Push and pull factors – how the state, market and civil society divide up tasks


Which tasks will be taken over by the state, the market or civil society? An infographic provides an overview.

This text is based on an excerpt from the study "The New Volunteers" of the GDI, which can be downloaded from our website for free.

All three actors - state, market and civil society - assume certain tasks in our society. The reasons some tasks are taken over (pull factors) and which are handed over (push factors) are explained below. In addition, an infographic illustrates the reasons for the distribution of tasks.

State – pull factors

  • Threats to security: If there is a threat to life and limb, then there must be swift action. Therefore, the state takes over these tasks. Example: governmental coordination of aid in the case of natural catastrophes.
  • Political opportunism: What the state takes care of depends on politicians--who want to be re-elected. Fear of terrorism, for example, is much more pronounced than fear of traffic accidents, even though traffic claims more victims. For this reason, the war on terrorism has a high priority in many states and reducing the number of traffic victims is further down on the list.
  • Social balance: The state ensures all citizens enjoy at least a minimal standard of living. That is why school education and medical care are regulated by the state.

State – push factors

  • Costs: If a task is too expensive for the state, it is often passed on. Example: Privatization of local public transport.
  • Newness: If something is new, the state finds it hard to regulate. This can be seen in the handling of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which is challenging  to tax authorities and legal practitioners around the world.

Market – pull factors

  • Scarceness: Only things which are scarce can be traded in. For a long time, the care of dependent retirees was a family matter. Scarcity occurred only after they no longer took over this care as a matter of course. The care was taken over by the market among others.
  • Commercializability: Only things which are chargeable can be traded in. Using the GPS tracker in their cell phone, anyone can function as a taxi. The route is precisely chargeable even without a taximeter.

Civil society – pull factors

  • Efficacy: Civil society players take over tasks when they can achieve something with it. An entry in Wikipedia has millions of potential readers, so it’s possible toreach the world with it.
  • Accessibility: The easier an action is to perform, the more likely that it will be carried out by civil society. Online volunteering allows engagement that previously was not possible but has been well received in areas like Citizen Science.
  • Flexibility: Civil society is more likely to take over tasks which allow flexibility. Helping out at a festival for two days does not restrict one’s personal flexibility very much. In contrast, caring for children or the elderly necessitates regular commitment.
  • Breathing space: Breathing space is required in order to engage voluntarily. In Berlin, a great deal of breathing space could be used as a result of reunification in which community gardens and urban culture could develop.
  • Trust: Trust in personal environment is a prerequisite for people to make an effort for each other. Where trust is lacking, more interpersonal transactions must be contractually regulated.
  • Norms: Volunteering is more of a cultural norm in the USA; even some school classes include  volunteer work.

Civil society – push factors

  • Complexity: Tasks must be simple enough that they can be carried out by civil society. For example, the increasing complexity of modern medicine means medical tasks must be increasingly given over to the state and the market.
The New Volunteers State Market Society