by Luigino Bruni
published on Avvenire on 02/10/2011
One does not get out of any crisis with reductions and tax cuts. There is an urgent need for the civil, political and economic factory to start up again. Then the question becomes real and serious: how? The operation is complex but Italy (and the West) above all needs new entrepreneurs. Today, entrepreneur is a word that is overused and misunderstood. In the media, entrepreneurs are often the focus of the headlines, but the noun ‘entrepreneur’ is used improperly and in an offensive way to those who are really entrepreneurs. Many individuals commonly referred to as entrepreneurs should instead be called with other words such as speculators or dealers.
The difference between the entrepreneur and the speculator is in the role it plays in the pursuit of profit. The speculator is the person, individual or institution that aims at maximization of profit. It is not necessarily a criminal or an enemy of the common good, but someone for whom the business entity is only instrumental, a way like others to make money. Thus, the speculator opens a shoe factory today, a construction company tomorrow, a hospital the day after tomorrow, with the sole purpose of making money through those activities. The entrepreneur, as the real everyday life tells us and as some great economists like Schumpeter, Einaudi or Bacattini, is a different person because the first goal of its activity is to create a project. Profit is just one of many elements of its project, an important sign that the project is working, innovating and growing over time. Therefore, the entrepreneur is someone who never totally “exploits” the business because of its given intrinsic value, as an expression of undertaking an individual and collective project of life. This is true to an extent that many businessmen, especially in these times, would make much more money giving up the company and investing the proceeds in speculative funds. But they do not do it because in that business they see something more than just money-making machine. There we can see their identity and history.
The current crisis is also the result of a cultural process that has led, in recent decades, far too many entrepreneurs to become speculators, thus losing relationship with the territory, with the people of flesh and bones, with the workers-persons, therefore helping the financial system to exaggerate its governance not only in the business but the world. But without authentic entrepreneurs there can be no true common good. The entrepreneur-innovator, unlike the speculator, sees the world as a populated place of opportunities to be seized, not simply to increase its slice of the “pie,” but for its vocation, loves to make new pies. From civil humanism of the fifteenth century to the industrial districts made in Italy, to the craftsmen artists to cooperatives, Italy was capable of civil and economic development when cultural and institutional conditions were created which allowed cultivation of the virtues of creativity and innovation, but instead we stopped growing as a country when whining, research and maintaining advantageous positions dominated, as in this last quarter of the century. People are the most important asset when the economy and society work even before the capital, finance or technology because only people know how to be creative and give life to those great innovations that are essential in hard times. Even today, after decades of hung-over for the growth of technological and financial capital, we are realizing that companies can grow and be leaders in the global economy. They are always more the ones where there are one or more people capable of seeing differently the reality.
People’s intelligence is the key to any real innovation and to any authentic economic value, as the economist and politician Carlo Cattaneo well know: “There is no work; there is no capital that does not begin with an act of intelligence. Before each job, before any capital is intelligence that begins the work and marks for the first time the character of wealth.”
Today, Italy is not (yet) sinking because, despite everything, there are millions of people, men and women, workers and entrepreneurs, who get up every morning to do their duty, who try to solve their problems and the others, drawing on their creativity to be innovative. If we want to get out of this crisis, we must first make life possible for these people, and arouse, especially among young people, a new enthusiasm and new entrepreneurial vocations. But this will not happen until we put the spotlight on the civil society, including that part of civil life which we call business.
All of Luigino Bruni's comments on Avvenire can be found under Avvenire Editorial.