in the international arena. For example, the United States think tanks, officially private organisations, hold an important role in the international diffusion of political doctrines and tend to feel a sense of patriotism to defend American interests. International cooperation cannot be reduced simply to the actions of Ministries of Foreign Affairs who liase only with their counterparts in other countries; Foundations, in particular, the big American foundations and the associative networks, the European international charitable NGOs have played a major role in the conception and implementation of policies.

Awareness regarding the provision of common goods has evolved in roundabout way. The more sophisticated a society becomes, the more the quality of its public services (transport, health and education) impacts on its economic efficiency and its social cohesion, the more the conditions of economic efficiency themselves require a cooperation between public and private actors and between public and private management systems. It is interesting to note therefore that the Lisbon Treaty promotes entirely the idea of Services of General Interest (SGI) within the EU. The EU recognizes that all needs cannot be met by commercial trade but does not consider either that there should be a monopoly of state actors providing public services.

There is no reason why global governance should not also apply this theory.

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