The Vocabulary of Good Social LifeLogo nuovo lessico header

This section contains all of Luigino Bruni's editorials of the series entitled "The New Vocabulary of Good Social Life" published in Avvenire between 29th September 2013 and 9th February 2014.

The Alternative for the Economy of Dominance Is No Utopia

Communion - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/20

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on February 9, 2014

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We are all suffering from serious shortages of communion. We are actually risking getting used to its absence, and so stopping to long for it. Communion is formed within the community, but a reversed statement is not necessarily true: there can be and there are communities without any type of communion among the people in it, where gifts become obligations, without freedom or gratuitousness. Current studies on happiness and subjective well-being tell us very clearly that the main cause of people's happiness is a life of communion, starting from that first cell of communion which is the family. Living a good life definitely depends on the quality of communional relationships at all levels, including the fundamental experience of communion which is work.

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The Merchants' Loggias Alone Will Create a Desert out of the City

Institutions - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/19

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on February 2, 2014

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Our well-being depends greatly on the quality of institutions. Marriage and universities, banks and State, Church and trade unions are obviously quite different things, but similar, too, because they are all institutions. Societies that are locked in "social traps" are characterised by inefficient and, at the same time, corrupt institutions, and by a high percentage of people with low or non-existing sense of the civic or of the institutional. It's a deadly process, which is often decisive and it hurts everyone. It makes the best part of the youth emigrate, attracted by better institutions in other countries. The history and the present of the peoples tell us that societies do not create widespread prosperity and good social life without the right institutions.

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The Good City of the Different and the Babel of the Closed Castes

Community - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/18

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 26, 2014

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Community, one of the richest fundamental and ambivalent words in our civil vocabulary is undergoing radical change. The community has always been a reality that is anything but romantic, linear or simple, because the strongest and deepest human passions are concentrated in it and it is a place of life and death. Jerusalem is called the 'Holy City', but the founder of the first city is Cain, and Rome (and many other cities) was founded following a fratricide (the murder of a brother).

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Justice (Beyond the Unfair)

Justice - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/2

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on August 18, 2013

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There is a strong contrast between the deep sense of justice that we  all - even the wicked - have deep inside, and the world that appears to us as a display of widespread injustice. <Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains> (J.J. Rousseau). For many injustices the courts and lawyers are not enough, for some they are useless because the legal, commutative and compensable aspects cover only a small part of the territory of justice, the extent of which actually covers the whole of our lives. It is a rapidly increasing tendency today to answer the question of justice the wrong way by "juridicializing" the whole of social life, possibly by encoding every interpersonal relationship, turning all human relationships in contracts.

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Let's Leave the Economy of Flatland Behind to Restart Generating a Future

Time - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/17

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 19, 2014

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We are living through an eclipse of time. The logic of capitalist economy and its culture that is undisputedly dominating much of social and political life do not know the dimension of time. Their cost-benefit analyses cover just a few days, months or years - in the most generous assumptions. A radical tendency of this capitalism is in fact the progressive shortening of the time period of economic choices, and therefore of the policies that are increasingly driven by the same economistic culture.

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Trust in Obedience: the Key for the Future

Meekness - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/16

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 12, 2014

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The words that do not age can die and be resurrected in every era. One of these words is meekness, which was already great in the Psalms and the Gospel as well as in the ancient oriental civilization. It has been made even more sublime by the great meek people of history - Father Kolbe, the many martyrs of yesterday and today, Gandhi - and many others unknown to the news who, with their humble meekness, make each day better for all on earth.

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A New Beginning Needed for the World - Starting from Women and the "You"

Economics - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/15

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 5, 2014

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...(T)he crisis have given many and such denials of what appear strictly to be scientific estimates, advanced by economists. It is no wonder that any layman could believe to be authorized to proclaim the bankruptcy of the political economy... To the voices, some calumny, not a mitigating factor is lacking. In fact, many economists have sinned of immodesty". These are the words of political scientist Robert Michels, author of the first book entitled "Economics and Happiness" (1917). He said this in 1933, but it seems to be written today.

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No Freedom Without the Market. The Market Alone Does Not Bring Happiness

Consumption - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/14

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 29, 2013 

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The centrality of consumption is a fact of our society that is neither new nor typical. What is rather new and important, however, is our inability to grasp the pervasiveness of the culture of consumption and annuities, an unfortunate common feature of many a fallen civilization. The phenomenon of consumption has very ancient roots, and it is a good thing in general because when goods for consumption are denied, rights and freedoms are denied, too.

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A Different Gaze Dwelling in and Changing Life

Charismas - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/13

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 22, 2013 

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The moral and civil shortcomings of our times are also the result of the expulsion of the charismas from public life, the charismas that all too quietly accepted their marginalization and retreated. And when the charismas are missing, or when they are considered some “religious thing” only and therefore irrelevant to civilian life, than economy, politics and society are all at a loss because they lack the essential resource of gratuitousness. In fact, there is an inseparable link between the charismas and gratuitousness.

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Gratuitousness Creates New Things (but where are the prophets?)

Innovation - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/12

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 15, 2013 

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Innovation is becoming the new watchword of the 21st century. But, as it often happens, the most interesting and really relevant things begin with the predicates, verbs and adjectives, because if the ability to articulate a good speech about innovation is missing, this charming noun will soon share in the destiny of so many big words we are wearing out and thus trivializing (merit, efficiency, and, soon, democracy).

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Market and Reciprocity. An alliance to be re-founded

Market - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/11

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on December 8, 2013

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In the undersoil of our civil and economic culture there are two opposing tendencies growing. The first is the gradual rapprochement between culture and the languages of the capitalist market and social economy. The second, opposing trend is a growing opposition on an ethical evaluation of the market, which leads some to see the capitalist market as the solution to all our economic and civil ills, and others to consider it instead as the fetish of all moral, social and political evil.

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The Future is Not a Club

Commons - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/10

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on December 1, 2013

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Commons have gradually become scarce and critical, and they are still too absent from the culture and practice of economics and politics.In economics common goods made their first appearance in 1911. They returned after a long eclipse, only at the end of the past century with Elinor Ostrom who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009. In the first relevant article we find three main remarks on commons: it was a study about water, with a historical perspective and written by a woman, Katharine Coman.

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Connections Make Us Rich

Cooperation - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/9

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on November 24, 2013

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Communities flourish when they are capable of cooperation. Had we not started to co-operate (work together), community life would never have started, and we would have stayed stuck at the pre-human level of development. But as it is often the case with humanity's big words, cooperation, too, is one and many at the same time, it is often ambivalent, and its most important forms are the less obvious ones. Every time that human beings act together in a coordinated way to achieve a mutually beneficial common goal we are dealing with an instance of cooperation.

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Something Unique

Experience Goods - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/8

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on November 17, 2013

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We are witnessing the emergence of a new demand for participation in the consumption, saving and use of goods. There is a crucial difference, for example, considering the Internet 10-15 years ago: now it is inhabited by websites and email, and the web of social media and the Apps; all in all there is a greater involvement and attention-seeking for us, inhabitants of the network. Similarly, the TV today not only broadcasts programmes for the 'viewers', but asks us to vote for the best singer or player. And the interesting thing is that people participate: they invest time to say their opinion and to feel an active part of a new form of communication. All this serves them to have an experience. 

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Regenerating Overturned Virtues

A Critical Point - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/7

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on November 10, 2013

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There is a social and economic law which is as important as it is forgotten. It is what Luigi Einaudi called "the theory of the critical point", which he defined as "fundamental in science, both economic and political" (Lessons of Social Policy, 1944), which he attributed to his countryman Emanuele Sella (an economist and poet who also wrote a treatise on "Trinity" economics). The idea is the existence of an invisible but real threshold, of a critical point, after which a positive phenomenon turns negative, changing in sign or nature. Today we could apply the law of the critical point to finance, but also to taxes (if they exceed a threshold and so end up penalizing the honest people who pay them).

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Not All is Merchandise

Types of Capital - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/6

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on November 3, 2013

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"Bad" poverty is constantly growing, while "good" poverty is diminishing. We are becoming poor quickly and in a bad way because the deterioration of our civil, educational, relational, spiritual and government capital has passed a tipping point, triggering a chain reaction. We are living through a capital decline. The types of poverty that we can measure are manifested as the lack of flows (jobs, income), but in reality they are the much deeper and more long-term expressions of "capital account" processes that do not really depend on the financial crisis of 2007-2008 or on German politics. These, in fact, form our usual, and now sickly, alibi to cover out the real reasons for the serious things that are happening to us.

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Prophecy and Injustice

Poverty - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/5

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on October 27, 2013

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Poverty is an essential dimension of the human condition, it is one of those "first words" in everyone's life. A major fault of our civilization is to consider it a problem that is typical only of some social groups or peoples, the ones that time and again become the "contractors" of poverty. And so we would like to immunize ourselves more and more against the poor, expelling them like scapegoats to stay outside the boundaries of our civil society. We do not know poverty anymore and we do not recognize it, because we have forgotten that we are born into absolute poverty, and that will end his life in no less absolute poverty.

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Something Essential

Relational Goods - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/4

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on October 20, 2013 

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Our interpersonal relationships are the most important good and bad things in our lives - this has always been part of popular wisdom. Myths, literature, stories and traditions do nothing but talk about this for thousands of years, telling how richness can become a great evil in the wrong relationships, and how, in the context of material poverty the little possessed may be multiplied if it is shared in the community.

For some decades now social scientists and even some economists (the first one was Benedetto Gui in 1986) have been realising this, too, and they started using the expression 'relational goods' to indicate the type of goods where it is the relationship between persons that constitutes the good itself.

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The Price is Unfair

Goods - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/3

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on October 13, 2013 

logo_avvenireEven if our times are more and more dominated by invisible technology and finance that have no human face, the protagonists of economy are still persons and goods. Every step in economy - from consumption to work, from saving to investing - is an intertwining of persons and goods. And even when people act in the framework of complex institutions, rules and contracts, and even when the goods lose their materiality and seem to be vanishing away, at the end and at the beginning of every economic move we will always find goods and persons. Therefore, in order to be able to write a new vocabulary of economy, parallel to the reflections on persons - as citizens, "consumers", entrepreneurs, workers - it is necessary and urgent to create a new way of thinking about goods, about the objects of economy, and so about consumption and other practices of life. 

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The Horizon of Talents

Wealth - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/2

written by Luigino Bruni 

published inAvvenire on October 6, 2013 

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There are many types of richness, just as there are many types of poverty. Some of them are good but others, even if they are very relevant ones, are bad. The great cultures of the world knew this well; ours, which is not a great one, has forgotten it. The plural and ambivalent nature of richness is inherent to its semantic texture.

The word richness is a distant derivative of rex in Latin (king), therefore it has to do with power and even with disposing of people through money and goods. To possess riches has always been and is still deeply connected with the possession of people; and the border line where democracy turns into plutocracy (the rule of the rich) is always quite faint, fragile and little guarded by those sentinels who are not paid by the plutocrats.

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The Dawn of Midnight

Logo Geremia Crop 150The series of comments by Luigino Bruni on Jeremiah's book comes out every Sunday on Avvenire

Go to the complete series

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A Lexicon of Social Well-Being

A Lexicon of social well being ridLuigino Bruni

Palgrave Pivot, April 2015

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