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Quote of the Day (Dec. 22, 2007)

December 22, 2007

Quotemarks"We now know that the ability of government to perform social tasks is very limited indeed. But we also know that nonprofits discharge a much bigger job than taking care of specific needs. With every second American adult serving as a volunteer in the nonprofit sector and spending at least three hours a week in nonprofit work, nonprofits are America's largest 'employer'. But they also exemplify and fulfill the fundamental American commitment to responsible citizenship in the community. The nonprofit sector still represents about the same proportion of America's gross national product -- 2 percent to 3 percent -- as it did forty years ago. But its meaning has changed profoundly. We now realize that it is central to the quality of life in America, central to citizenship, and indeed carries the values of American society and of the American tradition...."

-- Peter Drucker, Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices

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We "know" no such thing as that "the ability of government to perform social tasks is very limited indeed" -- unless by "limited" we mean no more than "finite," as all human abilities are. What we know is that if governments are deprived of resources they will be unable to deliver services. Government has performed social tasks -- from public education to national defense, from wilderness preservation to disaster relief -- ably for many years. And as soon as we're prepared to give up on the mindless worship of private wealth that makes "taxation" a dirty word and the mindless dismissal of the public sector that leaves FEMA in the hands of some unqualified crony of our MBA president, it will be able to do so again.

The nonprofit sector doesn't, and won't, educate all our children, or assure us clean air, or secure access to medical treatment for everyone who needs it -- any more than the for-profit sector has done, or will. These social tasks are just that: tasks for a society, and in a democratic society that means the people's representatives should be providing for them. I can't blame Drucker for forgetting that this is a democratic society, given our experience of the past 8 years, but I nonetheless feel compelled to remind him -- and you --that voluntary associations (however vital and virtuous) are not a substitute for representative government.

And by the way, if the nonprofit sector constitutes no more of the economy today than it has in the past, it's getting a lot less done -- because the rising cost of health care consumes an ever-larger share of that fixed sum.

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