I am very interested in topics about civil society and social entrepreneurship. I have the greatest respect for the libertarian social entrepreneur, founder of the Grameen Bank and nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, have started up a little project of my own in Cambodia, and have written and spoken about civil society issues. So when I saw an Australian book about social entrepreneurship called “the end of charity”, I was hopeful.
I shouldn’t have been.
This book by Nic Frances is confused. He likes to tell us how great he is, and some of the stuff he’s done (such as the Furniture Resource Centre in the UK) was worth gloating about. But then he goes on to try and create a broader philosophy while displaying hopeless ignorance, anti-market bigotry and fascist tendencies.
The word fascist gets thrown around a lot in political debates, and has lost much of its currency. That’s a shame, because the word does have a meaning and can be a useful term to clearly describe a philosophy of “the government doesn’t necessarily need to own everything, but they must control everything”. Given this definition (and not the more dramatic “I want to kill Jews” definition) then fascism is a common philosophy, shared by many contemporary politicians and Nic Frances.
The last part of the book is dedicated to climate change. After explaining that the world is about to end with a plague of locusts, Frances comes to the rescue with his entirely government-supported schemes. Whether he is doing good or ill (and I think it’s mostly neither, despite all the credit he gives himself) it is simply wrong to think this is a part of civil society or meaningful social entrepreneurship. It’s just another government scheme.
But the really poor part of the book is the philosophy. Or rather, the set of banal statist platitudes in drag, desperately trying to imitate a philosophy. Frances is clearly ignorant of liberal philosophy, and he hates capitalism. He thinks he is being an innovative centrist when he suggests the compromise of allowing markets to exist, but having the government set their agendas and push them towards “progressive” goals.
He notes with happiness that some people are already pursuing the “right” goals, and concludes that all we need is more government to force everybody to pursue the “right” goals. This is classic FDR… and also classic Mussolini. Whether you call it fascism, corporatism, totalitarianism, bureaucratic managerialism, statism, fabian socialism or “value-centred market economics”, it’s an old idea, and it’s just as bad now as it was back then.
Civil society — including families, community groups & charities — is extremely important and deserves serious and scholarly attention. And social entrepreneurship is an exciting new part of the civil society landscape, with great potential to make the world a better place.
But government is not a compliment to civil society, it is a replacement. When the government got involved in health and welfare they killed off friendly societies and extended family networks. When the government started running aged-care and child-care facilities, civil society groups stopped their work. When the government took over schooling, they replaced a private (mostly non-profit) system which had already defeated illiteracy.
As George Washington said, “government is a dangerous servant and a fearful master”. We should be very careful about getting the government involved in any part of our lives — including civil society and social entrepreneurship — but unfortunately Frances runs towards government with unashamed (and unquestioning) glee.