【Marketizing the NGO Sector】There is the Market, but where is the Fairness?

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In the recent debate concerning whether NGOs should become market-oriented, Mr. Yongguang Xu advocated unequivocally for the marketization of NGOs, while another young colleague also gave voice to his own concerns. It is a pity however that by the end of the debate neither party had really delved deep into the matter. The impetus for my writing this article is my belief that the question of whether NGOs should be market-oriented should be at the forefront of our discussions and receive attention in a more meaningful and serious way.

The first key point I would like to cover is the question, “What exactly is marketization (市场化)?”  In the Chinese two-character word for “market” the first character, “shi” implies a transaction, while the second character, “chang” implies a physical market location or square. Therefore this compound, “shichang”, can be understood as a system of transactions. The term “transaction” implies a transfer and exchange of property rights. The term “market” does not necessarily mean a free market. The existence of free markets and non-free markets is not a matter of black or white, and instead refers to a spectrum (or say a degree of relationship) between the two extremes in the marketplace. In this sense “marketization” refers to the establishment of a system of transaction. Moreover, “marketization” ideally is oriented towards a market with a higher degree of freedom. As the process of marketization advances, aspects such as efficiency and competition will be the main driving forces of this transaction-based system.

With this being said, should NGOs become market-oriented? The answer to this question is extremely complex, and is explored in several dimensions in the discussion below.

First of all, in the vast majority of popular discussions NGOs are considered to be part of the domain of “civil society”. NGOs are connected to civil society in the same way government is connected to the country, and enterprises to the market. Here it should be emphasized that the concept of “civil society” is by no means inherently virtuous. Rather, it simply describes the presence of a field that may or may not have an objective existence.

On the one hand, during the progression of tremendous changes happening in the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War the relationship between civil society and democracy began to be emphasized (of course discussion of the relationship between these two concepts did not begin in the Cold War, but rather earlier during the period of the French Revolution, when French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville emphasized the relationship and its impact on the development of the United States). The word “democracy” began to be viewed with a positive connotation, while in everyday conversation the term was seldom elaborated on, and its definition became more muddled.

On the other hand, not long after the term “civil society” had entered China, certain prominent social activists successfully reduced it to its lowest common denominator, and as such the term successfully gained an ideological connotation (as a result it also became more politically sensitive).

Secondly, at the time when the concept of civil society was first being proposed its purpose was to describe a kind of public action that lies outside of the government. At present we understand society as divided into three sectors: country, society, and the market. Therefore, civil society and the market exist in a parallel relationship. While the two may overlap in places, they can never completely replace one another. In this sense, NGOs and enterprises can also be related and have areas of overlap, but can never replace one another.

Thirdly, NGOs that tend towards the market exist not only in China, but around the world. However, opinions differ wildly on how to judge this tendency. Take the most obvious example of a market-oriented tendency, the United States. Supporters of the market-orientation believe that NGOs should optimize the sector by a constant consideration of efficiency and competition. Opponents believe in being watchful of and resisting a market-orientation, which they believe only serves to intensify the restrictions capitalism places on the sector. It is important to keep in mind that the extent of the market-orientation for NGOs differs greatly by country, and attitudes towards market-orientation also span the spectrum of support and opposition. Hastily put, in general American NGOs have a slightly more evident tendency towards market-orientation, and the voice of supporters is heard slightly more loudly (however, this voice does not overshadow that of the opposition, since the two sides are approximately equal). In contrast other countries tend to have a weaker tendency towards market-orientation in the civil sector, and opposition voices ring slightly stronger. Out of these, Britain stands as an interesting example. Originally British NGOs were much less market-oriented than those in the US, yet to some extent Britain is the birthplace of social enterprise. In 2004/2005 individuals such as Chris Jones and Iain Ferguson issued a declaration entitled “Social Work and Social Justice”, reflecting on a variety of problems in British social work. Later these reflections moved beyond solely the field of social work, and became more widely accepted among NGOs. Therefore criticisms of the market-orientation within civil society have grown in the past years, almost to the point of reaching a consensus.

Fourthly, if the tendency toward market-orientation is conducive to the development of NGOs, why have we not reached a consensus on the issue, but rather created widespread blocks on market-orientation, and made it the subject of widespread suspicion and even criticism? This is due to the innate differences between the logic of civil society and the logic of the market. The market aims to maximize profit, while civil society aims for social justice. Likewise, these differing aims correlate to an innate difference in the logic of the work of enterprises and NGOs. Enterprises operate under the logic of efficiency, to achieve maximum benefits with minimum costs and risk. In contrast, NGOs operate under the logic of empowerment, aiming to facilitate their participants’ level of self-awareness and self-sufficiency, and to improve their present state of being. Although these distinctions between the goals of civil society and the market sometimes may overlap, they more often serve to contradict one another. It is difficult to imagine a possible integration between the logic of efficiency and that of empowerment. The reason for this is simple; efficiency depends upon specialization and the division of labor, which in itself is a procedure of discipline NGOs through “disempowerment”, precisely what NGOs exist to reflect upon and oppose.

In that case, returning to the Chinese context, do Chinese NGOs need to become market-oriented?

To answer this question, one must first understand the context in which market-orientation was first proposed for NGOs. Firstly, it must be understood that the NGO sector in China is very strange, with a great number of “government-led non-governmental organizations” (GONGOs). Thirty years after the reform and opening up of China (since early 1980s) the NGO sector remains largely unchanged and closed. This means that GONGOs occupy an unreasonably dominant position with a profusion of internal corruption, leaving citizens in a difficult position, relatively powerless to take steps forward. As I understand, these are the problems Mr. Yongguang Xu wished to solve with his proposal for market-orientation in the sector. Secondly, one must understand that the past thirty years of reform and opening up have created a successful and victorious narrative, with the advent of a market economy actually facilitating a process of awakening and re-energization of civil society. These two processes occurred simultaneously, and are connected both through similarities and differences. However, the narrative of the victory of the market economy has overshadowed the narrative of a reawakened civil society, causing marketization to be widely considered as an effective (or indeed even the only) means to an end. There are few countries that resemble the Chinese case of having transitioned from a non-market based economy to a market-based economy, and likewise possess a large number of both economic fundamentalists and die-hard economic liberals. This is the inevitable result of the victorious narrative of the past thirty years of reform and opening up. As I understand it, this is possibly the foundation and justification for Mr. Yongguang Xu’s advocacy of “Marketization for the Public Good” (公益市场化).

However, if we return to the problems mentioned above it is not difficult to realize that “Marketization” in itself does not necessarily achieve the end of the “administrative-orientation” (in the words of Yongguang Xu, 去行政化). Another young colleague involved in this conversation wrote an article which discusses the problem of countries disciplining NGOs through the means of the market, and which emphasized “Market Leninism” (市场列宁主义) as a framework to analyze Chinese NGOs. Unfortunately this did not lead to detailed discussion or gain the attention of many.The framework of “Market Leninism” originates from Mr. Xueqin Zhu’s text “Reform and Opening: Lessons Learned” [1]. The text describes the drawbacks and pitfalls after the reforms of Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour [2]; the combination of a political system which had not yet changed with a capitalist economic system, and the resulting alliance of power and capital in the country. These drawbacks and pitfalls exist not only in the market, but also in the NGO sector. One need only take a hard look at the last few years of the boom in “government purchase of services” to realize these purchases are undoubtedly an important step in the process of marketization. Far from promoting the development of NGOs (and without even mentioning the topic of false prosperity of NGOs sector), this has bred a variety of problems, including problems that even fundamentally threaten the healthy ecology of NGOs.

Moreover, NGOs many times can and should be challengers, or at least doubters, of the market, a point that is particularly important in today’s China. Today’s China is facing many serious problems. Labor rights in particular are a sharp issue. NGOs seem a promising means of addressing and fixing these problems. However, if the NGO sector continues to emphasize market-oriented policies and aims for “efficiency”, perhaps no progress will be made on the labor issue. By this same token, the past thirty years have brought tremendous changes when it comes to views on gender and intimate relationships. Due to these changes, feminism has arisen both as an inevitable moral call and as a societal requirement. Feminism itself possesses a very clear and enlightening criticism of language such as “market”, “efficiency”, and “allocation of resources”. Space limits my ability to expand upon this topic further, but I simply want to say that organizations working in this sector perhaps need not and will not accept the call for “marketization”.

It is true that “traditional” NGOs that simply provide charity are constantly receiving criticism (and even Mr. Yongguang Xu himself does not approve of this) and desperately need to update their work ethics and methods. On the other hand, it is precisely those NGOs themselves that see no need to orient themselves toward the market, because as soon as marketization occurs, the organization either can or will need to outsource (to improve efficiency). However, many of the leaders and benefactors of traditional charity organizations enjoy the process of administering donations. Marketization would deprive them of this pleasure, and therefore would be unpalatable.

“Value” in the market sector and “value” in Civil Society have completely different meanings. The former kind of value is very simplistic, while the latter is diverse and in some ways the opposite. This diversity is precisely the important reason why many people have been attracted to switch job from business to civil society sector. “Marketization” removes the diversity of this value, which might let some people derive profit and advantage from this (in fact, some people already are benefiting in this way), but if we were really to calculate the cost and benefits – this is precisely what is most important in the market after all- we would find that the losses from this process outweigh the gains. Of course, in today’s China, NGOs are free to try and operate in any number of methods. However, if the civil society sector as a whole turns towards marketization, the day of its demise will not be far ahead.

[1] Zhu Xueqin(朱学勤) is a professor at Institute of History of Shanghai University.

[2] In 1992, Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour re-prompted China’s move for socialist market economy.

NGO,市场在那,公平在哪?

2014-09-26 09:52:38  来源:NGOCN  作者:胡不喜    点击数量:289

前段时间看到关于NGO是否应市场化的讨论,徐永光先生旗帜鲜明地提出了NGO应当市场化的主张,另一位年轻的同侪则就此提到了自己的顾虑。但最后没有深挖,殊为可惜。我认为关于市场化的问题应当得到重视,更有意义的、严肃的观点应当参加到讨论当中来--这是我写作这篇小文的出发点。

什么是市场化?这是我们首先要澄清的一个关键点。"市",意味着交易,"场"意味着场所,因此"市场"可以理解为一种交易体制。而交易,则意味着产权的转移和交换。并非所有的市场都是自由市场,而且自由市场和非自由市场之间是一个区间关系(或曰程度关系)而非黑白关系。以此出发,"市场化"指的是建立这样一套交易体制,并且在理想状态下,市场化的指向应当是朝着一个自由程度更高的市场。伴随着市场化的推进,效率、竞争会成为这个交易体制中的主旋律。

那么NGO是否应该被市场化?这个问题非常复杂,要从以下这几个层面来探讨:

第一,在绝大多数流行的讨论中,NGO是归属于"公民社会"这个领域,NGO之于公民社会,就好比政府部门之于国家、企业之于市场。这里需要强调的是,"公民社会"这个概念本身不具有什么善性的价值,只是对一个可能客观存在的领域进行描述。只是一方面,冷战结束和苏东巨变的过程中,公民社会与民主化的关系被拿出来专门强调了(当然对这种关系的讨论并不始于冷战,早在法国大革命时期法国思想家托克维尔考察民主在美国的发展的时候就已经强调过),而"民主"本身正在越来越强地被赋予一种善性的价值--同时又因为这样而在日常讨论中越来越语焉不详、指向模糊。另一方面,在公民社会这个词进入中国后不久,就被某些掌握话语权的社会行动者作为一个变革的"最大公约数"而成功将之意识形态化(结果也彻底"敏感化")。

第二,公民社会这个概念,最早提出的时候是用作描述国家以外的某种公共行动及其所产生的领域,目前来说,主要讲的是国家-社会-市场的三分模型中的社会领域。因此,公民社会和市场是一种平行关系,彼此之间可能有重叠之处,却无法互相取代。从这个意义上说,NGO和企业有重叠,也有关联,但是不能互相取代。

第三,对于NGO的市场化倾向,不仅在中国,并且在其他国家也被觉察到了,但是对于这一倾向的判断,却有着截然不同的意见。以倾向最明显的美国为例,支持者认为NGO应当考虑效率和竞争,优化NGO领域的生态,反对者则认为市场化强化了资本主义对NGO的规训,必须加以警醒和抵制。需要注意的是,NGO市场化的倾向在每个国家有着很大的差异,对这种倾向的态度也大相径庭,草率地说,大体上美国NGO市场化倾向明显一些,支持者的声音也多一些(但是并未盖过反对的声音,双方基本处在均等状态),其他国家市场化倾向则要弱一些,反对这种倾向的声音要强一些。其中英国比较有意思,本来NGO市场化的倾向不亚于美国,而且还在某种程度上是社会企业的发源地,只是04、05年的时候Chris Jones和Iain Ferguson等人发表了一个名为Social work and social justice的宣言,反思英国社会工作的种种问题,后来这种反思超出了单纯的社工领域被更广泛的NGO同侪所接受,因此对于市场化的倾向的批判在这几年越来越多,几成共识。

第四,如果市场化是有利于NGO发展的,为什么没有成为一种共识,反而处处受阻,成为了质疑甚至是批判的对象?这是因为市场的逻辑和公民社会的逻辑有着本质的区别,市场的指向是利益最大化,而公民社会的指向是社会公义(social justice)。两种指向的不同,使得企业和NGO的工作逻辑有着本质的不同:企业的逻辑是效率,也就是要以最小的成本、最低的风险实现最大的收益;NGO的逻辑是赋权(empowerment),也就是使参与者获得自觉和自理能力,以提升其存在状态的善性。公民社会和市场的目标彼此相异,有时候是能够重叠的,但是更多时候则是彼此矛盾的。而效率和赋权两种逻辑之间,恐怕在目前来说很难看到融合的可能性,这其中的道理很简单,效率依赖分工和专业化程度,而这本身就是一个"去权"(de-powerment)的规训过程--而这恰恰是NGO所要反思和反对的。

那么,回到中国的语境下,中国的NGO是否需要市场化呢?

回答这个问题,首先要理解NGO市场化提出的语境。第一是中国NGO的领域极为奇怪,有着大量的"政府主导的非政府组织"(governmental non-government organization,GONGO),改革开放三十年,在NGO这个领域改革也不多、开放也不大,使得这些GONGO占据了明显不合理的优势地位,使得GONGO内部腐败丛生,而民间力量举步维艰--照我理解,这可能是徐永光先生提出"公益市场化"所希望解决的问题。第二则是改革开放三十年在叙事中是一个胜利和成功的三十年,经济上市场化的进程实际上也是一个民间社会苏醒和重新注入活力的进程,这两种进程同时发生、既有联系又有区别,但是市场化胜利的叙事盖过了民间苏醒的叙事,使得市场化被认为是一个有效手段(甚至唯一手段)。一个从非市场经济国家转型为一个市场经济国家,很少有像中国这样出现了那么多经济学原教旨主义者和自由主义铁杆粉丝的案例,而这恰恰是改革开放三十年市场化胜利叙事的必然结果--照我理解,这可能是徐永光先生提出"公益市场化"的视野和方法的基础和缘由。

但是,如果我们回到上文所说的问题,则不难发现,"市场化"本身未必可以实现"去行政化"(徐永光语),反而很容易给政府和资本一个规训NGO的厉害手段。在讨论的另一方那位年轻同侪另有一篇文章,谈到了国家有可能通过市场手段对NGO进行规训的问题,并且强调了"市场列宁主义"这个分析中国NGO的框架,可惜很多地方没有展开细谈,也就没有引起注意。"市场列宁主义"这一框架出自朱学勤先生的《改革开放的经验总结》一文,指南巡之后的改革将未加变化的政治体制与资本化的市场经济体制相结合,结果出现了权力与资本的结盟,形成改革之后新的弊端与陷阱。这些弊端和陷阱不仅仅存在于市场领域,在NGO领域也是一样的,只要认真审视这几年蓬勃发展的"政府购买服务",就不难发现这种购买无疑是市场化进程的重要一步,却非但没有促进NGO的进步(抛开虚假繁荣不说),反而滋生了各种问题,其中有些问题甚至从根本上在危害NGO的生态。

而且,NGO本身很多时候可以也应当成为市场的挑战者,或者至少是质疑者,这在当今中国尤为重要。当下中国面对着许多严峻的问题,劳工权益可能是比较尖锐的一个,NGO在这个领域大有可为,而如果在这个领域也强调市场化,使用"效率"这样的语言,则恐怕工作就没法开展了。同样的道理,近三十年来我们的性别关系和亲密关系都发生了巨大的变化,女权已经成为了一个不可忽视的道德召唤和要求,而女权主义本身对于这套"市场"、"效率"、"资源配置"等等的语言就有着非常清晰而有启发的批判,限于篇幅这里无法展开,只是想说在这个领域工作的组织恐怕既不必也不会接受"市场化"的"召唤"。

如果说是那些施衣赠药的"传统型"NGO,一来这种捐赠本身就已经一直处在被批判的状态(连徐永光先生本人对此也不以为然),亟待更新工作理念和手法;二来恰恰是这些NGO自身最没有"市场化"的需求,因为一旦市场化就可以或者需要外包了(因为更有效率),可是很多施衣赠药的善长仁翁享受的就是一个亲自施增的过程,市场化反而把这个乐趣剥夺了,因此未必可行。

市场领域的"价值"和公民社会领域的"价值"有着完全不一样的意思,前者非常单一,而后者既是多元的、也是相对的,这种多元性恰恰是吸引很多人从市场领域转行投身到公民社会领域的重要原因。"市场化"消解了这种价值多元,或许能够让一部分人从中获得实利(其实已经有一部分人从中获得实利了),但是如果真要做一个计算--这恰恰是市场领域最重要的工作--可能是得不偿失的。因此,在今天的中国,各种各样的尝试都可以有,只是如果NGO整体朝着市场化转型,则离NGO凋敝的日子也就不远了吧。

Translated by Samantha Moritz

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