The Economy of Communion: A prophetic minority

A series of interviews featuring various proponents of the EoC's first 20 years

The Economy of Communion: A prophetic minority

An interview with Stefano Zamagni

Stefano_Zamagni_sxby Antonella Ferrucci

Professor Zamagni, on the 29th of May, the EoC celebrates its 20-year anniversary. You have been and continue to be among its avid proponents. Do you remember the first time you heard of the EoC? 

I first heard about the EoC when  Luigino Bruni, then a young scholar preparing for his doctorate degree, came to interview me. He used this term which caught me by complete surprise. It was only when I met Chiara Lubich that I started taking this project into serious consideration. During that meeting, I felt I was in the presence of a person who was not only inspired (we find many of them today) but prophetic

I was struck to hear a person, who is not an economist, speak of the EoC framework with such simplicity. It was that same simplicity of a child that the Gospel describes. Chiara’s conviction on constructing the EoC model left a great impact on me – far greater than if it were introduced by an economics expert. Since then, I started reflecting on the real significance of this project. If I remember well, my first contribution to this theme dates back to 1998-1999, a little less than half of the EoC’s 20-year life.

Do you think that the EoC can indeed represent hope in today's economic crisis? If you think so, why?

The Economy of Communion is an example of what we call the prophetic minority in Game Theory. It is certainly not the only one albeit an important one. According to Game Theory, it is necessary to have a minority, in numerical terms, to achieve certain objectives in civilization and moral progress, which goes beyond economic progress. This minority acts as a catalyst and guide to reach the ultimate objective that we should all aspire for. If the prophetic minority meets certain conditions, the idea is accepted by others and then triggers a slow and gradual transformation. This is what gives way to humanity’s evolution. This is the case of the Franciscan school of thought in the 1400s. In a completely different context, this example played the same role in that era. Back then, the Franciscans were but a prophetic minority but we all know what happened after. Going further back in time, the same can be said about the Benedictine order. When St. Benedict launched “Ora et Labora,” only a few could understand and appreciate it. Many simply could not grasp this concept. After about ten years, the Benedictine movement would spread all throughout Europe and would generate that re-awakening that we are all familiar with. Our history is marked by such prophetic minorities that disrupt the existing social balance, “that deliberately exposes” to use a stronger expression, showing others that there is an alternative to the status quo. Whoever says that “the EoC enterprises cannot change the world because there’s only a few of them,” speaks rubbish because the EoC enterprises have to be few. They are not supposed to be the dominant force. Their strength does not lie in numbers, but in their ability to show others, even non-believers, that there is in fact another way to practice economy. The Franciscans did not expect all the entrepreneurs of their time to become Franciscans. They operated within societal norms. However, had it not been for that agent, civil humanism and the renaissance would have not taken place.

Today, the EoC plays a similar role. Instead of worrying about how to constantly increase the number of the enterprises, we should concentrate on improving their quality and the prophetic ability that the entrepreneurs possess.

You will be participating in the EoC's 20th-year celebration in Brazil this May, 2011. What do you think should be our objectives for the next 20 years? 

I would like us to consider Plato’s Chariot Allegory. Plato says that “the Charioteer will reach enlightenment faster if the two winged horses that pulled the chariot ran at the same speed.” I would say that the Economy of Communion should work towards ensuring that the two horses run side by side and at the same pace. The first horse represents economic requisites like efficiency, the capacity to keep up with the market, without the help of subsidies. The other horse symbolizes fraternity, applying the principle of reciprocity as an economic response. If the Economy of Communion is able to keep the “the two horses” together, then we have the prophetic minority. The results will soon follow. Instead, if we allow the horse of efficiency to run faster, neglecting that of fraternity, we fall into the danger of sacrificing everything for the sake of efficiency. When this happens, someone is bound to ask us, “Why do we need this?” On the other hand, we cannot afford to drive the horse of fraternity ahead, leaving that of efficiency behind. These enterprises need to be strategically and financially independent to operate within the market. They lose their prophetic attribute the moment they are forced to compromise themselves for the benefit of others, in order to survive. This is not the picture that we want to paint either. For this reason, we should take Plato's dictum to heart. After all, Plato was a knowledgeable man.

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