The common good exists and the market can find it

The Economy and Ideas - Review of Luigino Bruni´s book "The Civil Enterprise"

The common good exists and the market can find it

By Gianfranco Fabi
Published in Il Sole 24 ore, June 18, 2009

An Italian path towards the market economy.  It may seem like a rather ambitious hypothesis, especially now that the global economic crisis puts us more and more at risk of a long-term structural recession. And yet, in order to piece together the shattered economy, what appear always more evident and equally necessary are both a giant step ahead in cultural quality and a break from usual interpretations.

In his book, entitled "The civil Enterprise", Luigino Bruni tries going beyond the traditional "macro" vision of market economy to research a new avenue, where the anthropological approach can take a leading role. In doing so, he takes a step ahead in regards to the traditional vision of a business´s social responsibility. He inserts other elements among the already existing economical perspectives: gratuitousness, happiness and fraternity, which until now have been interpreted according to other logic and points of view.

Bruni´s not talking about simply humanizing the economy, or even limiting himself to broadening that "third sector" which includes businesses not immediately associated with making profits.  Instead, his aim is that "fraternity, reciprocity and public happiness become civil and political projects, part of a new social pact."

When speaking of "civil enterprise", one must recall the original spirit of an Italian philosopher and economist, Antonio Genovesi.  He is certainly less known than Adam Smith or Karl Marx, but nevertheless his wise business and civil economy lessons highlighted the close relationship between the economy and human values.  Already during the second half of the 7th century, Genovesi underlined the necessity of promoting culture and civility, maintaining the autonomy of reason and the assertion of freedom, in order to support the well-being and increased number of consumers. He attributed a notable significance to the role of education and the development of the sciences and arts, proclaiming the importance of work for the good of the individual and of society.

Not only can an economy based on human values offer an answer to the individual´s most varied needs, but it can also provide the necessary link for a possible economic re-launch. The link is that of trust (the "public faith" cited by Veronesi), the lack thereof is unanimously considered as one of the greatest causes of the actual global crisis.  "Today, in the West," writes Bruni, "the scarce economical resource within the market society (and not just in its economy) is that of genuine interhuman relationship, not relationships that are purely instrumental or contractual. We could call this relationship ´fraternity´."

"Therefore, it is not only the vision of a human-looking economy.  It´s also and mostly a return of the market, capital and private property as the best instruments, though purely instruments, which people and societies can utilize for the collective good, a good that goes above and beyond capital and "things".

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