The search for happiness. Civil economy comes into play

A piece by Prof. Stefano Zamagni was among the texts set for the consideration of the examinees at the national high school graduation exams in Italy: EdC online asked the Professor’s opinion of this.

The search for happiness. Civil economy comes into play

By Antonella Ferrucci

The title of the essay that was set this year in the first written part of the school leaving examinations in Socio-Economics was ‘The Search for Happiness’. One of the texts that was presented for consideration by the examinees, was a piece by Stefano Zamagni, which Stefano_Zamagniunderlines the separation between the categories of ‘utility’ and ‘happiness’ while it emphasises the link between happiness, free-giving and reciprocity.

Professor Zamagni, from the point of view of today’s culture what is the significance that these topics, up to just a few years ago considered ‘heretical’, are included in the titles of the essays of the graduation exam? Are we reaching a critical mass?

‘This pleasant surprise just shows that the seed that was planted years ago and which involved Chiara Lubich and her Economy of Communion, Luigi Bruni, others and myself, is bearing fruit and is becoming the patrimony of everyone. Personally, I started speaking about Civil Economy 17 years ago. Since then there have been many publications on this topic. In recent years ‘The Civil Economy. Efficiency, fairness, public happiness,’ published in 2004, and the ‘Dictionary of Civil Economy’ in 2009, both of which were written with Luigino Bruni, developed these ideas. When a serious cultural project is started, if one has the patience to wait, fruits will come. This was the reason I was enthusiastic in my support of Chiara Lubich in setting up the Sophia University Institute: I am convinced that Sophia with its original approach, will bring about a real cultural revolution within ten years.

Getting back to the subject of the exam it must be pointed out that, for the first time, ‘utility’ and ‘happiness’ are considered as separate categories. If these writings are presented for the reflection of the students it means that over the years several professors will have spoken about the question of ‘public happiness’, which is characteristic of the civil economy, in Philosophy, Literature or History. This shows that the seeds that have been planted over the years are bearing fruit: the times are becoming mature when we can begin to think in a completely new way of a market economy as an instrument of civilisation. With the Economy of Communion Chiara had a really winning idea. Now, from up above, she can rejoice in this.’

This is the text that was included in the documentation for the exam:
This is where individualism has been betrayed: in leading to believe that all that is needed to be happy is to increase utilities. Whilst we know that one can perfectly well maximize utilities even in solitude, to be happy there has to be at least two people. The reduction of the category of happiness to the level of utility is at the origin of the belief according to which the miser could be considered, after all, a rational being. And still a great number of social interactions take on meaning solely because of the absence of instrumentality. The meaning of a kind or generous act for a friend, a son or daughter or a colleague is essentially in the fact that it is freely made. If we came to know that that action came from a utilitarian or manipulative logic, it would acquire a totally different meaning, and would change the response of the receivers. The Chicago man, as Daniel McFadden recently called the most up-to-date version of ‘homo oeconomicus’ – is isolated, solitary and therefore unhappy […] And so we finally understand why the miser cannot be happy: because first and foremost he is mean with himself; because he denies himself the priceless value of connection which the practice of reciprocity would assure him.’ (Stefano ZAMAGNI, Avarice. The passion of having, Bologna 2009)

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