Economy and Waiting

Comments –The Crisis and Our Times

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire on 02/12/2012

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Advent - every advent, and every waiting period for salvation - is a fundamental experience, especially in times of crisis.  One does not come out of a crisis if one does not exercise oneself in the art of expecting a saving act, a joyous, and at the same time, painful art.  A salvation which must be wanted, before being wished for.  Ours is an epochal crisis because we lack the desire to be saved, and it is lacking because we don’t have, on a collective level, eyes to be able to see it, or least-ways, to glimpse it.

Before asking ‘how long before daylight?’ one must, of necessity, wish for dawn, and be able to recognize it as it happens.  In these past years too many ‘dawns’ have been announced, because each one sees signs of dawn there where others still see deep night.   Some see it in the increase of the GDP, and hope to see the first signs of an increase in spending (the disease becomes the cure), others see it in an ecumenical, but rather vague, ‘social market economy’, others yet in the elimination of political parties so as to entrust even public things to for-profit businesses, deemed to be truly efficient and responsible entities.  However, all of these ‘dawns’ are neither strong, nor symbolically charged enough, to be able to awaken lofty human passions, and therefore, to gather around them great, collective, popular actions.   And the more time goes by, the further ‘dawn’ appears to be – and the end of night has come.  An awaited for economy for today should contain some fundamental words.  Together with ‘work’ and ‘young people’, on whom not enough is written or suffered, there are at least three words which, if missing from civil vocabulary and grammar, make any waiting period illusory.

The first of these is virtue, particularly, civil virtue.  There is instead, an ancient and even glorious tradition which theorizes that from crises, one comes out with vices, not virtues.  But the awaiting is a virtue, since it is cultivated, looked after, and maintained, above all when times are hard.  Three hundred years ago, Bernard de Mandeville, recounted, ‘The tale of the Bees’, where the conversion of the spoiled beehive (a very opulent one) into a virtuous one produced misery for all.  The idea is clear: only vice creates development, because if people don’t love luxury, commodities, hedonism, and games, the economy stalls for lack of demand.  This is also true for a country such as ours in which the economy very much depends, maybe too much, on consuming goods.  Unfortunately, it is an idea very deeply rooted in a good part of the Italian leadership, who make appeals to civil virtues only in referring to tax evasion, without understanding the elementary rule which is at the base of common life: if a ‘progressive commercial’ condemns the “social parasite” and the next one pushes lotteries, the two cancel each other out.  The true fight against evasion is called ethical coherence which then becomes   political and administrative strength.

A second great word on awaiting is ‘relationship.’  Recent data gathered on the increase of litigiousness in our country during this crisis, is astounding.  From apartment buildings to relationships with work colleagues, from traffic claims to ones against teachers and doctors, this crisis is making proximity relationships turn bad – even if, as always happens, in these past years we can see the blossoming of virtuous and productive relations.  The worsening of relationships is a very preoccupying fact, because other serious crises we have been through (we think of the great wars and dictatorships) had, amidst pain, made social bonds stronger, re-created friendship and civil harmony which were essential also for economic recovery.  If we are not be able to cure our ancient and new relational maladies (what is corruption, if not diseased relationships which create diseased institutions, which in turn reproduce even more diseased relationships?), no economy could ever recover, since it is, first of all, a weaving of relationships.

Lastly, a third word is ‘entrepreneur’.  Great teachers on awaiting, have always been and are yet now, farmers, artists, scientists, and above all, mothers.  But also the entrepreneur.  True entrepreneurs, all of them and especially the medium-small, the co-ops, and civil and social entrepreneurs, are suffering greatly today, more than is spoken or told.  During the past decades, these business people have been able to create value from values ‘turning into income’ productive vocations and co-operatives in our valleys and burghs, in the mountains, seas and sea coasts, who today, are seeing their riches and work vanish because of tight credit, because of the lack of system politics, and by the invasion of speculators who take over and often devour their businesses.

The entrepreneur is a man or woman of waiting, because he/she lives only if able to hope (hope is another civil virtue), because if they couldn’t hope on the world of tomorrow being better than today’s, they would do better to enjoy their resources now, or to speculate in search of profits (only unscrupulous speculators can make millions of profits by polluting people and land).  One who generated and grew a business activity knows that the most important moments of his story have been the ones where he was able to await a salvation and hold on to hope against events, against prudent advice from friends (‘why don’t you sell?’), when he had the strength to insist and believe in his project.  The world – and in it Italy – still lives because of people capable of waiting and hoping in a salvation, waiting for a dawn, waiting for Christmas.

All of Luigino Bruni's comments on Avvenire can be found under Avvenire Editorial.

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