Vita

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    [title] => Tagore counts more than GDP
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Martha Nussbaum's words: “The culture of beauty is the true salt of democracy."

by Luigino Bruni

published on Vita 07/01/2011
Logo_Vita«The humanities and the arts are being cut away, in both primary/secondary and college/university education, in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy-makers as useless frills, at a time when nations must cut away all useless things in order to stay competitive in the global market, they are rapidly losing their place in curricula, and also in the minds and hearts of parents and children. Indeed, what we might call the humanistic aspects of science and social science— the imaginative, creative aspect, and the aspect of rigorous critical thought—are also losing ground as nations prefer to pursue short-term profit by the cultivation of the useful and highly applied skills suited to profit-making». I believe that this phrase from the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum is the main idea of her latest book, translated in Italian by Mulino, which is entitled Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.

[fulltext] =>

Laws that are not visible

Democracy is a delicate tree, always with roots that aren't profoundly embedded in historical terrain, that asks to be cultivated, attended to, taken care of, above all, in moments of crisis. During her entire scholarly path, Nussbaum has dedicated a lot of work and civil passion towards democracy, showing us, together with Amartya Sen, the Indian economist Nobel Prize winner for economics in 1998, that development is measured on the axis of freedom and rights, and a little – often incorrectly – on that GDP axis that we are all used to as reference. And without critical intelligence, free and creative thought, freedoms and rights do not grow in our civilizations, simply because people do not succeed in seeing rights and freedoms as precious assets, do not fight for them and willingly exchange them for some more goods.

Humanistic formation is not intended as an elitist good, a luxury good accessible to a few who have talents and financial capability. As Nussbaum recalled in her beautiful lecture held at the “Sophia” University Institute last June 6 in Loppiano, one of her model educators is Tagore who, with his poetry and formative programs in schools, was like Gandhi, at the roots of Indian independence and democracy. Beauty like non-violence are also civil virtues essential for the common good and quality of democracy.

Nussbaum's proposal is for a school, a university, wherein arts, literature, and philosophy are considered fundamental for every citizen's character formation, for without people's interior/spiritual formation (a task in Nations are shelving indispensable knowledge to keep democracy alive which art, music, and literature have not substituted) our societies will not be in a position to manage and orient well the extraordinary conquests of technology and communications for the common good.

In times of crises and epic changes, people and communities who had the common good at heart, saved and renewed civilization with institutions (both political and economical), but also by founding new schools and promoting art: monasticism, then the Franciscans, many religious charisms and modern lay people, the socialist movement, also utilized beauty to “save the world”.

As Olivier Messiaen did when, in that (German) internment camp of Goerlitz, he composed and performed in a shed with some deported musicians the Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) or how violinist Karel Fröhlich, who in 1944 at Theresienstadt, held a concert for those who were supposed to leave for Auschwitz the next morning.

Don't cut education!

Art and beauty have always kept fighting against death and barbarity, offer instruments for the liberation and progress, civil awareness, and of peoples.

Altogether, the school and education have a fundamental role: «Thirsty for national profit, nations, and their systems of education, are heedlessly discarding skills that are needed to keep democracies alive. If this trend continues, nations all over the world will soon be producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements. The future of the world’s democracies hangs in the balance».

See article

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Martha Nussbaum's words: “The culture of beauty is the true salt of democracy."

by Luigino Bruni

published on Vita 07/01/2011
Logo_Vita«The humanities and the arts are being cut away, in both primary/secondary and college/university education, in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy-makers as useless frills, at a time when nations must cut away all useless things in order to stay competitive in the global market, they are rapidly losing their place in curricula, and also in the minds and hearts of parents and children. Indeed, what we might call the humanistic aspects of science and social science— the imaginative, creative aspect, and the aspect of rigorous critical thought—are also losing ground as nations prefer to pursue short-term profit by the cultivation of the useful and highly applied skills suited to profit-making». I believe that this phrase from the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum is the main idea of her latest book, translated in Italian by Mulino, which is entitled Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities.

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Tagore counts more than GDP

Martha Nussbaum's words: “The culture of beauty is the true salt of democracy." by Luigino Bruni published on Vita 07/01/2011 «The humanities and the arts are being cut away, in both primary/secondary and college/university education, in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy-maker...
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    [title] => The Virtues of the Market: Civil Competition
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    [introtext] => 

The entrepreneur is not he who cuts his piece of the market. It’s he who takes care of “producing pies”. He takes advantage of opportunity, without being afraid of benefitting others. It’s the challenge of “civil competition”: a winning idea for getting out of this crisis.

Civil Competition. I win and you win. Enough with killer economy

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, January 28, 2011 

Logo_Virtu_ENG_ridCompetition, if well understood, is one of the main virtues of the market. But, even in this case, we have to clear the field of mistaken or partial understandings of competition. Competition is a virtue when it works as that social mechanism which civil economists of the 18th century, like the Romagnosi from Milan or Cattaneo, called civil competition. What does it deal with?

[fulltext] =>

The dominate vision today tends to consider competition among businesses as a race between Business A and Business B, in which each one wants to win by battling the other. Sometimes, this vision is even nourished by an incorrect and misleading use of a sporting metaphor (or even by Darwinist caricatures) that shows the market as a place where we all run, and in the end we have winners and losers. Such a vision views competition as a business matter between A and B, which can can have the unintentional effect of producing market price reductions to the advantage of Clients C.

If we look at the market in this way, different from the idea I proposed in the first installment of this series, it would be obvious that competition has nothing to do with cooperation. Rather, it would be the exact opposite, because cooperation between “competing” businesses comes from the cartel or trust perspective, which are established at the expense of citizens and market efficiency.

Instead, what is market competition as seen from the perspective of civil economy? The market game appears much different from this perspective, and it’s not focused on the race between Business A and B, as market competition becomes a process centered on the axes A-C and B-C. That is, every business tries to satisfy clients (in a wide sense) better than the others, and the business that is the worst at doing so has to leave the market. But this is only an effect, and in a certain way it is unintentional. From our perspective, the goal of Business A becomes cooperating with citizens, clients and suppliers C, within a relationship of reciprocal assistance, of a team, and not one of “battling” with Competitor B, and vice versa. 

But up to what point can we push ourselves along this road of civil competition? Many questions arise, and some are very relevant. Perhaps we’ll answer a few of them below. 

To give an example that is not irrelevant to social economics, let’s imagine that the market of social economics is still dominated by public “race” and contract – therefore, by a vision of competition as a zero-sum game, made of winners and losers. This vision, which I have called “upside down subsidiarity” in other writings, has its hub in a public that defines projects and calls cooperatives to “vie” in a race that often has a very dangerous fall. This perspective would be radically changed within a vision of civil competition. In civil competition, social enterprises are the ones that are touch with the needs of the people and that “see” opportunities for mutual advantage with citizens. Then, these social enterprises turn to the public (perhaps not always) in order to transparently and efficiently bring about that project, which is no longer “guided by supply” but by the “demand” of the people. There is still much to do to get to that point.

Then, there are other difficult questions. What role does the division of “exchange earnings” play in such a vision of the market? How can we define the “pie pieces” of the earnings that each of the participants will have once added-value has been generated? To those who would ask these legitimate and due questions to someone who wants to start a business or cooperative, I would answer – along with Genovesi, Mill and Sen – “when you see an opportunity to create value, don’t spend too much energy in defining how to divide future profits. Seek the most obvious and normal division,  establish it as a norm, and concentrate your commitment to creating common benefit”. A piece of advice that ought to be given to the group of participants in such an exchange, as reciprocity is implicit in this vision of the market, is this: “only behave like this with people who share your same market culture”.

But, let’s ask ourselves this question: is it good advice to recommend such a culture or philosophy to individual entrepreneurs or workers when there is no guarantee that others with whom they interact share the same culture of reciprocity and fraternity? I believe so. Someone who follows such a norm will, sometimes, end up with a lower quota of earnings compared to one who obtained his earnings with a stricter and more attentive attitude towards the division of earnings. But, to compensate, he will spend less time and energy, and will be less likely to open contentions and conflicts with others, which often block contracts, business deals and affairs. Over a long period of time, this person will live his life more calmly and will probably not be too poorly off economically either. Finally, institutions have a role in this: their plans can incentivate either the search for mutual advantage or individual opportunism. 

We can then summarize this civil market culture with the following norm: “when you do business together (especially during difficult times), don’t worry too much about establishing the ‘piece of the pie’ that you will create. Instead, worry about the pie and about creating many pies so that over time, if you weren’t opportunist and unfaithful, you’ll converge towards an equitable norm of redistribution. First one will earn more, then the other will earn more, but the important thing is to grow together”. Such council is very efficient especially when dealing with youth, because it greatly reduces costs of transactions, reinforces feelings of mutual trust, and creates a positive and optimistic understanding of commons. Also, insisting on guarantees or relatives ties to (possible) future earnings is never a good way to start a relationship with an associate, supplier or client. It is actually the best way to block business before it begins. Generosity and an open mind are some of more important virtues in an entrepreneur’s success (actually, of anyone’s success). And as I wrote a few installments ago, this is also true because the entrepreneur, thanks to his capacity to innovate, is a “creator of pies” and not a “cutter of pies”.

Today, we know that one of the first factors in cultural and economic backwardness is made of a mental scheme with which we read market competition and civil life. Communities, peoples and persons grow when they see economic and civil relationships as mutually advantageous, and they remain blocked in traps of poverty when each one sees the other as someone to take advantage of or from which to defend oneself.

A civil economy sees the market as a great and dense network of mutually advantageous relationships, on many levels. Civil competition is the energy that flows in this network of relationships in which the market is established, and whoever is part of it gives advantages to himself and others. Creating an always denser network of exchange opportunities means linking people in joint actions, where each one grows with and thanks to the others, and weaves threads of the network that keeps cities and societies together. This is civil economy, this is civil competition.

See article 

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The entrepreneur is not he who cuts his piece of the market. It’s he who takes care of “producing pies”. He takes advantage of opportunity, without being afraid of benefitting others. It’s the challenge of “civil competition”: a winning idea for getting out of this crisis.

Civil Competition. I win and you win. Enough with killer economy

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, January 28, 2011 

Logo_Virtu_ENG_ridCompetition, if well understood, is one of the main virtues of the market. But, even in this case, we have to clear the field of mistaken or partial understandings of competition. Competition is a virtue when it works as that social mechanism which civil economists of the 18th century, like the Romagnosi from Milan or Cattaneo, called civil competition. What does it deal with?

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The Virtues of the Market: Civil Competition

The entrepreneur is not he who cuts his piece of the market. It’s he who takes care of “producing pies”. He takes advantage of opportunity, without being afraid of benefitting others. It’s the challenge of “civil competition”: a winning idea for getting out of this crisis. Civil Competition. I win a...
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    [title] => The Virtues of the Market: Work
    [alias] => the-virtues-of-the-market-work
    [introtext] => 

Many economists have drawn the conclusion that these instruments produce the opposite effect, because they are in direct conflict with the intrinsic motivations of those who work. That is why there’s need to find new mechanisms…

Work: Motivating People is not a Question of Incentives

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, February 18, 2011 

Work understood as a virtue is a modern conquest. In the ancient world (not only Greek and Roman, and even in the East), slaves worked. Free men – citizens – were liberated from work thanks to the slaves that worked for them, and they were able to dedicate themselves to activities more worthy of free men, like philosophy, politics and exercise. During the Christian Medieval period, work began to be affirmed as a virtue thanks to monastic charisms. It began to be seen as a good activity in itself, as way to reach happiness. The monastics began to affirm that the monk is also a worker (this is one of the meanings of the Benedictine motto “ora et lavora”).

[fulltext] =>

Slowly, work begins to emerge, having to conquer its own space in a still very “platonic world” which gives it lower moral and spiritual status compared to intellectual activities. We had to wait until very recent times (practically until the 19th century) before manual laborers would vote and have access to public positions.

The market economy contributed to definitively raise work from an inferior status and making it always more an important protagonist in the life of the free man, who was founding democracies and republics (art. 1).

Yet even today, work is subject to tensions: it is praised and exulted on one hand, enslaved to consumption and speculation on the other. During this time of economic and social crisis, work is perhaps the most urgent question we’re facing. It calls us to a deeper reflection (and a considerably newer one compared to the ideological debates of the 20th century) on what is considered as work, and on what role work has within our lives.

Again, let’s begin with two everyday situations. I’m invited to dinner; I bring a tray of  pastries, and my host says “thanks”. I drink a coffee at the train station, and after I’ve paid a price, I say, “thanks” to the waiter. These are two thank-yous said in seemingly very different contexts: gift and friendship in the first, contract and anonymity in the second. Still, we use the same word, “thanks”. Why? What is common between these two so apparently distant facts, at least in the culture of our market society? The first thing they have in common is that they are free meetings between human beings. We would never say “thanks” to an automatic coffee machine, or we smile when we mistakenly answer “you’re welcome” to the mechanical voice that thanks us after paying our highway toll with a credit card.  I’m convinced that the thank-you which we say not only to our friends but also to waiters, bakers or cashiers at the supermarket, is not only good manners or habits. That thank-you expresses recognition that, even when we’re doing nothing more than our duty, by working, there is always something more than the duty and which transforms that exchange into a truly human act. Besides, we could say that work truly beings when we go beyond the agreement of a contract and put all of ourselves into making lunch, tightening a screw, cleaning a bathroom or giving a lesson at school. One truly works when you begin to add “Mario” when addressing Mr. Rossi or “Luigino” when addressing Professor Bruni. Instead, when one stops before crossing this threshold, work remains too similar to what that automatic coffee machine does, and we therefore stop ourselves before the door of humaness’s oikos (home), without entering.

The competitive factor 
This is where we find an important paradox which is at the heart of current businesses and organizations. Workers and directors of every business, if they are good and honest, know that work is truly work and brings the fruits of efficiency and effectiveness when it expresses an excess to what is laid out in one’s contract or duty – when it is a gift (as N. Alter’s most recent book Donner et prendre reminds us). Especially in complex, modern organizations, if the worker does not freely give his passions, his intelligence, his intrinsic motivations, no incentive control or sanction will be able to obtain the best that he has to give, and this also becomes an essential competitive factor for the success of the very business.

Today, it is always truer that the success of businesses in international competition depends above all on human capital, on people and on their intelligence and creativity. They are the ones that make the business grow and produce wealth when they risk all of themselves in carrying out a certain profession or in following a certain task within an organization. Whoever works in any organization knows that the motivational and, I dare say, spiritual dimensions cannot be bought or programmed. Rather, they must be understood by the worker as expressions of his reciprocity, of his gift. I can buy loans with opportune incentives, but I cannot buy on the work market what truly serves my business to be able to live and grow. In other words, I can buy and control what enters and leaves the office, I can verify what you do during the eight hours of work, but I cannot control or buy how you work, with how much “soul”, passion and creativity you live those eight hours of work per day. The clauses and characteristics of working contracts stop just before entering in the things that truly count in a human work relationship, which lasts years and receives life from all those dimensions that no contract can foresee or specify. It’s like saying that, with normal work contracts and incentives, one is only able to “buy” the less important part of work and the human worker – that activity which is too similar to the functions of a machine. But with such contracts, one cannot obtain those deeper and qualitative dimensions of work activity, the ones on which a great part of even a business’s economic success depends (and that’s the point!). And the various incentive mechanisms that I can find, necessarily being external and extrinsic instruments, cannot but be partial and imperfect. In the worst cases (ever more frequent, and much studied by economists), these instruments produce the opposite effect, as monetary incentives often enter into conflict with workers’ intrinsic motivations.

Who benefits from the incentives? 
This is where the paradox emerges – when one realizes that businesses (always more of them), and organizations in general, over the last two centuries of capitalism, have built a systems of incentives and wages that is not able to recognize that “something more” which is the gift present in human work. If businesses use classical incentives (like money) to recognize the gift contained in work, that “something more” of gift becomes reabsorbed into contract and duty. Therefore, it disappears as gift. Instead, in order to avoid this disappearance of gift, businesses and their directors do nothing, and as time goes by, a worker’s surplus production grows less, producing sadness and cynicism in him, and worse results for the business. I believe that this impossibility to compensate the surplus in work is one of the reasons why, in all kinds of work (from laborers to university professors), people almost always have a deep crisis after the first few years. They realize that after having given the best of them to that organization without feeling truly recognized for what they have truly given, which is always immensely greater than the value of the wages received. We feel so much less valued than what we’re worth because organizations don’t find the language to express all that is found between the stipend and the gift of one’s life. I’m convinced that people often change jobs because they are looking for recognition that almost never comes.

During this phase of epochal change, even in work and business culture, the most difficult art that business and organization directors must learn and nourish is the art of finding mechanisms we know can recognize (at least partially) the gift present in work, in every job. At the same time, we workers should not ask too much from our jobs, knowing that work is important but can never be the full expression of our need to give and receive gifts, our vocation to reciprocity. Work has its seasons: it has a beginning and an end; it has times of illness and fragility. But our need for reciprocity accompanies us and grows throughout our lives, preceding and outliving work. And without knowing how to signal and recognize the limit of work in the economy of our life (and in our community), work will always be either servant or master, never “brother work”.

So, one truly works, and work is fully a virtue, when we recognize that “something more” in our own work and in that of others which goes beyond the words of a contract. And we truly live when we recognize that there is something more in life than just work.

See article

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Many economists have drawn the conclusion that these instruments produce the opposite effect, because they are in direct conflict with the intrinsic motivations of those who work. That is why there’s need to find new mechanisms…

Work: Motivating People is not a Question of Incentives

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, February 18, 2011 

Work understood as a virtue is a modern conquest. In the ancient world (not only Greek and Roman, and even in the East), slaves worked. Free men – citizens – were liberated from work thanks to the slaves that worked for them, and they were able to dedicate themselves to activities more worthy of free men, like philosophy, politics and exercise. During the Christian Medieval period, work began to be affirmed as a virtue thanks to monastic charisms. It began to be seen as a good activity in itself, as way to reach happiness. The monastics began to affirm that the monk is also a worker (this is one of the meanings of the Benedictine motto “ora et lavora”).

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The Virtues of the Market: Work

Many economists have drawn the conclusion that these instruments produce the opposite effect, because they are in direct conflict with the intrinsic motivations of those who work. That is why there’s need to find new mechanisms… Work: Motivating People is not a Question of Incentives By Luigino Brun...
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Today, economy and market are dominated by the idea of fortune. One is successful because of personal charisma and favorable coincidences. Instead, the entrepreneur knows that hope is the motor of enterprise, because it creates relationships and determines certainty in the return on one’s talents.

Hope. The virtue that moves business in a season of crisis

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita on January 7, 2011

Logo_Virtu_ENGEven if it may seem strange, hope is – or at least should be – a market virtue. As is well-known, hope is a virtue, and a particularly a theological virtue alongside faith and charity, as in Western and Christian tradition these virtues are the foundation for the others (courage, temperance, strength, prudence, etc.).
For example, hope is one of the main virtues that an entrepreneur should have. The entrepreneur begins a business or a new economic activity if he hopes that tomorrow’s world will be altogether better than it is today, that the 100 invested today can become 101 or 105 tomorrow. 

[fulltext] =>

Whoever gives life to a business, not being just a short-term speculator, is like an old man who plants an oak tree. He knows that he is beginning something on the hope that its fruits will go beyond his own person or lifetime. Instead, without hope, it would be better to enjoy his resources or be a spectator. That is why hope is linked to trust (faith, fides), as without faith in life and in the future, one does not begin a business. And it’s understandable why entrepreneurs are optimistic, positive-thinkers, have a generous outlook on the world – all expressions of the virtue of hope.

Who makes me do it 
The virtue of hope also shows its true colors in moments of crisis, of long stalemates, difficulties, slander, suspensions and betrayal. One who has given life to a business knows that the most important moments in its history are those in which he has been able to hope against all that is happening, against all his friends’ advice (“but who makes you do it?”, “you’re too naïve”, “don’t exaggerate”…), against the experts’ forecasts – when he has had the strength to hope, to insist on his project, to persevere in believing (faith) in his idea and in his Socratic “daemon”, walking for years on the crest of precipice.

Hope is therefore a virtue, and like every true virtue is always an alternative to fortune. The great Western culture arose in Greece (especially with Socrates) when it was discovered and affirmed that there existed a struggle between happiness and fortune. In the ancient world, happiness was linked to fortune. The Greek philosophers, in one of human history’s epochal moments, would understand that a new age was beginning for man. Man could be freed from the goddess of fortune, from fate, and begin to truly be responsible for his own destiny.  The instrument of this liberation was precisely that virtue (arête, which means excellence, is the same root that we find in other words, like artist or acrobat), as only the virtuous man can become happy, even against bad fate. 

Capable of excellence
The idea that arises in this extraordinary period of time in human history is that I am the main protagonist in my happiness (and unhappiness), and not events. Events are certainly important to my well-being, but they are never decisive in determining my quality of life, which instead depends on virtue, on my capacity to rise to excellence, which is in everyone in his or her own way.  Virtue defeats fortune. 

Market ethics, and especially entrepreneurial ethics, arise with the affirmation that innovation, responsibility and work – not fortune – are the protagonists of success in our work. That is why this culture of virtue must resist today in a world that underlines luck, lotteries, scratch and wins, games, the SuperEnalotta (its impressive to see the invasion of gambling games online, on TV, in soccer team sponsors, etc.).
Hope is a virtue because, with it, one doesn’t rely on fortune to bring returns on one’s investment and intelligence. Rather, one relies on his own virtues (excellence), on his collaborators, and on all the subjects of the market (we should never forget that the success of one entrepreneur also depends on the virtue of his suppliers, clients and even competitors – of the economic system as a whole). Hope is not fortune or luck then, but a virtue. 

A social virtue
Finally, hope is an eminently social virtue. One hopes in people: in colleague Mario, in supplier Giovanna, in competitor Andrew. In fact, hope is never generic, given to unknown people or unpredictable events. Hope is a relational good; it´s an investment in a relationship, in many relationships. That is why hope, like all social virtues (fraternity, trust, reciprocity, brotherly love…) is fragile and vulnerable, because you can never control the other’s response. You can only “hope” in his reciprocity, without the guarantee of a contract. But, thinking it over well, vulnerability is the deepest condition of the human person. If economics is part of life, it should also know how to co-exist with vulnerability, aware that a good kind of vulnerability towards others hides many of the most beautiful things in life, like forgiveness, reconciliation, gratuitousness, a free encounter with others and not a hierarchical one, true esteem and recognition, sincere gratitude – all goods that people’s well-being depend upon. This goes for entrepreneurs as well. They produce well-being (and not only wealth) when they’re capable of virtue, of relational excellence. They are cultivators of hope.

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Today, economy and market are dominated by the idea of fortune. One is successful because of personal charisma and favorable coincidences. Instead, the entrepreneur knows that hope is the motor of enterprise, because it creates relationships and determines certainty in the return on one’s talents.

Hope. The virtue that moves business in a season of crisis

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita on January 7, 2011

Logo_Virtu_ENGEven if it may seem strange, hope is – or at least should be – a market virtue. As is well-known, hope is a virtue, and a particularly a theological virtue alongside faith and charity, as in Western and Christian tradition these virtues are the foundation for the others (courage, temperance, strength, prudence, etc.).
For example, hope is one of the main virtues that an entrepreneur should have. The entrepreneur begins a business or a new economic activity if he hopes that tomorrow’s world will be altogether better than it is today, that the 100 invested today can become 101 or 105 tomorrow. 

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The Virtues of the Market: Hope

Today, economy and market are dominated by the idea of fortune. One is successful because of personal charisma and favorable coincidences. Instead, the entrepreneur knows that hope is the motor of enterprise, because it creates relationships and determines certainty in the return on one’s talents. H...
stdClass Object
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    [id] => 16637
    [title] => The Virtues of the Market: Fraternity
    [alias] => the-virtues-of-the-market-fraternity
    [introtext] => 

The market today is considered non-moral almost by nature. And the crisis has accented this perception. Instead, what prevails is a pathological version of the market. To get out of this trap, we need to rediscover an unexpected virtue – that of fraternity.

Beyond the crisis: from econo-my to econo-our

Individualism is off course

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita on December 3, 2010

Logo_Virtu_ENGWe concluded last week’s installment in front of a crossroads, one which historically has set peoples in front of the decision between fraternity and fratricide. The first community that the Judeo-Christian tradition – therefore, the Western tradition – tells us about is one which chooses fratricide when faced with this decision:

[fulltext] =>

“So, man of the hour, your stone and catapult have gone high-tech. You were there in the cockpit - I saw you - with your wings striped with malice, your dials of death. Up inside the tank's turret, at the gibbet or manning torture's wheels. It was you: I saw you. … And the blood's a lingering stench as on the day brother beckoned brother into the fields” (S. Quasimodo). Other times, in front of that same crossroads, persons, communities and peoples have instead taken to the direction of fraternity. This had happened often after tragic experiences, like the Italians during post-facist reconstruction, in India with Gandhi and in South Africa with Mandela. Even today, if we want to get out of this great and profound crisis (much more than financial or economical, because it is a crisis of relationships: interpersonal, political, religious and with nature) we are finding ourselves faced with this same crossroads.

By now, we have decisively entered the era of common goods (even if the academic world has not yet realized this; in Economics departments throughout the world, just a few moments or whatever is left of the course is dedicated to the topic of common goods). Fraternity must become virtue in the market as well, as classic market virtues, individual virtues – prudence, innovation, responsibility, independence, etc. – are no longer enough. But in what way can and should fraternity become a virtue also in the market? There are many possible translations of the principle of fraternity in economy, and in fact, for some time now, the word fraternity is also beginning to be used in scientific magazines. But what kind of fraternity? Certainly not fraternity that refers to shared bloodlines, nor exclusively among family and clan ties. Neither is it the fraternity often used by closed and discriminating communities.

The use of the word fraternity that can and should become an economic principle is that which refers to the triptych used during the Enlightenment in Europe. It is the kind of fraternity grouped with freedom and equality, to be the pillars of a new Europe, of a new social pact, of which all three of these principles had previously been missing.  This kind of fraternity on the part of members of a community means feeling part of a common destiny, of being united by a link less exclusive and elective than friendship, but which is capable of generating feelings of reciprocal sympathy, and which can and should even be expressed in ordinary market transactions. Better said, the construction of a market economy was understood by Enlightenment economists, and Italians in particular (Genovesi, Dragonetti, Filangieri), as a pre-condition so that fraternity not remain an abstract principle but become a general, everyday praxis. But how does the vision of the economy and the market change if we take fraternity seriously? How can we reconcile the idea of the market envisioned as fraternity with price mechanisms? If we don’t answer these questions, it would be like saying that a civil economy of fraternity is possible only in small, pre-modern communities or at the margins of an ordinary market economy. This is a message we cannot accept. Therefore, I propose to call a market interaction fraternal if it is lived and represented as a relationship that makes all parties a collective agent, a team.

 

In the standard vision of economy, as we saw a few installments ago and going back to Smith, when A exchanges with B, A does not think of B’s advantage. Rather, A satisfies B’s needs only as a way of reaching his own goals. In such an approach, the common good and that of the other with whom I exchange something are non-intentional effects. On the other hand, and as a reaction to this vision which is not social or fraternal enough, there are people today who believe that genuine sociality or fraternity should instead be associated to some form of sacrifice on the part of someone or all subjects of an exchange – therefore, not being so compatible with ordinary market transactions.

Instead, I am convinced that fraternity translated into economic life should allow us to think that a market relationship can be both mutually advantageous and genuinely social. The virtue of fraternity allows people to overcome the dualistic vision that sees the market, on one side, as the kingdom of mutual advantage, and fraternity, on the other side, as the kingdom of sacrifice. This vision did not do the market well. In considering itself non-moral, the market has become always more so. This dualism did not help the non-market either, as the desire to associate family and friendship with pure gratuitousness often has hidden relationships of power and pathologies of every kind: just think of the role of women in traditional communities..

From the perspective of fraternity, the market contract commits each partner to carrying out their own part to reach a common goal. This common goal is the joined advantage deriving from the contract, obviously within the specific confines determined by that transaction. Each party, in fulfilling his own part of the task, behaves with the intention of participating in a combination of actions that benefit the whole “team”. Therefore, when Andrea (who we met a few installments ago) goes to the fish shop, he is not simply prudent and thinking of his own interest. Rather, from the perspective of fraternity, it is as if he says to Bruno, “I propose you with a joint action that benefits both of us. You help me to satisfy my need of fish, and I help you to satisfy your need of money. Let’s do this joint action together; let’s form this temporary team”. If the two reach an agreement, the client (Andrea) intentionally wants that the fish vendor (Bruno) benefits from the exchange, and viceversa. Therefore, each one has the conscious intention to be useful to the other. Mutual advantage (not only personal interest) is the intention and the content of the exchange. This is a way to make the concept of fraternity compatible with a market economy.

There is one condition though: the team and the intention to benefit the other must be created during the contract’s fulfillment and not as a criteria for choosing the contract partner. For example, fraternity does not require a client to choose a supplier in order to help him (for example, if the supplier is going through an economic crisis). The client becomes bound to follow a common objective only in the moment that the contract is drawn up. Therefore, for example, Genovesi (and I with him) would not normally advise an entrepreneur the following: “choose supplier A because he’s in economic difficulty, even if his prices are higher than B’s prices”. A fraternal vision does not lead to creating informal economies of “friends”, where people choose business partners for “friendship” reasons. I believe that the challenge of social economy experiences, like the Economy of Communion or fair trade or the ethical bank, is in keeping pricing signals combined with an authentic spirit of fraternity. If, instead, the two levels are confused, and one chooses a supplier only or primarily because he is a “friend” or because he is “part of the project”, then this kind of fraternity conflicts with the virtues of the market.

The vision of fraternity as a market paradigm also gives rise to a different idea of competition. The dominant vision today tends to see competition between business A and business B as a fight between the two. The non-intentional effect of such interaction reduces market prices and therefore works towards the advantage of clients C. Instead, competition seen from the perspective of fraternity leads one to see the market game centered on the axes A-C and B-C. Each business seeks to satisfy clients better than the other, and whoever does this worse leaves the market, as an unintentional effect. But the goal of A is cooperating with C, forming a team together, not “fighting” againt competitor B, and vice versa.

Social life is a set of opportunities to seize together. The market is a system that allows us to seize these opportunities to grow together with others, not against them. The market economy then becomes a set of many cooperative relationships, a world populated by temporary teams, where each one interprets himself in relationship with others, not thinking only of econo-my but of econo-our. Only an econo-our, with an “our” as big as the entire planet, can be up to the challenges that await us.

See article

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The market today is considered non-moral almost by nature. And the crisis has accented this perception. Instead, what prevails is a pathological version of the market. To get out of this trap, we need to rediscover an unexpected virtue – that of fraternity.

Beyond the crisis: from econo-my to econo-our

Individualism is off course

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita on December 3, 2010

Logo_Virtu_ENGWe concluded last week’s installment in front of a crossroads, one which historically has set peoples in front of the decision between fraternity and fratricide. The first community that the Judeo-Christian tradition – therefore, the Western tradition – tells us about is one which chooses fratricide when faced with this decision:

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The Virtues of the Market: Fraternity

The market today is considered non-moral almost by nature. And the crisis has accented this perception. Instead, what prevails is a pathological version of the market. To get out of this trap, we need to rediscover an unexpected virtue – that of fraternity. Beyond the crisis: from econo-my to econo-...
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    [title] => The Virtues of the Market: Commons: The virtue to rediscover in order to save us from extinction
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    [introtext] => 

It’s fraternity. Few associate it with economic talk. But without it, there’s no model that stands. As is happening today, the individual logic of maximizing one’s advantage at the cost of everyone’s interests is bringing us to a dead end.

Commons: The virtue to rediscover in order to save us from extinction

By Luigino BruniLogo_Virtu

Published in the weekly Vita, November 19, 2010

Talk about the commons makes its way always more as one of the great topics of our times: if the most important goods become commons, we need to develop new virtues, as the market’s typical individual virtues are not sufficient to overcome new challenges.

But what is the Tragedy of the commons? First of all, it’s the title of the celebrated article published by biologist D. Hardin, in 1968, in the prestigious Science magazine. The thesis is strong and clear: when we deal with goods in common (commons), even if each person prudently follows his own interests, there is the risk that, without wanted it or realizing it, the branch we are all sitting on will be sawed a little each day. Why?

[fulltext] =>

There is a noteworthy example in Hardin’s article, by now in every microeconomics textbook, of the common and free pasture, where each farmer brings his cows to graze. The choice that maximizes freedom and individual interest is that of increasing the cattle brought to graze, as the individual advantage of bringing an extra cow to graze is + 1, while the reduction of grass is only a fraction of – 1 (as the damage is shared among all the other farmers who use the common pasture). Therefore, the individual benefit is greater than the individual cost, and this pushes each one to increase their use of the common, also pushing each one to increase their use of the good in common. It leads to the destruction of the pasture, if…something does not happen which limits individual freedom in some way.

The difficult relationship with limits

From the trees on Easter Island to the hole in the ozone, from the truffles of my region of Marche to the unstoppable lowering of the water table in India and in Lake Albano, the big daily story tells us about these tragedies. They happen in communities and civilizations, small or large, that have “collapsed” (as Diamond would say), as they were not capable of no going beyond the limit or the critical point of no return beyond which the process becomes irreversible. On Easter Island, the extinction of that population was not linked to cutting down the last tree, but to have had surpassed, at a certain point and without knowing it, a limit, a threshold, beyond which the extinction of that last tree was inevitable.

Human history, however, tells us of many other stories, where communities were instead capable of stopping themselves in time, of coordinating, of limiting individual freedom and did not tragically collapse. Social norms, laws, antique traditions, uses and customs could be understood as the instruments that civilization invented to avoid collapse. Today, when we think of water management, of cities, the environment, the tragic and always more urgent question is this: will we go beyond the limits and follow the path of the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island, or will we be capable of stopping ourselves in time, of coordinating? Will we, therefore, be capable of that individual and collective wisdom that allows communities – including the worldwide community of human beings and other species on this planet – to not collapse and implode, but live and grow in harmony?

To be able to hope that the second option will come true, we need new virtues today, as the typically individual virtues (like seeking self-interests) do not offer guarantees in knowing how to face the challenges of common goods, and therefore the challenges of the “Common Good” (there is no Common Good without the commons).

Need of fraternity

In order to have the commons, there is need for reciprocal virtues that immediately express a link among people. Which ones? The first virtue that should absolutely be raised as the founding principle of post-modernity, of the globalized society and of the economy of commons, is fraternity. Today there is an always more urgent need for a new, worldwide social pact among equal and free citizens who self-limit their use of shared goods (not only on the part of citizens represented in the G20, but potentially among everyone).

The words freedom and equality say individual. Fraternity, instead, is a good that is a link among people, a link that expresses the same ambivalence that exists in the word “link”, if it’s true that a link is both a relationship and a bind. But without recognizing the links that unite us with one another, we cannot escape the tragedy of the commons, which is a tragedy because of the lack of awareness that common  living is a network of relationships between persons, communities and peoples, a network of relationships that globalization and technology are making always more thick and intricate.

The epochal change which our post-modern society is experiencing deals with the centrality of shared goods, which are becoming the rule rather than the exception in economic and civil life. Today, the quality of development of peoples and of lands certainly depends on shoes, refrigerators and washing-machines (classic private goods), but much more so on the goods (or evils) in common, like greenhouse gases, water, or the trust stocks of financial markets (the financial crisis can also be seen as a tragedy of the common good of trust), on which food, shoes and refrigerators depend.

The history of peoples has seen many moments where we have found ourselves at a crossroads between fraternity and fratricide, two roads that have bordered one another since the times of Cain. Sometimes we have chosen the direction of fraternity, and other more numerous times we’ve followed that of fratricide. Today, the crossroads is still in front of us.

See article

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It’s fraternity. Few associate it with economic talk. But without it, there’s no model that stands. As is happening today, the individual logic of maximizing one’s advantage at the cost of everyone’s interests is bringing us to a dead end.

Commons: The virtue to rediscover in order to save us from extinction

By Luigino BruniLogo_Virtu

Published in the weekly Vita, November 19, 2010

Talk about the commons makes its way always more as one of the great topics of our times: if the most important goods become commons, we need to develop new virtues, as the market’s typical individual virtues are not sufficient to overcome new challenges.

But what is the Tragedy of the commons? First of all, it’s the title of the celebrated article published by biologist D. Hardin, in 1968, in the prestigious Science magazine. The thesis is strong and clear: when we deal with goods in common (commons), even if each person prudently follows his own interests, there is the risk that, without wanted it or realizing it, the branch we are all sitting on will be sawed a little each day. Why?

[jcfields] => Array ( ) [type] => intro [oddeven] => item-even )

The Virtues of the Market: Commons: The virtue to rediscover in order to save us from extinction

It’s fraternity. Few associate it with economic talk. But without it, there’s no model that stands. As is happening today, the individual logic of maximizing one’s advantage at the cost of everyone’s interests is bringing us to a dead end. Commons: The virtue to rediscover in order to save us f...
stdClass Object
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    [id] => 16641
    [title] => The Virtues of the Market: The world runs well if everyone takes care of their own interests
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    [introtext] => 

ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni:  independence as a healthy market value

THE WORLD RUNS WELL IF EVERYONE TAKES CARE OF THEIR OWN INTERESTS

It is not a paradox but an economic rule. As Smith said, caring for personal interests is a virtue.Even if today, in complex societies, this rule vacillates

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, November 5, 2010 

Andrew enters the fish shop below his house to buy fresh fish from Bruno. Andrew gives Bruno 20 Euro in exchange for good swordfish from the Mediterranean. And so, one of the many phenomenon that we call “market exchange” takes place. But what truly happened between Andrew and Bruno inside that fish shop? It depends on one’s point of view and on what we are capable of “seeing”. 

For example, in the sale of that swordfish, a sociologist passing by that store might see all the sailors who are poorly paid and illegally so, thinking of those human relationships which are “hidden under the shell of the market” (in Marx’s words).

[fulltext] =>

A town councilor that observes the scene may be mostly attracted by Bruno, who, in order to withstand the competition of large hypermarkets, has not paid himself for months, squandering his life savings in order to not close the fish shop he inherited from his grandfather.

An environmentalist, instead, might think of the entrepreneur of the sea who makes himself rich by impoverishing the fishing fauna in the depths of our oceans. And we could continue adding other points of view, other perspectives.

The equivalent exchange

But what would an economist “see” in that exchange? Let’s take the reaction of a traditional or standard economist (if we can call him such), that is, one of my many colleagues who teach economic science in the many universities of the world (which are unfortunately all too similar). He would explain the human fact which took place inside that fish shop as an exchange of things, through persons, and if he had a blackboard, he would represent it as the following: A towards B, B towards A, with the specification that the value of the two transactions (the two arrows) is equivalent (the fact that distinguishes it from an exchange of gifts). Then, if he wanted to explain it better, he would say that Andrew’s goal or motivation is obtaining fish, while that of Bruno is having money, and each one gives something to the other as a means of reaching their own goal. 

All of this simple discourse (which I may have complicated) was erected by Adam Smith in 1776 as a cornerstone of the foundation of political economy, and synthesized with one of the most celebrated quotes of the social sciences: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love” (from The Wealth of Nations). This series of articles is dedicated to the virtues of the market. In what sense, then, can we and Smith, call the market exchange based simply on interests a virtue? To better understand Smith’s operation (and do so without being naïve), which is the transformation of personal interest from vice to virtue, we need to know that, just a few lines before that discussion of the butcher, Smith dedicates a long part of his discussion to the beggar. He says that the beggar’s lunch “depends on the benevolence of his fellow citizens”, on the butcher and the baker of the village. Smith comments that it is only the beggar who depends “mainly on the benevolence of his own fellow citizens”.

Rapports among equals

Instead, the free man prefers independence from his benefactors in order to build relationships among equals. We have to keep in mind that the world to which Smith and all classical economists were launching a controversy against was the feudal system. Under feudalism, multitudes of beggars depended on the “benevolence” and alms of a few benevolent patrons in order to live. In a world of feudal dependence, of servants and masters, there can never be friendship between the beggar and the butcher (friendship requires equality), neither in the shop nor the pub. Imagine that the ex-beggar finds work and returns to the fish shop and buys fish. Even if inside the shop the exchange is not friendship (according to Smith, not me – but I’ll talk about this in future installments), after dinner in the pub these two can meet on an equal plane, on a more dignified one, and if they want, even one of friendship.

Virtue, every virtue, requires free people. Whether in the past or today, in a world of beggars, there is no authentic civil virtue. That is why, according to classical economic theory, the invention of the market becomes an instrument of civilization. Even market exchange, though not based on benevolence but self-interest, becomes an expression of virtue

Independence is a virtue, particularly dear to the stoic philosopher (and very dear to Smith). But there is more. A civil society where each person simply follows his own interests works well, because caring for one’s own interests is an expression of the virtue of prudence. For example, if every citizen of Milan cares for the education his own children, does his work well, tends his garden and pays taxes to produce public goods – if we have many “prudent men” in Milan – the city is automatically virtuous as well. 

This is essentially the idea held within the most famous metaphor of economic thought: that of the “invisible hand”. Each person follows private interests, and the society will also providentially find itself with a common good. This prudence is also the reason that for Smith, in protest to the moralists before and contemporary to him (like Mandeville or Rousseau), personal interest is not a vice but a virtue: prudence. This “semantic” operation (the use of the very word, self-interest, changes its moral meaning) was at the base of the ethical legitimacy of the budding political economy and market economy. In fact, it is important to remember that these economies played a role in civilizing the world, if we compare them to the feudal regime. 

But shared goods change everything

There is, however, a very serious problem. The ethical legitimacy of exchange and this virtuous vision of interests (seen as an expression of prudence), worked and works in simple societies, where the good of individuals is directly linked to the good of all, where, using more technical language, goods are mostly private.  If, instead, goods become shared - if the most important and strategic economic goods for us and our posterity, for the poorest and others, are non-renewable resources, forests, lakes, seas, environmental goods, as well as the management of apartment buildings, or the co-habitation in multi-ethnic cities - the discussion gets terribly complicated.

What comes back into play are some of those “views” of those who observe the fish shop. They are views that are different than those of the economist we named in the beginning of this article, and the virtue of prudence is no longer automatically a virtue of the market as well, as it is no longer true that the search for private interests produces shared goods - a crucial theme which we’ll focus on in the next installment.

See article

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ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni:  independence as a healthy market value

THE WORLD RUNS WELL IF EVERYONE TAKES CARE OF THEIR OWN INTERESTS

It is not a paradox but an economic rule. As Smith said, caring for personal interests is a virtue.Even if today, in complex societies, this rule vacillates

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, November 5, 2010 

Andrew enters the fish shop below his house to buy fresh fish from Bruno. Andrew gives Bruno 20 Euro in exchange for good swordfish from the Mediterranean. And so, one of the many phenomenon that we call “market exchange” takes place. But what truly happened between Andrew and Bruno inside that fish shop? It depends on one’s point of view and on what we are capable of “seeing”. 

For example, in the sale of that swordfish, a sociologist passing by that store might see all the sailors who are poorly paid and illegally so, thinking of those human relationships which are “hidden under the shell of the market” (in Marx’s words).

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The Virtues of the Market: The world runs well if everyone takes care of their own interests

ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni:  independence as a healthy market value THE WORLD RUNS WELL IF EVERYONE TAKES CARE OF THEIR OWN INTERESTS It is not a paradox but an economic rule. As Smith said, caring for personal interests is a virtue.Even if today, in complex societies, this rule vacillate...
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    [introtext] => 

ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: apology for the true motors of development

Come on entrepreneur, you keep the world running

He is the protagonist of economic development. With his ideas and courage, he breaks through stagnant situations and makes the system dynamic. We will never be grateful enough…

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, October 29, 2010 

When the market functions correctly, it is a place in which innovation and human creativity are favored and awarded. Market competition (which we already spoke about in the previous installments of this series) can be, and if we want to understand it in its truest nature, should be seen as a race to innovate. Those who innovate grow and live, while those who do not innovate remain behind and leave the economic and civil game. 

The author who has most caught this virtuous dynamic of the market (the capacity to innovate is undoubtedly a virtue, because it is an expression of arête, of excellence) is the Austrian economist J.A. Schumpeter. In 1911, he published a book called Theory of Economic Development, a classic economic theory text of the 20th century, which I still recommend today to anyone interested in good reading on economic and social theory. In that book, Schumpeter masterfully describes the dynamic of the market as a “run” between innovators and imitators.

[fulltext] =>

To explain the nature and role of innovation, Schumpeter draws upon a model where the starting point is the “stationary state”, the situation in which businesses only carry out routine activities and the economic system perfectly replicates itself over time, without there being creation of true wealth.

Economic development then beings when an entrepreneur breaks from the stationary state by introducing innovation, which can be a technical invention, a new organizational formula, the creation of new products or new markets, which on average reduce costs and makes it possible for the business to create new wealth. 

The entrepreneur-innovator is the protagonist of economic development, as he creates real added value and makes the social system dynamic. The innovator is then followed by a “swarm” of imitators attracted by that created added value, just as bees are attracted by nectar.  When they enter into those sectors that verify the innovation, they cause the market price of that given product to decrease, to the point that all the profit generated by the innovation is entirely absorbed. The economy and society return to the stationary state until a new innovation restarts the cycle of economic development. Therefore, for Schumpeter, profit has a transitory nature, as it subsists as long as there is innovation, in that time lapse between the initial innovation and the imitation.

What does this century-old theory still have to tell us today? Above all, it reminds us that the truest nature of the entrepreneur and the entrepreneurial function is the capacity to innovate.

The entrepreneur is not a profit-seeker: profit is only a signal that innovation is present. When the entrepreneur (including the social entrepreneur) complains because he is imitated, his vocation is already in crisis. He must be reminded that imitation also plays an important role, as it makes sure that derivative advantages that come from an innovation do not remain in the innovating business alone but are spread to the entire society (for example, through the reduction of market prices, which increases collective well-being).

Imitation is important and plays a role in the common good: the positive way to respond to imitation is to start the race again, continuing to innovate. This is particularly important in this era of globalization, where the innovation-imitation dynamic is very fast and global. Even today, as one-hundred years ago, the answer to living and growing is not complaining or turning to protectionist measures. Rather, it lies in a new start and new investment in the art of innovation. 

Besides, this theory of innovation tells us that when an entrepreneur stops innovating, he dies as an entrepreneur (perhaps transforming himself into a spectator), and so blocks the run or the innovation-imitation relay race, which is the true virtuous dynamic that pushes society ahead, not only the economy.

One of the profound reasons for the current crisis was the progressive transformation of many entrepreneurs and speculators, which took place in the past decades following the financial boom.

The entrepreneur-innovator, compared to the speculator, thanks to his vocation, sees the world as a dynamic place that can be changed. He doesn’t simply think of increasing his own piece of a given “pie”. He creates new “pies”, welcomes new opportunities, looks ahead and not beside him in search of rivals to battle so that he can hoard the pie.

From 4th century civil humanism to the industrial districts of Made in Italy, from artisan-artists to social cooperatives, Italy has been capable of economic and civil development when cultural and institutional conditions have allowed people to cultivate the virtue of creativity and innovation. Instead, we have stopped growing as a country when what prevails is the logic of whimpering, of seeking and maintaining substantial incomes, when we’ve looked at the other as a rival to fight against and not as a partner to grow with. 

Thirdly, the law of the market as a mechanism that awards innovation places the accent on people and not so much on capital, finance or technology. Innovation is first of all a matter of vision, of a different outlook on things and on the world, and therefore a matter of people that see reality differently.

And, in fact, in the 1940s, Schumpeter himself foresaw that the passage of innovation from persons to research offices and development of large businesses would have changed the nature of capitalism. It would cause capitalism to lose contact with the personal dimension – the only one that can really innovate.

And still today, after decades of getting drunk over what’s “big” and anonymous, we’re realizing that the businesses that are able to grow and be leaders in the globalized economy are, more and more, those where there is one or more persons capable of seeing reality differently, capable of innovation. The only true key to innovation and every economic value is people’s intelligence (that is, knowing how to “read and see within” things), as an Italian economist even older than Schumpeter said. I’m referring to Carlo Cattaneo from Milan, who, in the mid 19th century, wrote one of the most beautiful and humanistic theses on economic action, in which he reminds us that the virtue of innovation is founded on an even more radical virtue (because more universal): creativity. “There is not job or capital that does not begin with an act of intelligence,” he said, “Before every job, before all capital…it’s the intelligence that begins the work and stamps the character of wealth into it for the first time.”

Finally, the dynamic, the run, the virtuous relay race of innovation-imitation is greater than just the economic environment. This gives us a beautiful and original key to understanding not only the market but also the civil history of peoples. When societies and markets favor people who innovate, when these people do not lament but delight in being imitated, when even institutions universalize these innovations, then common living and the market work, and they are beautiful places in which to live.  

See article

 

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ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: apology for the true motors of development

Come on entrepreneur, you keep the world running

He is the protagonist of economic development. With his ideas and courage, he breaks through stagnant situations and makes the system dynamic. We will never be grateful enough…

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, October 29, 2010 

When the market functions correctly, it is a place in which innovation and human creativity are favored and awarded. Market competition (which we already spoke about in the previous installments of this series) can be, and if we want to understand it in its truest nature, should be seen as a race to innovate. Those who innovate grow and live, while those who do not innovate remain behind and leave the economic and civil game. 

The author who has most caught this virtuous dynamic of the market (the capacity to innovate is undoubtedly a virtue, because it is an expression of arête, of excellence) is the Austrian economist J.A. Schumpeter. In 1911, he published a book called Theory of Economic Development, a classic economic theory text of the 20th century, which I still recommend today to anyone interested in good reading on economic and social theory. In that book, Schumpeter masterfully describes the dynamic of the market as a “run” between innovators and imitators.

[jcfields] => Array ( ) [type] => intro [oddeven] => item-even )

The Virtues of the Market: Come on entrepreneur, you keep the world running

ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: apology for the true motors of development Come on entrepreneur, you keep the world running He is the protagonist of economic development. With his ideas and courage, he breaks through stagnant situations and makes the system dynamic. We will never be grateful enoug...
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    [title] => The Virtues of the Market: If narcissism wins, the market loses
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    [introtext] => 

ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: a key category that gambles with well-being 

IF NARCISSISM WINS, THE MARKET LOSES

It’s the utopia of doing the job we like. In reality, we need to do the job that the world needs. This is a rule that the market imposes, guaranteeing freedom and healthy reciprocity.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, October 22, 2010

If we observe the market, businesses and all economic life, we immediately notice that we’re dealing with an always denser, more global and complex network of relationships. The modern market has not only multiplied our relationships, human contacts and cooperation with respect to the pre-modern world, but it has also changed the nature of them, making it a big moderator that immunizes interpersonal rapports and shared life, substituting strong and ambivalent community relationships with loose contractual links, with cash nexus.

In fact, we can correctly interpret the last few centuries (and not only in the West) as a progressive spread of market cooperation and its relational logic – an extension and advancement that presents very problematic aspects (or “vices”) but also the virtues we are underlining in this series.

[fulltext] =>

The virtue I want to focus our attention on this week is “anti-narcissism”, which does not immediately jump out in front of the eyes of those who observe a market economy (and society). But personally, I consider it among the market’s key characteristics to understanding our society.

Do what you don’t like to do
When the market works correctly, it can be seen as a large social mechanism that pays or “rewards” (as Giacinto Dragonetti would have said) those human activities which are useful to everyone but scarce. In the shared life of a complex society, where there is division of labor and division of knowledge, many activities or jobs that are not carried out spontaneously, simply because they are not rewarding in themselves, do not give intrinsic pay-back. 

To understand this virtue, let’s imagine a society where the market does not exist as a regulating mechanism of people’s activities. How would such a community operate?

Historically, these communities were the rule in the antique world. The mechanism that allowed them to work was simply the command, a hierarchy. Social order was reached through sacrifice of individual freedom and the very existence of the individual. Another possibility could consist in a social system in which each person carries out the activity they love or feel is their vocation – activities which are done not under command but because we like them, because they give us intrinsic joy.

What would happen in this hypothetical society (which we find every once in awhile throughout history)?

The inevitable scene is social “disorder”. We would have an excess (with respect to social demand) of intrinsically rewarding activities (artists, poets, chess players, mushroom hunters, scholars, economists, mystics, athletes, etc.), which are carried out because they produce joy in who does them. At the same time, we would have an insufficient offering of work that is not very rewarding in itself but extremely useful to society (garbage men, night doormen, miners, train conductors, highway workers, electrical workers, night watchmen, jail wardens, etc.). 

Of course, ideological work could be done to indoctrinate the street sweeper to spend eight hours a day cleaning the streets as an expression of his vocation and Socratic daimon, or all the nurses that their vocation is caring for others only out of the intrinsic joy of the care given. One will intuit right away that such ideological operations rarely work for everyone or for very long, as they almost inevitably become liberticidal and authoritarian communities.

Besides, in such communities, there would be a very high risk of non-communication and non-meeting among persons. Everyone would be so busy following his or her own vocation that they would not worry about interacting with others on a plane of reciprocity. We would be in a society that we could call, without hesitation, narcissistic.

Pay the miner more 
What is the market, then, when we view it from this perspective? It is a mechanism that offers “extrinsic” payment, normally money, for jobs that we would not carry out – at least in a sufficient quantity – if we only followed our aspirations or vocation to them. Through the mechanism of prices, the market makes sure that the jobs awarded are not those which we would do only because we like them, but rather those which are seen as useful by the others with which we interact (and therefore, they pay us for that activity).

This is why the market is also a system of signals that indicate to us if the things we like to do are also interesting to others. This is also why market exchange can be understood as a form of reciprocity and social link. It allows activities that are useful to society to be carried out in a free and dignified way, and when we choose a trade or activity, the market pushes us to put ourselves in others’ shoes, to ask ourselves if I am the only one who is enjoying what I am doing or if it also pleases or serves someone else with whom I interact.

This was the foundation on which Adam Smith (and many other economists) affirmed that a miner should be paid relatively more than a university professor (who gains intrinsic recompense from his activity that the miner does not) – a thesis that I would subscribe to still today.

Others tell us this
From this point of view, the market pushes us to have an adult attitude rather than a narcissistic one. From this lens, those who complain that their works have no market (in science and the arts, for example) would not be considered virtuous. In some cases, we might be dealing with misunderstood artists, but often we simply find ourselves in front of civilly immature people who do not accept the idea that, in this world, we are not the ones to judge the bounty or quality of what we create and produce – others do. And they tell us they value our work by buying it (although not only in this way). 

That does not mean giving up fostering our vocation, even in the working world. We just need to learn that if I’m not able to live off of fostering my daimon, I must accept carrying out other paying non-vocational activities in a non-narcissistic way (part-time work), which allows me to follow my vocation (like painting) in other environments.

I remember meeting “scholars” who were convinced to have written books that would change history, but as they were unable to convince any editors of this, they paid for the printing of the book themselves, or even easier, they forced their students to buy it.

Of course, the instruments or language that the market uses to say that people like your work are very poor (either money or material incentives), but perhaps they are preferable to the commands in an illiberal hierarchy. That does not corrode this market virtue which reminds us that the world is a place where water falls from mountains to valleys, and where human relationships are founded on the law of reciprocity, including the reciprocity as market relationship.

See article

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ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: a key category that gambles with well-being 

IF NARCISSISM WINS, THE MARKET LOSES

It’s the utopia of doing the job we like. In reality, we need to do the job that the world needs. This is a rule that the market imposes, guaranteeing freedom and healthy reciprocity.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in the weekly Vita, October 22, 2010

If we observe the market, businesses and all economic life, we immediately notice that we’re dealing with an always denser, more global and complex network of relationships. The modern market has not only multiplied our relationships, human contacts and cooperation with respect to the pre-modern world, but it has also changed the nature of them, making it a big moderator that immunizes interpersonal rapports and shared life, substituting strong and ambivalent community relationships with loose contractual links, with cash nexus.

In fact, we can correctly interpret the last few centuries (and not only in the West) as a progressive spread of market cooperation and its relational logic – an extension and advancement that presents very problematic aspects (or “vices”) but also the virtues we are underlining in this series.

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The Virtues of the Market: If narcissism wins, the market loses

ECONOMICS LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: a key category that gambles with well-being  IF NARCISSISM WINS, THE MARKET LOSES It’s the utopia of doing the job we like. In reality, we need to do the job that the world needs. This is a rule that the market imposes, guaranteeing freedom and healthy reciproc...
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ECONOMY LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: a false opposition to demystify

Cooperating and competing 

The market cannot be seen only as a matter of competition. Instead, it is an action that joins cooperation and competition. Experience shows this

By Luigino Bruni

Logo_Virtu

Published in the weekly Vita, October 15, 2010

Western thought and culture bring with them millennium worth of dichotomies that have marked their entire development, perhaps producing many fruits, but also creating many problems in people’s lives. The more notable dichotomies are soul-body, spiritual-material, eros-agape, and gift-market. In the last few centuries, some of these contrasts are being overcome (for example, soul-body), but others remain well rooted in our culture, like that which places gift against contract and gratuitousness against responsibility. There are serious consequences that result from considering gratuitousness as something strange to normal economic life, so much so to invent a “non-profit” or philanthropic sector to which all the gratuitousness in economic and civil life is entrusted. In reality, cooperation and competition are often two sides of the same life in common.

[fulltext] =>

In fact, even within organizations, competition plays a co-essential role. Organizations sometimes get sick from too much competition. Other times they get sick from the absence of competition between their members, which leads to leveling dynamics and to mediocrity and inefficiency. If competition is correctly understood as cum-petere, as “searching together” in a different way than the searching together in cooperation, the comparison and the emulation with others plays an important role in knowing my limits and my potential. This is similar to what happens in sports, where my competitor is also a help to my knowing and overcoming my limits, and therefore a help to reach excellence (mine and that of the discipline). Competition with others points out my limits and reveals my hidden potential, which might be dormant in a context without competition (especially when we are young).

Whoever lives within a company, school, university, and generally within institutions, knows that when these organizations or institutions work, good competition coexists with good cooperation. In certain phases and in certain moments, one cooperates for a common goal, and in others (for example, to win a prize or job promotion), one competes with the same people he is cooperating with on many fronts. When one is no longer able to move himself contemporaneously on these two levels, to see his colleague as a competitor and an ally, life in common is reduced only to one dimension and goes into crisis. The human quality of relationships is impoverished and deteriorates.

At the same time, the market cannot be read only as a matter of competition. The dynamic of the market - as classic authors like Mill or Einaudi teach us, or Sen and Becattini today – is mostly cooperative and competitive action combined, aiming at creating mutual advantages for the subjects involved. When this works well, it even does so for the society. In other words, if we want to understand common living, organizations and the market, we have to overcome the opposition between cooperation and competition, one of the last dichotomies that we have yet to free ourselves. Of course, as eros is not agape, competition is not cooperation, but both are co-essential for the flowering of persons and communities. And if, perhaps, we look at them up close and observe them in historical dynamics, we will realize maybe between eros and gift, competition and cooperation, there prevail many analogies about the differences

If the market, as understood in light of this dualistic thought, was and is considered as the kingdom of competition and competitors, why, then, is cooperation among its virtues? The first economist who understood the profoundly cooperative nature of the market was the Englishman David Ricardo, who formulated one of the first true economic theories (as it was counter-intuitive), around 1815. In the theory that preceded his, commerce and exchange took place when “absolute” advantages existed. But Ricardo intuits and shows something more: that these happen even in the case of “relative” advantages. Even in a world where English is more efficient than Portugal in both sectors, it is worthwhile for England to specialize in the sector in which it is relatively stronger and – and here is the point – even in this case, an exchange with the “weaker” is also to the advantage of the “stronger”. The classic example is that of the lawyer who, even if he types faster than a secretary would type, it is equally opportune for him to hire a secretary and concentrate on his more gainful legal practices (today it is known as the “cost opportunity” concept). But like England, this lawyer, in hiring a secretary who is less efficient than himself is not passing out “assistance” or benefits, but is also bringing himself advantage from the exchange (not only to the secretary). When the market does this, including who is weaker and making him become an advantage for everyone, then it fulfills its task of civilizing, and is therefore virtuous.

Think of the great innovations that represented the birth of social cooperation in Italy. The disadvantaged subjects included in the business have often become chances for mutual exchange, even for the business that hires them, and not a “cost” or an act of charity. Law 482/1968, on the insertion of disabled persons in businesses, probably failed due to peoples’ perception of the absence of mutual advantage. From those businesses and unions, the disabled worker was (and is) seen essentially as a cost or a weight. Social cooperation really innovated and continues to innovate, when it said that those disadvantaged workers would become a resource even for the business. And when it does not do so, we are still in the routine of assistance, and we don’t value the markets virtues.

But if we are able to activate this cooperation of the market, those who are “helped” feel inside a relationships of reciprocity among equals, which expresses more dignity. They do not feel assisted but as subjects within a mutually advantageous contract, and therefore they experience more freedom and equality. Even a person with down-syndrome can fulfill a mutually advantageous contract with a business. What is needed is that the entrepreneur is truly innovative and generative so that the mutual advantage is always a possibility (it does not happen automatically and always), which requires much work and creativity. But when this happens, the market is transformed into a true instrument of inclusion and authentic human and civil growth. In fact, the sacrifice of the benefactor is not always a good sign for those who are receiving help, because it can express a relationship of power that is, perhaps, hidden by good faith. 

A civil entrepreneur should not be in peace until the people included in his business feel useful to the business and to society, and not assisted by a philanthropist or an institution. Think of Microcredit: giving the excluded a chance to bank was one of the innovative economic principles of our time which has freed people (women in particular) from misery and exclusion in a way that is more efficient than many international aid interventions. Let’s make a sort of rule: if an intervention does not help all parties involved, it can rarely be help for any one of them. If I don’t feel benefitted by another, rarely will the other feel truly benefitted by me, especially when it is a long-term relationship. The law of life is reciprocity, which keeps relationships from getting sick and helps them grow in mutual dignity. The reciprocity of the market, then, can also be genuinely understood as a form of cooperation.

see article

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ECONOMY LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: a false opposition to demystify

Cooperating and competing 

The market cannot be seen only as a matter of competition. Instead, it is an action that joins cooperation and competition. Experience shows this

By Luigino Bruni

Logo_Virtu

Published in the weekly Vita, October 15, 2010

Western thought and culture bring with them millennium worth of dichotomies that have marked their entire development, perhaps producing many fruits, but also creating many problems in people’s lives. The more notable dichotomies are soul-body, spiritual-material, eros-agape, and gift-market. In the last few centuries, some of these contrasts are being overcome (for example, soul-body), but others remain well rooted in our culture, like that which places gift against contract and gratuitousness against responsibility. There are serious consequences that result from considering gratuitousness as something strange to normal economic life, so much so to invent a “non-profit” or philanthropic sector to which all the gratuitousness in economic and civil life is entrusted. In reality, cooperation and competition are often two sides of the same life in common.

[jcfields] => Array ( ) [type] => intro [oddeven] => item-even )

The Virtues of the Market: cooperating and competing

ECONOMY LESSONS. Luigino Bruni: a false opposition to demystify Cooperating and competing  The market cannot be seen only as a matter of competition. Instead, it is an action that joins cooperation and competition. Experience shows this By Luigino Bruni Published in the weekly Vita, October 15...
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ECONOMY LESSONS. Luigino Bruni begins a new series for the readers of Vita, on The Virtues of the Market

A new series by Luigino Bruni begins in “Vita”

Logo_Vita

Starting next week, a new series of articles begins in which Luigino Bruni will guide readers of Vita on an exploration of "the market's virtues". As in the case of the other very successful series by Bruni ("ABCDEconomy", collected in an issue of Communitas), these articles will explore various virtues, one at a time. We'll talk about cooperation, mutual advantage, anti-paternalism, anonymity (which can also be seen as a virtue), and stoicism. Bruni, who is professor of Political Economics (who just received tenure a few weeks ago), has begun a reflection to relaunch another picture of the market. This is the fruit of a book just published by Bruno Mondadore, The Ethos of the Market: An introduction to the anthropological and relational foundations of the economy.

See all the articles published

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ECONOMY LESSONS. Luigino Bruni begins a new series for the readers of Vita, on The Virtues of the Market

A new series by Luigino Bruni begins in “Vita”

Logo_Vita

Starting next week, a new series of articles begins in which Luigino Bruni will guide readers of Vita on an exploration of "the market's virtues". As in the case of the other very successful series by Bruni ("ABCDEconomy", collected in an issue of Communitas), these articles will explore various virtues, one at a time. We'll talk about cooperation, mutual advantage, anti-paternalism, anonymity (which can also be seen as a virtue), and stoicism. Bruni, who is professor of Political Economics (who just received tenure a few weeks ago), has begun a reflection to relaunch another picture of the market. This is the fruit of a book just published by Bruno Mondadore, The Ethos of the Market: An introduction to the anthropological and relational foundations of the economy.

See all the articles published

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A new series begins in “Vita”

ECONOMY LESSONS. Luigino Bruni begins a new series for the readers of Vita, on The Virtues of the Market A new series by Luigino Bruni begins in “Vita” Starting next week, a new series of articles begins in which Luigino Bruni will guide readers of Vita on an exploration of "the market's virtues". ...
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ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni

Subsidiarity. New inflections of an ancient principle

Published in the monthly Communitas n.33  within the special issue titled L'abbecedario dell'economia civile (The ABCs of Civil Economy)

There is not good civil and political life without subsidiarity. This is one of the big lessons of the 1900s, of its totalitarianisms and ideologies, among which the most recent is perhaps the most dangerous (because it does not appear so): the market understood as the only regulatory principle of society. Subsidiarity is an expression that comes from subsidy, help. This principle was explicitly pronounced for the first time by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, during an historical period that had killed freedom and democracy also because it had first killed that principle. Implicitly, however, the principle of subsidiarity is ancient and dates back at least to the first ecumenical Councils, to the Fathers of the Church, to Scholastica, when it becomes an elaborated category of person. A very close relationship exists, in fact, between the principle of subsidiarity and the personalistic principle. Let´s see why. 

icon ABCDEconomy - S as in Subsidiarity

[fulltext] =>

The first definition of subsidiarity could be the following: the choices that regard a person or community should be taken at the closest level to the people involved. Every other intervention more distant is "good" if it is of help (that is what a subsidy does) to the lives of those people. It is, instead, "bad" if the more distant action substitutes that which is closer to the people. In other words, a public intervention or a collective action should be preferable the more it involves the subjects interested by that intervention or action. Participation, the process, is not less important than the objective to be reached, as the “how” often does not count any less than the “what”.

The principle of subsidiarity is also one of the principles of the European Union (which however, only partially understood it, because it unhooked it from the personalistic principle), and which is always more invoked by who searches for an institutional architecture which respects “proximity” and deliberative democracy. Until today, such principle was mostly applied in its “vertical” version (as regulatory criteria of the relationship between the various levels of public administration: state, region, municipality…). Recently, the “horizontal” aspect has also been emphasized (regarding the relationship between civil society, market and public administration).

I am convinced that a new declension of this fundamental principle of civil life is necessary. It could be formulated like so: do not make a contract out of what could be done with reciprocity (gratuitousness). Or, in a more positive version: the market contract is the form of a fully human and civilizing relationship when it is subsidiary to reciprocity. The market contract becomes, instead, an enemy to the common good when it becomes a substitute for gratuitousness, as, unfortunately, is happening in our market societies, even when they abstractly invoke the principle of subsidiarity. In certain contexts, above all those in which the protection of disadvantaged subjects is at risk, and where there is structural asymmetry between the parties in question, the contract can reveal itself a valid instrument that serves, helps (subsidizes) gift and gratuitousness (many micro credit experiences are positive examples of this version of subsidiarity). May contracts and the market be welcomed, but if they help to increase universal fraternity.

At this point, the nexus with the personalistic principle should be clearer. Why, in fact, should we prefer the intervention of the municipality to that of the state (in the “vertical” version of subsidiarity) or the nursery school managed by a cooperative of parents rather than a public nursery school (in the “horizontal” version)? Because at the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, one finds the implicit hypothesis that people are truly people when they meet and when they live relationships of reciprocity, and precisely because the human being is not individual but person, that is to say, he is himself only in relationship with others. It is in the personalistic principle that we should trace the presence of the principle of subsidiarity in the original design of the Republican Constitution, in all of the tradition of civil, social, cooperative economy, which has always existed even without being called by that name (it´s a difficult name, also because it is often poorly explained and in an abstract way).

Always on the same personalistic basis, subsidiarity can be explained in the relationship with the new media: a media (e-mail, Skype, Facebook…) is good if it favors personal meetings. Instead, it´s bad with it becomes a substitute for real human relationships – the border between the good and the bad is often subject to a critical threshold.

In conclusion, I want to cite a phrase that I heard from Mons. Bregantini, and which I personally consider the best declension of the principle of subsidiarity: “Only you can do it, but you can´t do it alone”. Subsidiarity is, in fact, an extraordinary principle also in every authentic educative relationship: if the parent, or the teacher, or the adult, is not subsidiary but substitutes the other, the educative process doesn´t work and only produces pathologies and narcissism (not by chance the big illness of post-modernity). Analogous discourse on the theme of development: every type of help that arrives to people from the outside is efficient only if it supports and empowers the first fundamental movement that happens entirely within a person: his desire to live!

Subsidiarity is, therefore, a big civil word because it offers the criteria for organizing diversity, for articulating the multiform colors and facets of the communitas, for creating the cohabitation of differences. That is why it´s a word charged with future, in a world that will become always more multiform and rich with diversity.

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ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni

Subsidiarity. New inflections of an ancient principle

Published in the monthly Communitas n.33  within the special issue titled L'abbecedario dell'economia civile (The ABCs of Civil Economy)

There is not good civil and political life without subsidiarity. This is one of the big lessons of the 1900s, of its totalitarianisms and ideologies, among which the most recent is perhaps the most dangerous (because it does not appear so): the market understood as the only regulatory principle of society. Subsidiarity is an expression that comes from subsidy, help. This principle was explicitly pronounced for the first time by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, during an historical period that had killed freedom and democracy also because it had first killed that principle. Implicitly, however, the principle of subsidiarity is ancient and dates back at least to the first ecumenical Councils, to the Fathers of the Church, to Scholastica, when it becomes an elaborated category of person. A very close relationship exists, in fact, between the principle of subsidiarity and the personalistic principle. Let´s see why. 

icon ABCDEconomy - S as in Subsidiarity

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ABCDEconomy "S" as in "Subsidiarity"

ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni Subsidiarity. New inflections of an ancient principle Published in the monthly Communitas n.33  within the special issue titled L'abbecedario dell'economia civile (The ABCs of Civil Economy) There is not good civil and political life without subsidiarity. This ...
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The series of articles by Luigino Bruni, "ABCDEconomy", published weekly in Vita and proposed as a handbook, an ABC´s to the key words in economical behavior, concluded last week.  Our affectionate visitors have shown their great appreciation for these articles.

Believing to please our readers, we have listed the complete collection below:

Today, all of these articles are gathered in issue 33 of "Communitas", entitled "The Dictionary of Civil Economy" by Vita Altra Idea publishers. The book (in Italian) is available online.

See the editorial of Communitas by Giuseppe Frangi

[fulltext] =>

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The series of articles by Luigino Bruni, "ABCDEconomy", published weekly in Vita and proposed as a handbook, an ABC´s to the key words in economical behavior, concluded last week.  Our affectionate visitors have shown their great appreciation for these articles.

Believing to please our readers, we have listed the complete collection below:

Today, all of these articles are gathered in issue 33 of "Communitas", entitled "The Dictionary of Civil Economy" by Vita Altra Idea publishers. The book (in Italian) is available online.

See the editorial of Communitas by Giuseppe Frangi

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ABCDEconomy - The collection

The series of articles by Luigino Bruni, "ABCDEconomy", published weekly in Vita and proposed as a handbook, an ABC´s to the key words in economical behavior, concluded last week.  Our affectionate visitors have shown their great appreciation for these articles. Believing to please our re...
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ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni

Gift. It does not exist if there isn´t reciprocity

published in the weekly Vita, May 22, 2009

With the word “Gift”, which our readers will find this week, we conclude the series ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni.  We proposed this series as a guide to the key words within economic behavior, after breaking down the myths and bursting a few bubbles.  Here´s an index of the analyzed words: Happiness, Profit, Market, Bank, Investment, Responsibility, Rules, Interests, Organization, Reciprocity, Capital.  This week, the second part regarding the concluding word, “Gift”.

The idea of a gift consists of a way of acting inspired by gratuitousness, and so moved by the search for the good of the other, of the common good.  A related experience: a few years ago in Montevideo, a few women made a living by begging outside of supermarkets. At a certain point, an NGO arrives that begins a development project with these women, giving birth to some cooperatives which produce artisan goods, embroidered handkerchiefs.

ABCDEconomy - G as in Gift - Part 2

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The day arrived when these women returned, after years, to sell the handkerchiefs, fruit of their work, in front of the same supermarkets where they once begged people for alms and gifts.  During the first few days, people still handed them money, but they didn´t want the handkerchiefs, until one of those women said, “If you don´t want the handkerchief, we don´t want the money”.

This is also “gift”. It´s gratuitousness. It’s giving recognition to the other.  Its reciprocity.  Today, microcredit projects in the world are authentic experiences of gift and of gratuitousness, not through gift-giving but through contracts. We need to get used to seeing gifts in our complex society not as a “thing” but as a “means to”, not relationships limited to philanthropy or alms-giving but based on reciprocity and happiness.

This complex grammatical use of munus, of gift-that-obligates, of which important authors and philosophers like Derrida and Marion, sociologists like Caillé and Goodbout, have written, would even be at the base of the ambivalent “communitas”, as Roberto Esposito has shown.  The base category within the circuit of giving is not gratuitousness but reciprocity, as we´ve been shown especially by Karl Polanyi, a 19th century author who was a point of reference for the anthropology of giving.

The reciprocal aspect of giving is not, in its basic relational structure, substantially different from the phenomenon of economical exchange, appearing in cultures much later in respect to ritual giving. In the history of cultures, between giving and the market there was a difference of degrees (of measuring equivalents, of the timing of giving and receiving, of the allowed sanctions) and not of nature.  With giving, we close our ABCDEconomy series.  Thank you to all who have followed me through this small handbook of civil economy.

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ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni

Gift. It does not exist if there isn´t reciprocity

published in the weekly Vita, May 22, 2009

With the word “Gift”, which our readers will find this week, we conclude the series ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni.  We proposed this series as a guide to the key words within economic behavior, after breaking down the myths and bursting a few bubbles.  Here´s an index of the analyzed words: Happiness, Profit, Market, Bank, Investment, Responsibility, Rules, Interests, Organization, Reciprocity, Capital.  This week, the second part regarding the concluding word, “Gift”.

The idea of a gift consists of a way of acting inspired by gratuitousness, and so moved by the search for the good of the other, of the common good.  A related experience: a few years ago in Montevideo, a few women made a living by begging outside of supermarkets. At a certain point, an NGO arrives that begins a development project with these women, giving birth to some cooperatives which produce artisan goods, embroidered handkerchiefs.

ABCDEconomy - G as in Gift - Part 2

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ABCDEconomy "G" as in "Gift" - Part 2

ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni Gift. It does not exist if there isn´t reciprocity published in the weekly Vita, May 22, 2009 With the word “Gift”, which our readers will find this week, we conclude the series ABCDEconomy by Luigino Bruni.  We proposed this series as a guide to the key words withi...