2.b.20 – Tertiary and third sector, two phenomena to be distinguished?

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February 7, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Tertiary and third sector, two phenomena to be distinguished?

Tertiary is the  largest economic sector in which services are provided, i.e. all those complementary and ancillary activities of the primary (agriculture) and secondary (industrial) sector. This division in three economic sectors with their names, although universally popular, does not reflect the real and dynamic economic structure and creates confusion: the tertiary sector is not less important than the secondary, as well as this latter is not subordinate to the primary; numerical designations of sector not even reflect the sequence in which they appeared in the economic development because, while it is certainly possible to say that the industry has developed after agriculture, so one cannot say the same regarding the services sector compared to industry (just think of the advent of commercial, banking and catering services). Anyway, are we really sure that the economic sectors are three? Some distinguished the traditional by the advanced service sector and people starts talking about a Quaternary sector, but perhaps it would be better to abandon any numeric name (spread like a fashion) and return to call the various sectors with their name, i.e. with the one that reflects the economic activities that are grouped in it.
With the third sector is meant the sector of non-profit bodies, i.e. voluntary organizations, cultural associations, NGOs, etc., as defined in opposition to the public sector institutions and the private sector of business (in this additional fictitious tripartition, nobody wants to know what the first and Second sectors are).
The non-profit organizations operating in the socio-economic context are private organizations but produce goods or services on behalf of the public or communities. From an economic point of view, we must distinguish these entities from the business operating in the market because they do not have commercial purposes and, at the same, time we need to separate them from public institutions for their private nature. From a sociological point of view it is important instead to emphasize the cultural, ethical and motivational aspects that imply a deep personal involvement of the members.
Once clarity is made on definitions, it is important to note that in the modern or post-industrial western countries, a growing number of people find employment in the services sector with a decrease in both agricultural and industrial sectors; this phenomenon, following the criticized naming of sectors, is commonly defined tertiarisation of the economy.
Also the non-profit association phenomena are largely spread in the western countries; they tend to compensate the shortcomings in social services by the public institutions through the spontaneous self-organization of citizens and that, if on one hand partly alleviates the needs of the population, on the other increases the perception of tax pressure (which does not turn into public services) and the mistrust in institutions (unable to play their role).

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