The Structure of Society and Housing Initiatives

Describe the basic components and underlying assumptions of the model of the modern plural state and discuss to what extent it might be used to assist in forecasting the success of a new policy initiative in a given state.

The modern plural state involves many organizations that take many different forms. The public, private, and household sectors of society interact and create various mixed organizations. These structures emerge from the history of the society and evolve to create the future.

Organizations can be public or private, formal or informal, and for profit or non-profit. These intersections create four major types of organizations. Governments are formal public non-profit organizations. Businesses are formal private for-profit organizations. Households are informal private non-profit organizations. And non-profits are formal private non-profit organizations. All four of these types of organizations overlap at their edges creating mixed organizations. Three of these are focused on a certain economic principle. Governments use redistribution. Businesses use the market. Households use reciprocity.

To successfully carry out redistribution, governments have the legitimate use of physical force in a given area. To successfully operate the market, businesses have contracts that can be upheld by the government when in dispute. To successfully use reciprocity, households must have some level of goodwill.

These types of separations however are significantly simplified. Businesses and households use redistribution. Governments and households use the market. Businesses and governments use reciprocity. Governments and businesses can’t operate without some level of goodwill. Businesses and households can’t operate well without a recognized legitimate power. Households and governments can’t operate well without agreements that are carried out. The systems are not separate, they are pieces of a functional whole. To remove any piece results in distortions that cause failures across the entire set of systems.

Non-profit organizations interact at the intersection of all three primary sectors: government, business, and household. Others interact at a single intersection point, such as public-private partnerships. The existence and functionality of all of these different and different types of organizations determines the success and failure of the society as a whole, as well as individual initiatives.

Let use consider an example. Modern zoning in the United States emerged in the early 1900s. By 1926 the Supreme Court ruling in the Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company case set strong precedent for the support of zoning, and over the next few decades the states implemented zoning laws based on recommended examples from the federal government’s Department of Commerce. These laws give states and usually local governments the ability to limit what people do on their properties, what people use them for, what they build, etc.

Over time these types of laws have spread and grown. They have often been used to limit things that are essential not only to the well-functioning of society, but also to human survival, such as accessibility to housing, work, and food.

In many areas of the United States, and certainly in Muskegon County in the state of Michigan, there is a housing shortage. This has several causes including the construction labor market not recovering from the 2008 financial collapse and the supply chain issues caused by government lockdowns and mass house arrest programs in 2020 and 2021. The lack of supply of housing has driven up the price by causing those with higher incomes to compete for formerly lower priced homes. This has occurred through the price range and driven the lowest socio-economic portion of the society out of being able to afford either owning or renting housing, therefore creating a larger homeless population which is associated with higher crime rates.

Zoning restrictions limit what can be done and contribute to both the shortage and to the price. For instance, in many residential zones multi-family housing building is limited to a certain number of units. Possibly to go beyond that requires multiple different commission, council, and/or board approvals making the process more costly, less certain, and therefore less desirable. Many times the least expensive housing options are limited. These things are the will of the people that participate in society through such things as elections. Many people want a minimum square footage for houses. They want a minimum parcel size that can be built on. They don’t want trailers being lived in. All of these things contribute to tightening the market. Lessening such restrictions could allow more people access to housing, but at the expense of the convenience of others who want a certain social class in a neighborhood, want a certain aesthetic appeal, and want to inflate their own equity in their property.

Whether or not such initiatives will succeed depends on all of the sectors we have looked at. If governments don’t legally allow for these things then they won’t happen. If building isn’t remunerative in the market then these things won’t happen. If households don’t support such change in policy and representation then these things won’t happen. And, to a lesser but still significant extent, if non-profits aren’t supportive of these initiatives, which most likely shows the lack of interest from households in making change, then these things probably won’t happen. Therefore, as we can see, the success of policy initiatives is determined by the support, or the lack thereof, from the systems that make the whole that is society, and for those that can determine and work with this level of support there is an ability to forecast the success and failure of such initiatives.

Evers, Adalbert; Laville, Jean-Louis (2004) Defining the third sector in Europe. In 'The Third Sector in Europe' edited by Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Weber, Max (1946) Politics as a Vocation. In 'From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology' edited by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, pp. 77-128. New York: Oxford University Press.



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