• Short Circuits and Market Failure: Theories of the Civic Sector

      Zuidervaart, Lambert; Institute for Christian Studies (Phaidea Project Online, 1998-08)
      This paper reviews three social scientific accounts of the civic sector's role in society: the government failure, contract failure, and voluntary failure theories. All three explain the role of nonprofit organizations as compensating for the market's failure to provide certain collective goods. This approach involves a radical misinterpretation of the underlying principles of civic sector organizations. An account is needed that explains their economy in terms of their normative concerns, rather than explaining normative concerns in terms of their economy. I lay a foundation for such an account by examining (1) the self-understanding among civic sector organizations that they should be "mission-driven," and (2) the implications of this self-understanding for the sector as a "social economy." Whereas "mission-drivenness" calls attention to service-provision, resource-sharing, and open communication as the normative core of civic sector organizations, the notion of a "social economy" suggests a recirculation of money into channels where standard economic logic no longer holds. The key to the civic sector's role lies not in responses to market failure, but in the short-circuiting of a money-driven capitalist economy.