The Vocabulary of Good Social Life

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Communion - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/20

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on February 9, 2014

logo

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.

[fulltext] =>

We must not, in fact, make the mistake of thinking that communion is only possible in intimate relationships or inside the family: communion is the deepest and truest vocation of human beings in all the areas in which human qualities are exercised. There are some dimensions of communion that are so intimate and spiritual that in order to describe them we should appeal to the poetic powers of Dante and his ingenious neologisms ("s’io m’intuassi come tu t’inmii", Paradise, IX 81; in English: "If I in-you-ed myself, as you in-me yourself", meaning: if I were in you as you are in me - the translator). But there are other dimensions, no less critical to the quality of our lives that do not require the mutual indwelling of souls, but necessitate that fellow citizens listen to and consider each other as related to and necessary for their own happiness - Europe will suffer forever, until the community does not become communion, too.

It is the community that allows us to decline verbs of our lives in all persons, especially the first person plural ("we"). Also because the first person plural may be missing from our syntax time to time and if it is so, the second person singular may disappear, too, and so does the face of the other person, and we find ourselves in communities inhabited by anonymous and lonely third persons.

Communion, to avoid becoming "communionism" must always be declined along with equality, freedom and gratuitousness. Unlike community, communion requires certain equality, especially when from the communion of goods we move on to the communion between people. It is an equality in dignity, a "face to face" recognition, knowing that the other is there, in that relationship, because he, just like me, has freely chosen to be there (and maybe to get out tomorrow), and chose this as an act of gratuitousness. This communion requires the overcoming of status, and is not complete until this happens. Communities can exist and persist even in feudal and unequal societies; communion requires much more. And even when the experience of communion begins inside a non-egalitarian or caste based community, if the experience is authentic, little by little it will undermine and transform it from the inside. Just like it happened in the early Christian communities and in those born from great religious and secular charismas, where people arrived as noble or plebeian, but soon found themselves in a new reality of true communion, where there was "neither slave nor free...nor...male and female..." (Galatians). For this reason, communion teaches the brothers and sisters who are siblings a new fraternity, where it is understood that you have to become brothers. Communion is all free, because it is the highest experience of gratuitousness - it is no coincidence that the Eucharist was named, the "eu-charis", and also, communion. History has known and still knows the community-without-communion, exactly because and whenever this kind of equality, freedom and gratuitousness were missing.

Our world suffers mainly because of the lack of communion at all levels, starting with that of the economy. Communion would be needed to try to resolve the serious problems of poverty and exclusion; philanthropy is not enough, and often it is even harmful, because it is a one-sided affair. Communion calls for much from all of us, from those who give and those who receive it, because it is a form of reciprocity where everyone gives and everyone receives. And where everyone forgives - without continuous and institutionalized forgiveness, communion does not last long.

Communion is happiness, well-being, living a good life. But life within and around us shows us a constant show of non-communion. To say and to continue to remind us that communion is a vocation of humanity means to have an idea of the health and diseases of human societies. Judeo-Christian humanism, for example, tells us of a beginning of humanity's communion, a start which is also the end of history, the goal towards which we strive. Non-communion is neither the first nor the last word on the human. To say that communion is health and non-communion is disease means to have an idea of therapy to cure ourselves. However, the dominant culture is reversing this order, and has transformed the disease into health. It does it every time saying that the rivalry, envy and oppression of the other are the main agents of economic growth, and harmony, generosity and equality do not increase the GDP.

Those who believe in communion as a vocation of human beings, whenever they find that it is not realised repeat the words of Don Zeno Saltini, "man is different" from what he appears to be, and we see it in history that man is "greater" than the disunities and discords around himself. It is the realistic possibility of a "not-yet" of communion that makes the "already" of non-communion possible and sustainable. When this broad horizon is deleted or when it is classified as naive utopia, the human factor shrinks, and since the ideal that would call for our attention even in the worst situations is missing, politics becomes cynicism, economics turns into dominance, and sociability to life imprisonment. The civil, moral and spiritual quality of the third millennium will depend on our capacity, at all levels, to see more in the human being than what we've seen so far, and equipping ourselves with communional institutions that promote peace, harmony, well-being and living a good life.

With the entry of "communion" this first volume of new vocabulary reaches its end. I feel that I should go back to the streets to look for new words, among the people, the poor - just where I had found what I have tried to tell so far. The great Argentinean, Jorge Luis Borges, in his short story "Avverroes' Search" envisions the crisis that the great Arab philosopher lived through when he had to translate the words of Aristotle, " tragedy" and "comedy". He did not manage to translate them because the experiences those two Greek words meant were missing from his culture (or he thought that they were missing). He left home, walked in the streets of Cordoba in Spain and listened to the travellers. Returning to his library he seemed to have understood the meaning of those far-away words. But Borges' Averroes got it all wrong in his translation ("Aristotle calls eulogies tragedy and satires and anathemes comedy"). Maybe he became too distracted walking the squares and passing between the merchants, and was not able to discover the tragedies and comedies "down in the small gravel courtyard, where little boys were playing. One, standing on the shoulders of another acted as the muezzin, the one that held him served as the minaret, a third one, on his knees, represented the faithful". In this admirable and difficult age of extremely fast passages, there are some "big" words that cannot be "translated", and so we risk losing them forever. We have to go back and watch the children play in the courtyards and meet the people in the streets. There we will be able to understand again the sense of big words lost or worn by time, starting from the Word that has become too foreign in our streets and in our markets. This is what I will try to do from next Sunday on, in agreement with the director of this newspaper, through a new series of reflections.

Thanks to those who followed me in this first volume of "vocabulary", and also to the many who have written to me and, I hope, continue to do so, giving me more words, different semantics, new stories to tell, so that we could share them with each other.

Translated by Eszter Kató

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Communion - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/20

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on February 9, 2014

logo

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 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 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...
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    [introtext] => 

Institutions - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/19

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on February 2, 2014

logo

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.

[fulltext] =>

People's lives become poor and the peoples decline when societies create, select and nurture institutions that the economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist James Robinson call "extractive", where the elite use institutions to extract income and attain personal and group advantages. These scholars contrast extractive institutions by those that they call "inclusive": the ones found in countries that are prosperous in their economy and civilisation, too, and that are practically identified with the Anglo-Saxon institutions ("Why Nations Fail", 2012). In reality, the boundary between inclusive and extractive institutions is much less clear than these two authors think, because the two forms coexist within the same community or nation, and, more importantly, they evolve into each other. In all social contexts and environments there are institutions created for the sole purpose of benefiting a select few, while extracting resources from others that live together with these, but are generated by explicit instances of the Common Good. But it is even more true that many institutions that are born inclusive turn extractive with time, and institutions that are created extractive become inclusive. European history is very relevant in this regard.

Market economy would never have emerged at the end of the Middle Ages without certain institutions: guilds, corporations, courts, banks, big fairs and even the basic institutions of the monasteries. Some of these were intentionally oriented towards the common good (brotherhoods, hospices for the poor, pawn broking institutions...). But many others (like corporations) were created to protect and promote the interests of their members (bakers, shoemakers, apothecaries ...), and ensure monopoly revenues for certain classes of merchants. The civil strength of the urban communities did, however, turn some of the singular interests into the interest of many, and not infrequently of all: many achievements of modernity , including political and civil ones, are the result of institutions born extractive and turned inclusive. Most of the economic institutions are extractive and closed originally, but is the coexistence with other political, civil, cultural and religious institutions that often opens up and elevates the original interests. The common good does not only need altruism, benevolence and their institutions. The "wisdom of the Republics", as Giambattista Vico reminded us, lies mainly in being able to create institutional mechanisms capable of transforming even the singular interests into the Common Good.

This alchemy, however, works only in the cities and their many and varied institutions "where the arts are protected, and the spirit is free" (Antonio Genovesi, Lessons of Civil Economy, 1767). All institutions are likely to become extractive or not to evolve into inclusive ones if there is no pluralism of institutions, if no new institutions are born and if they not are placed next to each other. The loggia of the merchants, the palace of the captains of the people, the convent of Saint Francis often took up the different sides of the same square, where each matured in contact with the others, without mergers, confusion or incorporation. And on that same square there were lively and interested citizens, artisans' workshops and artists, storytellers and the wagons of Thespis (with strolling players, the translator) that handed out dreams and beauty, especially to the children and the poor. Democracy, welfare and rights have emerged from this constant looking at each other, from the clashes with and controlling of one another, and from the co-existence of peers on the same square. Today, the global economic institutions are experiencing a strong extractive drift (also literally: think of the raw materials of Africa!) because other political cultural and global spiritual institutions are missing from around them, that could enter into dialogue, argue or control them on a reciprocal basis.

There is a second consideration, too. In our society there are many originally inclusive institutions (because they were generated by ideals, sometimes very high ones), which over time have ossified and their good fruits have become wild, if not poisonous. This involution of ancient good institutions, which in our age of epochal transition are particularly numerous, often depends on the inability to change the historical responses, to become attached to those given decades or centuries before, forgetting that the demand for the Common Good that had generated them. It so happens that great and noble institutions - here I think of many public institutions, but also of the many wonderful religious orders - gradually and unconsciously turn into extractive realities, which do not extract as much or only economic resources but enormous moral energies of their members and promoters, and end up depleting them and depleting themselves in the burdensome and costly management of structures that have lost the original demands of yesterday, and respond to demands that no longer arise today. The original purpose and the "vocation" of the institution is ever more distant in the background, and its main mission becomes self-preservation and the postponing of its own death.

Furthermore, in the life cycle of good institutions there are crucial moments in which it is decided whether the future direction will be greater inclusion or turning around and regressing into themselves. These moments are called crisis, in particular the type of crisis that emerges because of a mismatch between the mission of the institution and its organizational structure. The wine that starts feeling that its container skin flasks are too tight and constricted will soon make the first cracks appear. Much of the art of the leadership in these institutions consists in understanding that these crises are not resolved by insisting on the ethical dimension and on the motivation of individuals, but the structure has to be changed. The dialogue between the historical structures of an institution and the foundational demands are the essential and vital exercise for every institution, especially for those that were born of high ideals. The ideals of the people do not last long if they do not become institutions; but these institutions can die if they do not let themselves be converted by the ideals ("the demands") that generated them.

Inclusive and generative institutions are high forms of common goods. Like any common good they require nurturing, care and maintenance of their floodgates, groundwater and undergrowth. The period of institutional crisis that we are experiencing could become dramatic if the distrust of corrupt and inefficient institutions increases the neglect and non-maintenance of our fragile democratic, economic and legal institutions, and increases the escape from the institutions that characterizes our social era. Devoting time, passion and skills to reform institutions that are ailing today is perhaps the greatest expression of civic virtue. The first major care given to institutions, especially those that aren't healthy, is inhabiting them and not leaving them in the hands of their ruling élites only. This is to be immediately followed by creating new political, global, civil and spiritual institutions that place the economic ones aside (to be reformed because they are too pervasive, non-democratic and powerful) and curb the drift of our extractive capitalism, bringing the market back to its deepest inclusive vocation.

The loggias of the merchants have grown too much, they bought the neighbouring buildings, hired the storytellers, and some would like to occupy even the convents to gain more profit. If economic institutions are left to themselves in the global village, they will eventually be the only inhabitants of squares that in turn will be becoming more and more deserted. We must fill our global city squares with new institutions again if we want to see the return of the shops, artists and jobs.

 

Translated by Eszter Kató

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Institutions - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/19

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on February 2, 2014

logo

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 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 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, bu...
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Community - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/18

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 26, 2014

logo

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).

[fulltext] =>

The notion of community can only be grasped without dangerous ideological reductions if this inherent ambivalence is embraced, and not rejected. Already the Latin root of the word is suggestive of this: communitas, cum-munus, since munus means gift and obligation at the same time. It means what is given and what is to be given or returned, the gratuitous act but also the munera, that is, the tasks, duties and obligations, the gratuitousness that evolves in those who are dutiful, right and proper. It is the same semantic and social tension that we find in the common good and the common goods that stay alive and do not perish as long as the weft of obligation is interwoven with the warp of gratuitousness. However, if this vital tension is gone and there remain only the (alleged) gifts or only the obligations, relational disorders are always at the door (if not already inside the house): gift becomes irrelevant to social life and obligations are transformed into traps.

One of the deeper reasons for the generative duality of the community is its non - elective nature: we cannot select the people we are linked with and connected to in the community, or only to a minimal extent. The 'cum' is not created by us through our choices, but it precedes us, it's greater than us. Our fellows inside the community are beside us, some of them are not very likeable to us, many of them would not be chosen as our friends, and yet they are inevitably there, we depend on them and they depend on us. Its non-elective nature and interdependence are the essence of the community, they unite the members of a school class, workplace or local community among themselves. A classmate, colleague or neighbour affects my life for the sole reason of insisting on my own ground, even when I try to avoid them, and even if I do not love them, when I ignore them or fight them. So we can use the same expression of 'community' for family, school, business and our country as long as we feel the same cum and the same munera inside.

The non-elective feature of community has its origin in the primary community, the family. We do not get to choose either our parents, children or siblings. And although it is true that we choose our wife or husband, it is even more true that what we choose in the other person in the years of love co-exists with a whole part of the other that we did not choose, because it is unknown to both of us. A part un-chosen that grows over the years, and makes love blossom in agape, and lends an immense dignity to faithful conjugal love, because the more valuable and expensive loyalty is the one towards the part unknown and un-chosen in the other person (and in ourselves). In general, relationships that are elective at the moment of their formation (friendship, love... ) become capable of generating good communities if they open up to the non-elective dimension of friends and to the welcoming of non-friends. Otherwise they get stuck on the level of consumption which can also nourish but that does not generate anything.

The groups of people where we exercise the most significant dimensions of our humanity are non-elective, we do not choose them. It is in the shared daily life in non-elective circumstances that we learn the relational and spiritual key codes of life; this is where we can fight narcissism (which is now a social pandemic) and become adults. It is a lifelong learning which assumes a very high value when, because of a mysterious loyalty to yourself, you stay in the communities that do not recognize you anymore, and there comes a sort of 'awakening' and you have the strong impression of having made a mistake with that community and with almost everything. The ones who manage to stay even after such painful awakenings may soon find that from children they have become mothers and fathers of their community.
Diversity is the yeast of the community. Without it, community life does not rise, its daily bread stays unleavened.

Today there is a very strong tendency to create elective communities, that is, to leave the un-chosen communities and join in communities that are chosen. With a decisive role of the web, we are experiencing a proliferation of the so-called 'communities of interest', groups that are formed around common interests, from food to hobbies, from literary tastes to love for some species of animals, and many more, often very good things. New 'communities' of those who are similar, often without bodily presence, are replacing the full-bodied communities that are rapidly dissolving. People flee from the new and difficult diversities of the multi-ethnic neighbourhoods, and recover from that un-chosen diversity by creating other communities. This is an expression of the so-called 'communitarianism', a heterogeneous movement that is a typical establishment around the concept of 'communities of the similar'. Schools, apartment buildings, neighbourhoods, web-communities, places where people try to build communities without the 'wounds' of diversity at one's doorstep. But one of the important messages that comes to us from the age-old wisdom of our civilization is the inadequacy of the communities of the similar for the construction of a good life. If we continue to quit natural communities, and thus the political territories and bodies, we will soon be falling into a form of caste based neo-feudalism that was the condition of Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire. It is a scenario that is already taking shape in the many "Davos'" of financial capitalism, where new castes that are totally separate and immune of the communities are governing us, but without wanting to or being able to see or touch us. When business managers and financiers no longer touch the bodies of vivid and mixed communities, they produce immense damage that is sometimes fatal to the community of the new untouchables and outcasts. In the old feudalism, the few rich people lived in fortresses, surrounded by raids, decay and desert. The day may not be too far for these new feudal lords and the Brahmins when, should they come out of their strongholds they will not find any roads, security, public goods or even a helipad for landing any more.

A great story on the decline of the community of the different in the communitarianism of the similar is that of Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Saved and reborn after the Flood, the community gathered in one place, they had the same language, and they had a high tower. After each 'flood' (epochal crisis) there is always a strong temptation in the communities to close themselves around the similar ones and expel those who are different in order not to be scattered on earth. Where there is no diversity, promiscuity and contamination, there is no fertility either: no children are born, communities become incestuous and soon disappear, too. The community without diversity soon turns into a form of fundamentalism, an idol of itself. It was the convivial and quarrelsome coexistence of our cities of the different to generate that architecture, art, culture and economy that, centuries later, continue to love us, feed us and save us. This post-feudal Europe of citizenship and diversities today is threatened by the new Babel of finance and annuities, closed in their citadels.

The righteous Noahhad built an ark (a basket-boat) to save the variety and diversity of species and of the living, a variety/diversity that the people gathered at Babel wanted, and still want to delete. The scattering of the communitarianism of Babel is the pre-condition for the building of a thousand communities populated by a number of languages, colours, variety, diversity and beauty: "'Glory be to God for dappled things" (Gerard M. Hopkins).

 

Translated by Eszter Kató

 

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Community - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/18

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 26, 2014

logo

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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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 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...
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    [introtext] => 

Time - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/17

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 19, 2014

logo

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.

[fulltext] =>

First the industrial, then the computer and finally the financial revolution subtracted time with economic choices, until reducing the time needed for some highly speculative operations to the fractions of a second. Yet, as Luigi Einaudi reminds us, "in the Middle Ages one built for eternity"; one acted and thought with an infinite horizon that was always present, directing the concrete choices from honouring contracts up to the point of repentance and death bequests of merchants and bankers. The depth of the time where we come from (history) and where we are bound (the future) is absent from our economic culture and as a result it is also missing from our civic culture, from the training of economists and from the education system.

And so we are free-falling into a world that is just too similar to the one described in Flatland by English author EA E.A. Abbott (1884). In this novella, an inhabitant of the earth of only two dimensions called Flatland enters into contact with a three-dimensional object (a sphere) from Spaceland. The dialogues and reflections of the book are very impressive and up-to-date, including the intuition that in a two-dimensional world where there is no depth or perspective, sociability is very poor, and is characterised by rivalry, position-taking and hierarchy. Women are described by Abbott as straight lines (one-dimensional), thereby giving a strong criticism of the male-dominated society of his time that did not recognise any political or public dimension for women.

If a hypothetical time traveller coming from the Middle Ages was to arrive in our society today, he would have a very similar experience to that of the sphere described in Flatland, because he would be greatly impressed by the absence of the third dimension, that of time.

When a few decades ago we entrusted the design and governance of social life to the logic of the capitalist economy, rejecting the primacy of the civil and the political over the cheap/economical, when the homo economicus with his typical logic gradually became the only inhabitant that counts and controls the halls of power, the progressive and inevitable fall into a new Flatland began. It is a land of only two dimensions: give and take, costs and revenues, profits and losses, here and now, base and height. It is a flat land where all that's left is space.

A first consequence of a flat and timeless culture is mass production based on the ephemeral and not on the duration of things and relationships. Items must be replaced quickly, otherwise the consumption-production-job-growth-GDP machine jams. The people that in other, non-budget-dominated times began to build a cathedral, or those that adorned a square with artwork did not have as their objective the consumer and the rapid deterioration of that work, they did not want "expiry dates" that would necessitate reconstruction soon. If it had not been so, we now would not have the Sistine Chapel, The Magic Flute by Mozart or the Church of Saint Louis of the French in Rome. The purpose of these ancient buildings was magnificence and endurance: they wanted to produce durable things that are not easily consumed. The artists and craftsmen created durable constructions, and the qualification of "job well done" and the reputation of their author were measured first of all based on their endurance. And this is why the old enduring works are still capable of making us live, be happy and of loving us.

All civilizations (at least those that have survived) had three great "keepers of time": families, public institutions and religions.

Families are the clay time uses to give shape to history. A world that has lost the dimension of time does not understand covenants, faithful love, the meaning of "forever", and does not give any value to memory and the future. And so it does not understand and it fights against family, which is all of the above put together.

In the relay race of the generations, when the race is over, it is the institutions that allow for yet another goal to be reached, assuring that the rules of the game are preserved and not degraded, that there is reason to continue running and the passing of time continues to make sense (have direction and meaning). These institutions, even the economic ones had and still have an important role. Banks, for example, have been the driving belt of the transmission of wealth and employment between the generations. They knew how to preserve and increase the value of time. And when the banks go astray, the value of time is forgotten because it is not served any more but speculated upon, and banks tend to act "against nature" and go against the common Good yesterday and today, too.

Finally, religions, faiths and churches. To understand time and build for the future requires a vision of the world that is greater than our individual time horizon, which is why the great works of the past were always deeply related to faith, religion, linking (religo in Latin) the sky with the earth and generations with each other, which gave way to the beginning of a work that its initiator would not see nor enjoy. Religions and faiths are above all the gift of great horizons in the skies of all. The homo economicus without children and without faith who lives in a society of fragile and small families has no good reason to invest his resources in works that go beyond himself. The only rational act for him is to consume all within the last day of his life. But a world of homines oeconomici with perspectives that do not exceed their earthly existence is not able to build great works, nor to accumulate real savings - a behaviour that also has its roots deep in the knowledge that the life of our works and our children should be longer and larger as our own.

It is when the axis of time is missing that the social sin of greed is accomplished on a large scale because the biggest greed is to eliminate tomorrow from the horizon. For this reason, there is no act that could be more irreligious than this type of social and collective avarice.

In the eclipse of time there is a huge, epic, abysmal shortage of future.. Churches, religions and the charismas should return to invest in the greatest works of their time, to sow and build today so that others can harvest tomorrow. Experts of time and infinity must deal with the future of all.

Past generations of Europeans, especially those between the Middle Ages and Modernity, had been able to do this, and so they built magnificent works that still give us identity, beauty, and make us work. And the charismas have generated thousands of works (hospitals, schools, banks...) that still enrich us, heal us and educate us, because those men and women who had them could see horizons larger than ours. What great works are religions, churches, faiths and the charismas building today? Where are their universities, banks and institutions? There are some seeds, but they are too few and the soil in which they have fallen is still not enough fertile and cultivated so that those seeds may one day become big trees and forests to give time and future back to our flat world: "People live poised between each individual moment and the greater, brighter horizon of the utopian future as the final cause which draws us to itself. Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space." (Evangelii Gaudium).

 

  Translated by Eszter Kató

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Time - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/17

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 19, 2014

logo

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.

[jcfields] => Array ( ) [type] => intro [oddeven] => item-even )

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 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 di...
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    [title] => Justice (Beyond the Unfair)
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    [introtext] => 

Justice - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/2

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on August 18, 2013

Virtu Prudenza-Giustizia rid

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.

[fulltext] =>

There is a trend-or-temptation which, instead of increasing justice, is locking schools, apartment buildings, hospitals in traps of mutual distrust, since many human relationships become distorted when they are forced into a contract. 

The great lesson on justice taught by European humanism was rather different. First, justice was given the rank of cardinal virtue, which means that it is first of all the result of continuous exercise for the improvement of the person. In fact, before being invoked as a principle, justice should be practiced, lived, sought and cultivated like the other great virtues of existence. Justice in the city is generated by the righteousness of citizens, as the Greek culture had expressed it symbolically by the birth of Dike, goddess of justice in the polis. She was born of Themis, the goddess of the justice that comes before any concrete historical legal system and that makes all those that follow it just. For this Themis may also come into conflict with Dike, as it happens in the great tragedy of Antigone, who in the name of greater justice buries his dead brother Polynices, which is against the justice of the polis. Even the scribes and the Pharisees had their own justice, and it was according to this that they condemned the Christ. No invocation of justice is right if it comes from people who use unfair Dike-justice against Themis-justice, perhaps even to oppress the poor and the righteous, and always to their own advantage. If in fact, if there is a lack of citizens who love and practice the virtue of justice, it follows that the laws made can only be unjust, and all the more so if they are made by a democratic form of government. In fact, the need for virtuous citizens is the main fragility of democracies, as Montesquieu or Filangieri recognised it, too. At the same time, just laws strengthen the civic virtues of the citizens by awarding them.

For this reason, the declinations of the virtue of justice are open and deliberately vague: they invite us to recognize and give to "each their own" but they do not tell us how to measure that "their own", nor who should measure it. And when the Dike-justice is called in to give content and limit to the "their own" for each, it is even more true that the vagueness of the virtue of justice is an expression of it being a relationship between people. We recognize and give each other the proper rights if and when there is a common sense of belonging shared by us, because, in a real sense, the one I care for and am concerned about is a third person just because, on a deeper level, that person is a second person (a "you"). And while the Dike-justice may be satisfied to give to each their own, the virtue of justice goes beyond the calculation of their own. Christianity taught us that the difference between its own type of justice and that of the scribes and the Pharisees is called agape and it does not begin where justice ends, instead, it is its form and fulfilment.

Economics has never taken the issue of justice seriously, except for the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, and a few others. For the capitalist ideology-religion justice is part of the constraints to be respected, it does not belong to the objectives to be achieved. Justice at best is synonymous with forced respect of labour, environmental or safety regulations, or the paying of taxes. All constraints are experienced as limitations to achieving the true objective of the capitalist enterprise: maximization of profit or, more properly and more seriously, income. But in the beginning it was not so. The "right price" was one of the great themes of medieval economics. In 1766 Antonio Genovesi, parallel to his treatise on economics ("Lessons of Civil Economy"), wrote another treatise entitled "Diceosina" on justice, the soul of his entire life work in economics and ethics. The justice that our capitalism knows - if at all - is similar to that of the scribes and the Pharisees; it is the justice of constraints and of formal and cultural respect of the laws. The issue of justice regards and judges the current capitalist system in its entirety. It is, however, an issue that we have set aside for too long, especially because of a crisis of critical thinking.

It is not simply about denouncing (rightly) the individual phenomena of capitalism as unjust (from shameful salaries and pensions of many senior executives to the public and private tax havens, from speculations at multinationals that do not create but destroy work possibilities to the dealings that starve the poor with the connivance of the institutions...), but taking note that there is a very profound and radical enmity between our financial capitalism and the cardinal virtue of justice. This is not to deny that there are many people who practice the virtue of justice in economic life every day, but only to recognize that a system based on the search for the maximum turnover of the owners of big banks, insurance companies and multinational corporations is in conflict, as a system of ethics, with the requirements of the virtue of justice. The justice of this capitalism is not to be compared - in order to be judged -  with that of feudalism, which is still less, but with what we could achieve if we had not betrayed the civil and social vocation of Europe to follow the sirens of consumerism and speculative finance. And this capitalism that continues to produce income and privileges for a select few, and unemployment and marginalization for many, is the one that makes the laws that reinforce those privileges and increasingly misalign the points of departure at the expense of the weak and the poor, this capitalism cannot have justice on its side - instead, it has to settle for efficiency, at its best.

If we wanted to overcome this development model and definitely take the way of justice, we should have a civil courage and strength of thought that are at least similar to the ones that generated the European cooperative movement. In fact, at the dawn of capitalism it ventured on a different pathway to market and enterprise, and this called into question the rights of property, income distribution (an issue that is long gone from the books of economics), power and equality of opportunity between economic actors without abandoning either liberty or the market. However, the history of the twentieth century has produced a capitalism which is essentially the backlit image of our vices and our very few virtues - and because of this it can always be changed and made ​​to evolve into something else, if we choose.

The drama of injustice and iniquity continues to dominate the scene of this world. Many have become accustomed to the privileges and comforts of the unjust capitalism and feed it with their daily choices. Others, still in great minority, continue to think and say that many large manifest injustices can be eliminated from our society, and they also act accordingly, as much as they can. And so they continue stubbornly to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" and, occasionally, to be called "blessed".

  Translated by Eszter Kató

 

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Justice - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/2

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on August 18, 2013

Virtu Prudenza-Giustizia rid

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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Justice (Beyond the Unfair)

Justice - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/2 by Luigino Bruni  published in Avvenire on August 18, 2013 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 widespr...
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Meekness - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/16

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 12, 2014

logo

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.

[fulltext] =>

Meekness is the virtuous answer to the vice of anger that has always dominated and still dominates the public sphere, making our offices, our meetings at work or at the condominium, urban traffic and the venues of political life wicked. If it were not for the meek, our anger would produce many more wars and wounds than it is producing already, and it would make our cities unliveable, dominated by the reciprocity of Lamech, murderers of children for a scratch.

The meekness of a few cares for and takes care of the wrath of many. This would be enough to explain the essential preciousness of the meek, the first prophetic minority that elevates the world, the mother yeast, the first salt of the earth. They are the truly non-violent ones, because with their strength they can prevent violence from dominating the world and our worlds. Meekness is also what makes the chronically ill live, and sometimes live joyously. It helps to grow old and die well. It makes us stand in the long and severe trials of life without becoming embittered and angry with others and with ourselves, but by letting a gentle hand pass over ourselves: the meek are those that bare the hand to pass above them (in Latin: "ad manum venire sueti”, thence in Italian: mansueti, the translator).

When at some point, often suddenly and without notice, there comes a great misfortune and pain in our life, it is education towards meekness that makes the heavy yokes bearable. It's the meekness of Job, who, sitting on the heap of ashes, does not follow the advice of his wife ("curse God and then die"), and continues to live, to resist, to fight humbly. In these decisive phases of life, meekness becomes a painful exercise, likely to dive into one's inner life, to find the hidden, deeper resources and values than those that are staggering around or have disappeared.

And you learn to say “amen”. To say the most important "amen"-s of life and especially the last one well, without wrath and malice, you need the virtue/bliss of meekness. One day a friend of mine who is a teacher of meekness said to me: "If life pushes you down to your knees once, get up. If it pushes you down a second time, get up again. But if you are pushed down onto your knees for a third time, maybe it's time for you to pray" (Aldo Stedile). Meekness is required for true forgiveness, too, which is not only to forget and then feel better, so it is not taking (for-get) but giving (for-give). The meek are capable of forgiveness because while they are forgiving they already turn obedient, ready to receive the other person's hand again.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, meekness is associated with the inheritance of the earth (land). But which land is it? The first land that the meek will inherit is the "promised land", the land of the advent of a reign of peace and justice, wished for by everyone and every civilization yesterday, today and tomorrow. But first of all they will inherit the gift of eyes that can "see" this Earth/Land, and so long for it and love it. You cannot start or continue any journey, nor cross any desert without first seeing through to the end of it, and desiring the fulfilment of a promise at its other end. If we didn't have promise land of in front of us, one that's new and better, how could we fight meekly to make our wounded earth a better place?

The inheritance of the land, however, is also what our children will receive tomorrow if we are going to be meek today. There exists, in fact, a sort of meekness in the use of the land, its resources, its goods, water, air, a meekness we desperately need. All the times that we are violent with the land and its resources we are reducing the value of this inheritance. Meekness is directly related to safekeeping:  Abel the meek and Cain the non-safekeeper are still in front of us as representatives of radically alternative choices that are always possible. The one who is meek preserves the oikos (the home) and so conducts a meek oikonomia. A meek economy is one that uses the resources knowing that they were inherited and that they should be left as inheritance. If we were meek we would do different calculations to measure our growth and prosperity. In those algorithms we would give much more weight to the consumption of non-renewable resources and to all those we found on earth and must leave behind. The "universal destination of goods", the principle underlying the doctrine of the Common Good certainly refers to space but what it really questions is, above all, time. If we were to do so, the concern for what's "after us" would become a general culture that would lead us to use all the common property with the same care as children's things are handled.

By contrast, individualist capitalism, which in these times of "crisis" is spreading unchallenged, is all too often violent in the use of resources, and so it trades the quality of the environment, air and water of tomorrow, the future of entire peoples (I am thinking of Africa in particular), for some degrees of temperature up or down in the houses of the northern part of the world, and continues to greedily consume the earth, the environment and the poor; it does not include the peripheries but destroys them. Economic meekness would mean, especially for large companies, reducing the aggressive presence of advertising in all the moments of our lives, and stopping to squeeze the fresh graduates that, at this stage of severe shortage of employment possibilities are very vulnerable to blackmailing. It would mean reducing the speed and aggressiveness of speculative finance, mitigating the arrogant and vulgar language of the powerful, bending and soothing the hands of many banks towards entrepreneurs and families, or that of the public administration with those who have always paid their taxes but, having fallen into misfortune, cannot do it anymore.

Meekness talks to us through its typical language that's different, but closely linked to the language of the other virtues and beatitudes. It tells us an ancient truth that is at the heart of community life. When we look at the "show" of life that takes place every day in front of our eyes, our first impression is that the smart ones, the violent and evil ones will always prevail and succeed. The meek appear as losers, rejected and unsuccessful under the blows of the powerful and violent, an unfairness that made Norberto Bobbio cry out from pain and disappointment: "Woe to the meek: they will not be given the kingdom of the earth" ("In Praise of Meekness"). The stories and the truth of ordinary and extraordinary meekness tell us instead that this first impression, realistic as it may be, is not necessarily the truest one. When you do the accounts of real costs and revenues of individual and social life, which cannot be measured primarily in currency, the highest profit is often marked by meek people and communities: "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." (Psalm 37).

If tomorrow we have a better economy than at present, in which young people can work and won't have to be "begging bread", it will not be due to the promises of the powerful, but by the strong, silent and tenacious action of the many meek. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 

  Translated by Eszter Kató

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Meekness - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/16

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 12, 2014

logo

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.

[jcfields] => Array ( ) [type] => intro [oddeven] => item-even )

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 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...
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Economics - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/15

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 5, 2014

logo

...(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.

[fulltext] =>

Immodesty, or superiority, is not the sole prerogative of economic science, since it is a well-known universal anthropological tone. At certain times, however, the community of economists has been affected by a particularly stubborn and widespread form of immodesty. Faced with obvious deficiencies and errors of their discipline, instead of giving in to the force of facts and getting into a crisis, and instead of humbly revising ancient facts and dogmas, they stubbornly returned all criticism to the sender. The present is one of those times, and there is an increasingly strong need for a major overhaul of many dogmas and axioms of economic theory and practice.

In its original form, economy was entirely defined by the boundaries of the house (oikos), , distinct and separate from politics (polis). Economy ended when man (male, adult, free, non-manual workers) left the oikos and moved in to the polis. The oikos with its rules of management was the realm of the unequal hierarchy and the reign of women, while politics was that of men and relations between equals. Throughout antiquity and the pre-modern era, oikonomia has retained this domestic, practical, internal, and usually female meaning. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the noun 'economy' started to be accompanied by new adjectives: politics (Smith and Verri), civil (Genovesi and many others), public (Beccaria), social (many authors), national (Ortes). These adjectives were meant to emphasize that economy was no longer the administration of the house, and neither the "oikonomia of salvation" or the "Economic Trinity", the other meaning of oikonomia widely used from the Church Fathers to modern times. The adjective political (and similar ones) has done much to qualify modern economics in relation to the ancient one. By fusing the economic with the political (political economy), two fields that had been separated for thousands of years, some typical categories of politics entered into the economy. But the strongest among all was the influence in the opposite direction, if we think of the force with which the language, rationality and economic logic are migrating from economics to politics, usually with rather dangerous effects. These include a strong tendency to read the whole of public life from the perspective of budgetary constraints, efficiency and economic cost-benefit, producing an unprecedented democratic dumping which is one of the most general and worrying cultural traits of our time.

But there is a second crucial element on which much more collective and political reflection is needed. The contamination between economics and politics has not brought with it a public or political centrality of women which was originally associated with the oikonomia. Instead, we have continued to think of 'home' as the reign of the feminine and domestic economy; while the economy, turning political and public in its theoretical principles and anthropological axioms has been deprived of the woman and her specific view of the world and the living beings - with serious and undervalued consequences.

This (di)vision is theorized very clearly by Philip Wicksteed, a leading British economist of the past century, as well as protestant pastor and translator of Dante. At the heart of his most famous and influential treatise (Commonsense of Political Economy, 1910) there is the analysis of the behaviour of the "housewife". The housewife, as long as she moves inside the home, is moved by the logic of gift and by the love of the "you" that she has in front of herself. But as soon as she leaves domestic economy to go to the market, she disposes of her roles at home and takes on those of political economy, the logic of which must be what Wicksteed coined "non-tuism" (from the Latin 'you'). The housewife, in fact, is permitted (by the economists) to strive for the good of all through the market, except the good of those whom they face in an economic type of encounter: "The economic relationship does not exclude everyone from my mind except myself [selfishness]; and it potentially includes everyone except you [non-tuism ]". This way the economy overcomes selfishness ("everyone except me") but loses the personal relationships within the economic ones ("everyone except you").

The typical tones of the real meeting with the 'you' - gratuitousness, empathy, caring ... - are the ones that the 'housewife' should exercise only in the private sphere, not in public which is all defined by an instrumental register and by the absence of "you" and the presence of and only and lonely 'him’, ‘her’ and ‘them’. And all this because someone has determined a priori that those relational and emotional characteristics that most typically (but not exclusively, of course) are of the woman, were not serious and rational enough things for the serious and rational economic sphere. Too bad, though, that when the face of the "you is missing from the view, which is the only real and actual face in every human environment, all that remains is a faceless and therefore inhuman economy. But above all, we produce an economy that does not see, and therefore does not understand the typical goods that would need categories other than those of non-tuistic logic, among these the category of common goods, relational goods, the logic of plural actions, non-instrumental rationality and much, much, more. Non-tuism is still a pillar of the economic science. And all the times that in the real economy a supplier looks another one in the face, and, moved with compassion, gives him a deferment of payment, or when a worker goes beyond the contract and takes care of a client in difficulty, the "pure" economist considers these exceptions as friction, as incomplete contracts, costs that should be reduced to zero if possible. In fact, the more businesses and banks become large, bureaucratic and rationally managed, the more these 'tuistic' frictions are reduced - but they never disappear completely, and they will not disappear as long as the organizations are inhabited by human beings.

But things are different. We know that 'tuistic' actions are not frictions or simple costs, but they are the ones that compose the invisible but very real oil that helps our organizations not to produce clogs and that turns the complex human gears even in times of crisis when contracts and efficiency are just not enough anymore. Providentially, the real economy goes ahead despite the economic and management theories, but today we must have the cultural courage to stand up against this suffering, which is for the most part preventable, produced by an obsolete anthropology and an economic ideology of a single dimension. Let us not forget that unlike in the past centuries when the public sphere was the monopoly of men (who theorized and occupied it), women today find themselves living in economic and political institutions in which there are, in fact, cultural and theoretical peripheries. The data show that in our businesses and banks it is mainly the women who suffer, because in their workplaces they seem to be conceived, designed and promoted by theories that are missing their "other half' in the world and in economy. To change the economy to shape it to the 'measure of a woman' would mean - I only hint at it - also to review the theory and practice of the management of the home, the economy of the family, raising children, caring for old people. And much more.

The difficulties of the present time also depend on not being able to exploit the immense relational and moral power of women who are still too often guests and outsiders in the productive world of men, and so they cannot give expression of their full potential and talents. The world of economy is also waiting to be enlivened by the female genius.

   Translated by Eszter Kató

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Economics - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/15

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on January 5, 2014

logo

...(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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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 “...(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 t...
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Consumption - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/14

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 29, 2013 

logo

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.

[fulltext] =>

Homo sapiens not only had to consume in order to survive, but has always spoken with words and with goods, from the pearls donated to the people who came from the sea to the cake that we found on Christmas morning on the door mat at home - in return for hanging a card on the door of the new neighbours the night before: the two 'things' have spoken before our (shy) words.

However, the previous civilizations had learned, often at a great cost, that the consumption of things should be taught, oriented and also limited. In medieval culture this truth was absolutely central. Just think of the substance of 'sumptuary laws' in medieval towns, the norms that regulated the consumption of luxury goods - from the length of the court-train of clothes (which added up to several meters ) to the height of towers and steeples.

Today we tend to look at these ancient laws from a purely moralistic perspective. In fact there was a message for us today which starts from the empirical and non-ideological observation of the individual and collective damages produced by intemperate, unlimited and unrestrained consumption, especially of those goods that contemporary economists call 'positional goods'. There are, in fact, consumer goods that are not bought for typical use of property, but to confront and compete with others, or to 'position oneself' in social hierarchies. Yesterday they were clothes, homes and cars: these were the goods used to enter among the 'competitors' of the city. Today these 'positional goods' have dramatically increased in number, and they are not just cars and luxury boats but also smartphones and many other goods that we consume also to confront and compete with others.

It is here that you need to open the argument on the consumption of new technological goods that turn on our imagination, the ones associated with post-modern and 'smart' self images and the ones that make us queue for hours in front of the stores when new models are launched. Taking a closer look at these new forms of consumption, we might find out things that are perhaps not discussed enough. If, however, they were, first of all we would become aware that these new consumer goods are the products of a powerful industry that moves an immense capital, which is post-modern as regards the types of goods, but is very traditional in terms of tax avoidance. These forms of consumption are empowered by huge investments in advertising and are placed at the centre of the capitalist system which grows by feeding them.

The side effects of this great 'positional machine' are many. The first is the radical impoverishment of the most vulnerable classes who waste their ever decreasing income on positional consumption. The growth of usury is impressive among the poor when they want to buy these new consumer 'goods' only to end up stealing bread from their and our children. A second effect has to do with the displacement of resources that the huge investment to improve the efficiency and comfort of mobile phones and tablets produced with respect to 'non- positional' or common sectors (e.g. art) or those that are essential for the moral quality of our society but offer insufficient economic return (e.g. rare diseases). A third effect directly involves our being. Many studies , including those of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman have been telling us for over a decade that the money and energy spent on positional consumption bring an increase of pleasure lasting only as long as the experience of novelty, i.e. a few days (mobile phones) or a few months (cars and houses).

Thus, we should be aware that the primary purpose of many of the innovations in the fields of new technologies is to increase the dimension of 'comfort' of these goods and to reduce the dimension of 'creativity' (albeit present in them). As much as they are funny and very comfortable, too, apps and tablets reduce our commitment to the process that goes from the production to the consumption of goods and services, and they reduce creativity and happiness - we are beginning to see it even in children. Not always, but often. "I use street guides instead of navigation so I don't lose my skills", a Roman taxi driver confided to me one day. In other words, the technological revolution of the last generation is, at least at its current phase, increasing our tendency to be consumers, not producers or workers. It is quite another issue when new technologies, apps and tablets increase our productive creativity and the use of common property.

This is not to question the importance of these new goods, but only to apply critical thinking and take note that the big multinationals do not use technological innovations to increase the creativity and autonomy of citizens, but to create more and more comfort and consumers that quickly replace those goods - that in turn should be aging even faster. We must therefore do everything to ensure that the new technological revolution does not keep us 'entertained' and comfortable locked up inside our homes. The quality of democracy depends greatly on our ability not to procure the new technologies only to for-profit capitalism, but to consider them as new rights of citizenship that are accessible to all, especially to the poor, and regulate their use and management as it happens for public goods today. And to increase the dimensions of gifts and gratuitousness that are always present even in these new consumer goods, contrasting the strong tendency to privatize and marketise the new technological goods (free use of wifi networks in our cities, stations and airports is in a worrying decrease).

History (from the Roman Empire to the late Renaissance) tells us that societies progress when people direct their competitive nature into production and labour; and they start degrading and fall into traps of poverty when they compete mainly in consumption and for annuities that make consumption possible without having worked for it. When - yesterday and today - we work better or more to say who we are and to be valued, the social dynamics will deliver prosperity for all. But when we buy a new luxury car or a new tablet to get the appreciation (or envy?) of others, our relationships become sterile, we fall into social dilemmas, get stuck there in the long run, and above all invest our resources in unproductive ways and places. Also because the positional logic denies the actual and civil nature of the market which is not a sports race but mutual benefit (A. Smith), and mutual assistance (A. Genovesi).

Finally, in the Latin countries where the archaic 'culture of shame' and 'make a good impression' are still very much alive, we fall more easily into these positional traps. In the predominantly Catholic and community based societies people tend to compete by consuming, while in the northern, Protestant and individualistic ones they do it mainly by producing and working. The first to show this was Amintore Fanfani (who was a considerable economic historian). The current capitalism has fused, with a stroke of genius (yet to be explored), the 'best' of these two forms of humanism, giving rise to a culture of individualistic, positional consumption that is impoverishing and saddening us all. "Happiness", whispered my old master Giacomo Becattini to me on Christmas Eve, with a wisp of breath, "is not in the consumption of many goods. Happiness lies in joyfully owning some goods after having joyfully produced them."

 

  Translated by Eszter Kató

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Consumption - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/14

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 29, 2013 

logo

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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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  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 perv...
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Charismas - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/13

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 22, 2013 

logo

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.

[fulltext] =>

Gratuitousness arrives in the world, transforming it every morning, through two major pathways. The first lives inside us, since every human being has a natural capability for gratuitousness. Life itself, our coming into the world is the first major experience of gratuitousness; we find ourselves alive, called into existence, without having chosen it, as a primitive gift which is the foundation of all other gratuitousness. And it is also for this reason that there is no act of gratuitousness greater than that of a mother who lets an unwanted child to come to this world. This is our natural vocation for gratuitousness that makes us attribute an immense value to the gratuitousness of others, and makes us suffer a lot when our gratuitousness is not recognized, appreciated or thanked. Perhaps there is no spiritual pain that is more acute than the one felt by those who see their gratuitousness trampled, hurt and misunderstood by others. If gratuitousness were not already in us, we could not recognize or appreciate the generosity of others, we would remain trapped inside our narcissism, and we would be incapable of perceiving true beauty or the virtues. For this reason, gratuitousness is a constitutive dimension of the human being, of the whole of it, of every human being, even of the homo economicus, which today systematically denies it and drives it away. Without gratuitousness Mr. Rossi will never be more than a client, colleague or supplier: it is gratuitousness that transforms him into Mario. Gratuitousness is often relegated to the places of its (non -profit?) professionals where it dies for lack of the open air of the streets and the lively sound of factories. The dough needs yeast, but the yeast needs the dough, too.

The second main way of gratuitousness are the charismas, the gifts of charis (grace, gratuitousness). Every so often, much more often than one would think, there appear among us people with a special vocation of gratuitousness. These "non-ordinary" bearers of charismas once operated mainly inside religions or great philosophies. Today we can find them in other realms of human life: from economics to politics, from environmentalism and human rights. There are many, but rarely do we have the cultural and spiritual capability to recognize them. Without gratuitousness there is no charisma, and so all the phenomena that, after sociologist Max Weber we now call "charisma" or "charismatic" are something else, often ambivalent, sometimes even bad things. The charismas increase and enhance gratuitousness on earth, and they wake it up or revive it in those who encounter them. They find the "already" of our gratuitousness and they make the "not yet" flourish. Every real encounter with a charisma is an encounter with a voice that challenges our gratuitousness, and if it looks dead it says: "Talitha kumi", get up, girl.

We should write encyclopaedias on the essential role of the charismas in economic and civil life, starting from the less obvious things. For example, one of the dimensions of the charismas and gratuitousness-charis is their "natural-ness" which links them on earth and reveals the hidden gratuitousness to us, mysteriously but really, in nature. When you meet a true bearer of charisma, whether that person is a social assistant or a founder of a religious community (I've met and I meet many of them and they always make me a better man), the first and most radical experience that you have is the physical sensation of meeting people who love you and do good in the world by just being there. You do not see people who are better or more altruistic than others, but people who are there and do what they should. A charisma is not primarily an ethical issue, but an anthropological and ontological one: it is being manifested and shining. Gratuitousness is its ordinary exercise in everyday life (although many virtues are necessary in order not to lose it along the way). So the charismas are at once pure spirituality and pure laity. Just as the greatest meekness and the most radical action to <put down the mighty from their thrones>. This "natural" dimension of charismas, for example, means that those who feel they are benefiters of this gratuitousness do not feel that they are indebted. This gratuitousness takes away the demon of the gifts (called hau by Polynesians) and thus it frees us and transforms this reciprocity into an encounter of freedom.

This friendship between gratuitousness and nature is very important. The tree grows and bears fruit because that's the way it is and it could not do otherwise. The stream runs into the lake because it obeys a law of nature. Just like the charisma: whoever receives it will act because "that's the way they are" and because "they could not do otherwise". They know they must preserve and nurture that "something" that dwells in them, but even before that they know that the something or someone who speaks to them and guides them is acting on a force of its own, although, paradoxically, that charisma is also the best and truest part of them. It is this dynamic of "intimacy - otherness" that prevents its holder from taking possession of their own charisma, to use it to their own advantage (and when he or she does so, the charisma disappears) which guarantees gratuitousness. A dynamic that applies to the founders of charismatic communities, but also to each member of these communities who are no longer followers of movements, or associates of organizations, but persons driven from the inside because the same charisma of the founder dwells in them. The Franciscans do not follow, nor imitate Francis, but together with Francis they follow that same charisma of his, and become in time than they already are. This is where the mystery of charisma lies, for all the religious charismas and all the secular ones (if you really want to tell them apart), for and their typical freedom.

It is here that you will discover a profound analogy between the charismatic person and the artist: both are "servants" of a daimon, a Spirit, both obey a voice and can conquer death. Theresa of Avila and Caravaggio were two very different moral realities, but both have made the world better and more beautiful, they both loved us and love us, free of charge. It is here that gratuitousness intersects with beauty, too, which is so similar to it (perhaps this is the etymology of "grazioso", meaning graceful or pretty in Italian - the translator). Both tell about the intrinsic value of life, which comes before any payable price, before reciprocity, and even before a careful look taken at the other. It is the beauty-gratuitousness that really decorated the rooms of the palaces and the vaults of the cathedrals, or that today is urging Giovanna to prepare a beautiful table, even though she has been widowed and is alone, so she cannot share with anyone.

The charismas come into the world for the good of all, even those who cannot see the charismas or disregard them. But they come mainly for the poor. If there were no charismas, the poor would not be seen, loved, cared for, saved, valued: <Today Salvation arrives in our community: a family with five children, all handicapped> (Don Lorenzo Milani). It is the different gaze of the charismas that gives the poor hope, joy, and it often revives them. And it is the gaze of the poor that makes the charisma alive, does not let it die or become a mere institution.

It is the charismas and their gratuitousness that reveal Christmas to us. And it is Christmas that opens the charis up for us. Merry Christmas to all.

  Translated by Eszter Kató

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Charismas - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/13

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 22, 2013 

logo

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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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  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...
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Innovation - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/12

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 15, 2013 

logo

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).

[fulltext] =>

The father of the theory of innovation is Joseph A. Schumpeter. It was little more than a century ago (The Theory of Economic Development, 1911) that he presented us with a vision of the dynamic historical market that is able to explain what was really happening to the capitalism of his time. The classics are important, we know, not so much for the answers they had given (they were referring to their own historical period, and therefore have a temporary relevance), but for the questions they posed. Some questions of Schumpeter are among the fundamental ones: what is the nature of profit and of the entrepreneur? Where is economic development generated? What is the function of credit and banks? The logical core of these questions is precisely the category of innovation, because if there were no businessmen and bankers who are innovators but only routine institutions and seekers of annuities, there would be no real economic development.

There are many other things to say, however, on the semantics of innovation.
More than 26 million unemployed in Europe, including just too many young people and the increasing vulnerability and sadness of too many people are unmistakable signs that our time would need great innovations of the 'ridge' type. Not the ones that are taught in business schools, nor those that our poor youth  invent in order to participate in challenging European tenders (written more and more often by officials who have never seen or smelled or touched true innovation outside their offices), nor those told in boring books or websites of innovative good practices.

Great innovations are not learnt at school. They need vocations, and therefore they need an increasingly scarce resource consumed by our capitalism that wants innovation: gratuitousness.

It often happens in science but also in economy and in civil life that the greatest innovation is found while looking for something else. This is what happened and is happening still in some important scientific discoveries (e.g. penicillin), many times in mathematical research, but also, in a simpler way, when I enter a bookshop to look for a book, and my eye wanders to the next book opening up a new world to me (another reason why bookshops and libraries are indispensable). It is a version of the so-called serendipidity, which takes its name from the story The Pilgrimage of the Three Young Sons of the King of Serendippo by Christoforo Armeno, a traveller originally from Tabriz (Venice, 1557). At other times, great innovations arrive as 'recycling' for a different use of something which was originally meant to perform other functions. It is the phenomenon that evolutionary biologists call exaptation. It explains, among other things, the evolutionary history of wings: they originally developed to regulate body temperature, and then were 'recycled' for flying. Something similar has happened with the Internet, and in some other cases, too (from the tape recorder to the CD).

Serendipity and exaptation are also important because they incorporate something similar to gratuitousness. Gratuitousness is not free (at zero price) but its infinite value does not lie in a lack of interest but in the interest of all and for all. When you act with this gratuitousness you do not follow the logic of instrumental calculation of means-and-ends, instead, you love that particular person or activity for him/itself and before they bring any results, which leads to an ethical, anthropological, spiritual surplus. If the scientist is not immersed in his research and is guided solely by the intrinsic law of science, if the artist does not like the work he is creating for itself, if the entrepreneur is not passionate about his business, if the future saint does not forget the reward of holiness and loves with agape, it is very difficult for great discoveries, business, art and holiness to come. It may perhaps generate good people, small works, and 'mass' innovations like those born every day in the departments of research and development or marketing. But it is not in research and development departments that the Divine Comedy, the Sixth Symphony of Tchaicovsky are born, and it is not there that Nelson Mandela becomes the Madiba. For these innovations gratuitousness is needed, a freely given overflow that can create infinite value.

This gratuitousness is also needed for the great economic and social innovations. Above all, 'ridge' innovations have an essential need for it because, unlike the 'mass' innovations, they originate from those who are on the ridges of the mountains by vocation, and from there they can see and open new horizons. It was the overflow of freely giving by Saint Benedict that redeemed work from slavery, and that of the Franciscans and many pastors and co-workers that gave birth to the great innovations of the banks for the poor. It was the overflow of gratuitousness by Francis de Sales or Camillus of Lellis that allowed for the inventing of the "social state" for those who were the rejected ones in their time. The same urged many of the foundresses of schools for poor girls that began with the alphabet and took on the long journey of women towards equality of rights and opportunities, a long journey that still continues with Malala Yousafzai and her many sisters. It was the overflow of gratuitousness in Gandhi to free India and fight the caste system, thus giving rise to one of the greatest civil and economic miracles in history. For these innovations manifestations of charisma are needed, in religious and lay people who - from the ridges of agape - are capable of seeing differently the stones the builder rejected and to make them become the cornerstone.

The earth is full of free and innovative surplus. Perhaps no one could save themselves from mediocrity if they did not do at least one deed of the overflow of gratuitousness during their lifetime. But today we would also need great new 'ridge' innovations that would give a twist to our history. What is needed for these innovations, however, is the almost infinite energy of gratuitousness. 'Ridge' innovations are always mixed, promiscuous, contaminated and intertwined; especially the economic ones, they do not come from the laboratories, but are the result of the generativity of peoples, generations and cultures. When these innovations flourish in the soil of the economy, those who will create them will know how to look higher and farther than economy alone, and in that 'elsewhere' they will also find new economic resources. In our history we have had civil and economic 'ridge' innovations when we knew how to look - thanks to political and economic charisma, too - in the areas where no one was looking, or where those who looked saw only problems.

We will come back to do good economy if we are able to look elsewhere and notice new opportunities, to include what seems rejected by this system, now called immigrants, young people, the elderly, and all the poor of yesterday and today. The church of Pope Francis is creating an environment that is suitable for possible new, large social and economic 'ridge' innovations. But for this environment to be populated with new work, rights and life it would take the force of Isaiah and Jeremiah, or the force of the charismas. Today, a Catherine of Siena, a Don Bosco, a Martin Luther King would look at our cities from their ridges. They would notice the hunger for work and real life in the crowds, and the fear of the present and the future of their children. They would be moved to compassion, they would love us by their different and higher gaze, and they would start work immediately, that of true innovation. But where are the prophets today?

 

 Translated by Eszter Kató

 

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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Innovation - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/12

by Luigino Bruni 

published in Avvenire on December 15, 2013 

logo

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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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  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, ver...
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Market - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/11

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on December 8, 2013

Logo nuovo lessico

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.

[fulltext] =>

The first would like a society that is led and managed only, or mainly by market values and instruments (from the privatization of common goods to the buying and selling of organs), the latter would banish them from almost all morally relevant areas of human life, and keep them in a very tight and controlled channel. With globalization and the financial and economic crisis this ideological juxtaposition which has at least two hundred years of history has entered a new phase.

Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable that books written by economists containing the pros and cons of markets could become best sellers. This new phase, however, does not have the spiritual and communal strength of the ancient forms of popular humanism and their intellectuals because having lost contact with the vital places it does not have the taste of warm bread and the salty smell of sweat. And the opposition, which is very important but neglected by our culture, is becoming one of the biggest brakes in the search for a new phase of concord and unity, however indispensable it would be. This prevents us, among other things, from recognising and fighting the distortions and diseases of specific markets (and not imaginary ones).

The commitment to create this harmony and dialogue is not an easy task because it goes in the opposite direction of the trending approach having an ever stronger flattening and degrading effect on culture.

Traditional companies have learned a "social" language carrying too much rhetoric and little conviction. And the whole of a traditionally non-capitalist movement of economy has been trying to foolishly imitate the language (a fake type of English), culture, consultants and categories of a dominant economic thought in a damaging process of syncretism. It is an imitation that often stems from a cultural inferiority complex.

The new synthesis and the new constructive dialogue that we need are something different, something much more difficult and profound. We should first recognize that the history of the real world showed us the real markets that are much more vital, promiscuous, non-ideological and unexpected than imagined and planned by some theories. The most significant and long-lasting economic experiences, those that have increased the true welfare of the people, democracy and the common good were all hybrid experiences born of the market and society. The real market worked really when it pervaded social places, when it learned to live in and include the suburbs, too. And when it did not, and it does not do so it produces discomfort and becomes an enemy of the people and the poor, in order to make profit even from "the refuse of the wheat". Our best remote and near past are the result of the intertwining of markets and reciprocity. The cooperative movement, industrial districts and family businesses are the offspring of meetings between the language of the market and that of the gift.

Families have always known that businesses are very important and essential for their own good. It is from there that the work and wages come; it is in these promiscuous and hard places that real dreams and real life are nurtured. People have always lived and experienced the real markets as human places, squares and shops populated with people, smells, tastes and words - also, do not forget that for decades the markets have been among the very few places of public life that were marked by the sovereignty and leadership of many of our mothers and grandmothers.

The great and long history of the relationship between markets and civil life is mostly a story of friendship and alliance. Even when there were quarrels and fights in the factories, the better part of the country enrolled in different parties knew that inside those factories good things were being produced for them and for all. They quarrelled and fought inside them, but they knew that the world, theirs and everyone’s, would have been worse without those factories. They fought because they loved their factories. 

Intellectuals and politicians contrasted capital with labour, market with democracy, freedom with equality but people knew with a greater truth that reality was different because that work, albeit hard and sour, was freeing them and their children, and it was moving them away from the feudalism they had departed from. They recited social liturgies, each wore their own mask in the comedy and tragedy of real life, but the relationship between workers, employers and social classes was even more real, which gave real substance to the expression Common Good. Until those old "owners" became, not long ago, the owners of increasingly anonymous, distant and invisible hedge funds. When the critics of capitalism wanted to give life to another economy, they invented cooperatives and rural banks in Europe, but they never thought - or at least not seriously and not in great numbers - that those cooperatives and those banks were the antithesis of the other banks and companies of the country. They were certainly different, but the workers of large companies knew that any co-worker had a very similar experience to theirs, and so they understood each other and fought together; they would also turn to the same savings banks and outlets.

We were able to withstand the extremely harsh post-war times, terrorism, the ideological, radical political and violent conflicts because the real country was living an experience of unity in the factories, in the land, in offices, in cooperatives, and has woven a social bond that has been supporting and sustaining us ever since. We have survived by working together, workers, housewives, trade union members, farmers, entrepreneurs, bankers and politicians alike. We may have been arguing and fighting in the factories and in the streets; but above all we have been working and suffering together - for this reason it is urgent to return to generating new work. And we will survive if we can still find unity in work, economy and civil life.

At the beginning of civilization, gift and exchange for interest were indistinguishable. One gave gifts as a way to exchange, which, one day, became the market. This anthropological fact also tells us much on the reverse link: it reveals that there exists and remains a lot of gift-giving in the market. If it was not so, it would mean mighty little and it would be quite a sad thing to go to work every morning for decades for those who have the "gift" of work, or to donate our best years in a factory or in an office. Just as our projects and work plans would be mighty little and sad, our work relationships would be too poor and the hours of real life lived would be too few. We all know this, we've always known it. But in this phase of weak and superficial economic and social thought we need to remind ourselves of this, and all the others, too.

 

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

Translated by Eszter Kató

 

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Market - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/11

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on December 8, 2013

Logo nuovo lessico

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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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 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 a...
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Commons - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/10

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on December 1, 2013

logo_avvenire

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.

[fulltext] =>

Water is still in the focus of the debate about commons, and a representative of their paradigm, because, unlike economic goods, it has no substitute - as Lanny Bruce's well-known joke tells us: "I have invented powdered water, but I do not know what to dissolve it in". The historical perspective is essential, for in order to understand how to handle them we must always ask ourselves how they emerged and how they have been preserved in time.

Without the resource of memory, which is neither nostalgia nor a remembrance but the past put into the service of the present and future, you cannot understand either the adjective (common) or the noun (goods). To manage these goods you should have children and grandchildren, and love those of others freely, and be able to see with your soul's eyes those who are not yet born, or who were born elsewhere. Every child is a very special form of the common good, whose growing up and survival, as we are reminded by the African culture, requires (the assistance of) "the whole village".

To preserve a forest you have to know how to care for and love each and every shrub, which contains in itself the whole forest of today, yesterday and tomorrow. And finally, the third remark, on the female dimension. At the beginning and at the end (for now) of the theory of commons, there are two women. And it is not by coincidence. Commons are essentially a matter of relationships, because they are relationships between people mediated by goods. Without attention to the relational dimension of life and the economy, without a relationship that transcends time and generations, commons first cannot be seen, then they cannot be understood, and finally they perish. When we look at relationships intrinsically, women have a vocation to take a leading role, and so to pass on life, their look and their flesh connect generations and create brothers and sisters out of their members. Capitalist economy has to make a great effort to understand commons because in general it does not address problems in a historical (or geographical) perspective. In fact, it does not see relations but separate individuals, and it is defined entirely within the registry of male rationality. So the main, if not only, economic perspective on commons is their destruction, starting from the now classic text by Hardin on the 'tragedy of the commons' in 1967 - an article that has been cited a lot, even too much, but one that has been rarely read and understood in its entire complexity and ambivalence.

If we wish, however, to understand and save commons and especially to create new ones, it is essential to be able to see the relational dimension. Since these goods are created, used and stored together, to be able to say 'it is mine' we are forced to pronounce it in a chorus, turning the word 'mine' into 'ours', and adding 'all' to it, thus turning it into the five loaves of bread and two fish who feed the crowds. Thus, in the creation and management of commons the norm of reciprocity is inscribed.  As English philosopher Martin Hollis pointed out to us (Trust within Reason, 1998), the typical reciprocity of commons responds to the "logic of the enough/sufficient". When I decide to give up what is mine in order to realise something that is 'ours', I do not expect contractual guarantees or assurances that all my other fellow citizens do the same. At the same time, however, I have to think and believe that 'enough' fellow citizens will do as I do, because if I thought to be the only one, or nearly so, to donate blood or to pay taxes, I'd be very tempted not to do it anymore. Many, in fact, give in. Many, yes, but not all. If there aren't any people in a community who, for some reason, are able to go beyond this logic of reciprocity (however important and necessary it may be), commons are not born and they do not survive. If you wish to make an ecological initiative in the city, to give rise to a form of shared economy, to stop paying protection money to the mafia, if you want to save a wood or an association from dying, if you want to trace and map the paths of a mountain, then it is necessary to have a group of citizens, however small, to be the starters to it, that is ready to engage without warranties, reciprocity or success. In the minds of these 'starter citizens' there is a special kind of logic at work, a logic that we may call the "better me alone than no-one". They know that their donating action is risky and often subject of ridicule because it is considered naive, and perhaps exploited by the opportunists, but, having the commons and the Common Good at heart they prefer to be the only ones to work for that good rather than see it perish, hoping (not expecting ) that their action will be copied the next day. Also, it is crucial that among these there be a few civil starters with the special gift of the care for and nurturing of relationship conflicts that are inevitable given the fact that commons are used together.

It is the indispensable presence of risky and vulnerable freeness especially present in and for the 'starters' that explains and reveals the etymology of the commons. The word common comes from (Latin) cum-munus, where 'cum' means together and 'munus' means gift and obligation at the same time. Commons are a matter of gifts but also of obligations to others, the future generations and the old ones who have left their patrimony to our care (patres - munus), but also the duty to ourselves and the obedience to the tenacious call of our inner world and consciousness.

For all these reasons, commons are difficult to manage by the capitalist market only. At the very least it is sad, if not outrageous, to continue to assist in a silent and resigned manner to speculators who are appropriating water, common land, forests, raw materials. They also take and use public land in our cities where their quest for maximum profit out of goods that are not theirs but belong to everyone becomes an additional implicit tax for the citizens, a tax that does not feed the funds of the town but those of distant shareholders. When will our city councils create an alliance with civil society and businesses to manage the soil, water, the greens and the streets in a non-profit way but efficiently, and when will the States realise that the commodification (much more than privatization) of commons (from highways to public transport) is a short-sighted way without profound social and economic thought?

The capitalist market society, however, is capable of producing very well, and more and more of the so-called 'club goods', goods that unlike the commons shall be unavailable for those who are not among the owners or associates. The club goods (think of the private quarters) are created and managed kept away from the excluded ones, especially the poor, from whom you can protect yourself by property rights, gates, and more and more private security guards. It is the basic rule of the 'open door' policy that has prevented cooperatives from becoming club goods. We should not forget either that in our era a high form of the common good is to give life to a real enterprise where someone takes risks to create jobs and wealth for many, and goods for all - a disease of our time, due to the domination of finance and its culture, is the transformation of businesses from commons into club goods. An enterprise that is a common good is one that enriches the owners together with the whole community and therefore needs 'the whole village' in order not to die; the club type of enterprise, however, is one that is born and dies, and kills, too, and only for the speculative benefits of those who possess it. 

We will only we be able to live together, and to live well if we are able to see, create and love (not destroy) commons which are the precondition and the humus of private goods. But we are in extreme need of old and new 'starters', citizens capable of generating and cherishing common goods, the Common Good, in order to mark the paths of life for all.

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

Translated by Eszter Kató

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Commons - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/10

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on December 1, 2013

logo_avvenire

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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The Future is Not a Club

Commons - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/10 by Luigino Bruni  Published in Avvenire on December 1, 2013 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 ...
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Cooperation - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/9

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on November 24, 2013

logo_avvenire

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.

[fulltext] =>

An army, a religious liturgy, a class at school, a business, a government action or a kidnapping are all forms of cooperation, but they refer to human phenomena that are very different from each other. A first consequence can be drawn from this: not all cooperation is good, because there are some that, while they increase the benefits of those involved, they also worsen the common good because they harm others outside of that cooperation. To distinguish the good from the bad type of cooperation it is necessary to first look at the effects that cooperation intentionally produces on people that are external to it.

Throughout history, political and economic theories have been divided into two large families: those that depart from the assumption that the human being is naturally unable to cooperate, and those that claim the cooperative nature of the person. The main representative of the second tradition is Aristotle: in his argument man is a political animal, capable of dialogue with others, of friendship (philia) and cooperation for the good of the polis. The most radical exponent of the tradition of the unsociable animal is Thomas Hobbes: "It is true that certain living creatures, as bees and ants, live sociably one with another... and therefore some man may perhaps desire to know why mankind cannot do the same” (Leviathan, 1651). Much of the modern social and political philosophy fits within this tradition of the anti-social, while the ancient and mediaeval ones (including Thomas Aquinas) were generally on Aristotle's side. We could also say that the greatest dilemma of the modern political and economic theory has been the attempt to explain how cooperative outcomes can emerge from human beings who are not capable of intentional cooperation, because they are dominated by selfish interests.

The modern age response of political philosophy is the emergence of the many theories of 'social contract' (but not all of them): selfish but rational human beings understand that it is in their interest to create a civil society with an artificial social contract. The so-called natural man is uncivilized and so civil society is artificial. The response of modern economic science to the same question is composed by the various theories of the 'invisible hand', where the common good ('the wealth of nations') is not born of the cooperative and intentional nature of social animals, but by the play of interests of private selfish individuals divided between themselves. At the base of these two traditions we find the same anthropological hypothesis: the human being is 'crooked wood' that, without the need to straighten it out, produces good 'cities' if it is able to create artificial institutions (social contract, market) that transform self- interested passions into common good.  

And it is at this point that a mystery of the market is revealed. Market society, too, has its own form of cooperation, but there is no joint action required between 'cooperating' individuals in it. When someone walks into a store to buy bread, that meeting between the buyer and the seller is not described or experienced as an act of intentional cooperation: each seek their own interest and fulfils the counter-performance (money for bread; bread for money) only as a means to obtain their own good. Yet the exchange improves the condition of both, thanks to a form of cooperation that does not require any joint action. The common good therefore becomes the sum of private interests of individuals mutually immune to each other who cooperate with each other without actually meeting with, touching or looking at each other.

It is inside the company that we find strong or intentional cooperation, since it is a network of joint and cooperative actions to reach objectives that in great part are common ones. So when I buy a Rome-Malaga ticket, between me and the airline there is no form of intentional cooperation, only separate interests that are parallel (travel and profit); among the crew of the flight, however, there must be strong, explicit and intentional cooperation. It follows from this that while (almost) no economist would write a theory of markets based on the ethics of virtue, when looking at the theories of the company and organizations, many 'ethics of business' are based on the ethics of Aristotle's and Thomas Aquinas' virtues.

The division of labor in markets and in society at large is a great unintentional and implicit cooperation; the division of labor inside the company, however, is the strong sense of cooperation, a joint voluntary action. The Anglo-Saxon, protestant type of capitalism has thus given rise to a dichotomous model, a new edition of the Lutheran (and Augustinian) 'Two Kingdoms Doctrine '. In the markets there is implicit co-operation, which is 'weak' and non-intentional; in the company and in organizations in general we find explicit cooperation instead, which is strong and purposeful – two types of cooperation, two 'cities' that are profoundly and naturally different from each other.
This cooperation, however, is not the only possible type in the markets. The European, and particularly the Latin version of cooperation in the marketswas different, because its cultural and religious matrix was not individualistic but communal. Here the distinction between ad intra cooperation (inside company) and ad extra cooperation (in the markets) has never prevailed - at least until recently. And 'This is the tradition of the so-called Civil Economy that interpreted the whole economy and society as a matter of cooperation and reciprocity. The family business (in Italy 90% of the private sector is still composed by these) , cooperatives, Adriano Olivetti can all be explained by taking seriously the cooperative and communal nature of the economy. This is why the European cooperative movement has been the most typical expression of market economy in Europe. Just as the industrial districts (from the township of Prato and yarn to Fermo and shoes) are (and were) such, where entire communities have become economy without ceasing to be a community. Thus, the model of the U.S. capitalism is the anonymous market and it seeks to "marketize" (render into market) even the company, which is increasingly seen as a nexus of contracts, a 'commodity' (merchandise), or a market with 'internal' vendors and customers. The European model, however, has always tried to 'comunitize' (render into community) the market, taking the mutual and communal type as a model of good economy, exporting it from the company to the whole of civilized life (credit and consumer unions). Taking the costs and benefits of doing this results in a type of economy that is filled with humanity and the joy of living, but also with those wounds that fully human encounters inevitably bring about.

Today the U.S. model is colonizing the last of the territories of the European economy, also because our tradition of community and cooperation has not always lived up to the cultural and practical standards, it has not developed in all regions, and, in Italy, it had to deal with the (still not completely unfolded) trauma that fascism caused by proclaiming itself to be the true heir to the tradition of the cooperative company (corporatism). The 'Great Crisis' we are living now, however, tells us that the economy and society based on cooperation-without-touching-each-other may produce monsters, and that business that is only business becomes anti-business eventually. The ethos of the West is a network of strong and weak instances of cooperation of individuals that flee from the bonds of the community in search of freedom, as well as people who bind themselves of their own accord in order to live freely. In a phase of history where the pendulum of the global market tends to move towards individuals-without-ties Europe must remember the inherently civil and social nature of economy by taking care of it and by living it.

 

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

Translated by Eszter Kató

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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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Connections Make Us Rich

Cooperation - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/9 by Luigino Bruni  Published in Avvenire on November 24, 2013 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 a...
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Experience Goods - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/8

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on November 17, 2013

logo_avvenire

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. 

[fulltext] =>

Many devote time, and much of it, to enrich or write entries anonymously for Wikipedia (the encyclopaedia of the web), or to improve free software. It is as if we were creating new 'squares', where people tend to return in a different way and with pleasure to talk, to waste time selflessly. This is an ambivalent phenomenon for certain, but ambivalence can also be the start of productive debate.

The mere consumption of goods would never be enough for people. Symbol-loving and ideological animals as we are, we have always asked for more from our goods: starting from social status to the representation of a better future while living in a poverty-stricken present. Through these goods we wanted to talk, tell stories, tell about ourselves to others, and listen to others talk. To experience. Some goods are so tied to an experience that economists have called them "experience goods".These are the ones that we can understand and evaluate only after having made a direct and personal experience. Almost all cultural and touristic products are listed among the experience goods. I can only determine whether it was worth buying a ticket for a museum when I visit it, not before; I understand if the price paid for a weekend at a farm holiday house was reasonable only when I am on the spot, and I can see the scenery, the environment and meet the hosts. The market does not like this uncertainty, and tries to offer us some decisive elements to assess a hotel or restaurant ex ante. And so the websites sporting more and more pictures, and the growing importance of customer reviews have become so important that we risk seeing the birth of an uncivilized market for the sale of reviews, both positive and negative (on competitors).

And this is where some debates of central importance develop to understand the evolution of our economic and social system. First of all, as regards experience goods, the contour elements in them are the ones that appear to be decisive. I can have the most beautiful archaeological site in the world, but without a whole functional territorial system around (transport, hotel ... ) the value of that asset falls, and the value of entire regions drops with it, too. I can find farmhouses in the region of Marche in Italy in excellent 'locations', but if I do not find the style corresponding to the developments of centuries of hospitality which translates into a thousand concrete details, then the value of that vacation disappears or is greatly resized. In these goods one of the most complex and mysterious traits of our market society is included in its purest form. When an Englishman is on holiday in Tuscany or in Andalusia, he is also in search of the intrinsic cultural dimensions that are not mere merchandise. Of course, he knows that the resort and restaurant are typical business enterprises and thus respond to the logic of profit, but the well-being during that vacation, which, sometimes, is the most important part of it, depends mostly on the presence of different cultural contexts. These, in turn are included (but of course!) in the price of that particular hotel and lunch, yet they are not mere merchandise 'produced' by those entrepreneurs to make profit. So much so that the value of attending a real country fair or an authentic historical re-enactment is immensely greater than those artificial, organized folkloristic representations, ordered and paid for by the caterer. In our land there exist, in other words, cultural heritage sites that are authentic public goods (and not private property), accumulated over the centuries that become competitive advantage for our business generating profit. We should look after them, because much of our economic strength and civil present depends on them, which is even more true for the future.

A second area is the so-called critical and responsible consumption. What brings us to the small shops and the special fair trade shops is primarily the search for an experience. This is why it is essential to talk to those who work there, to be told the many wonderful tales of goods, make the people who produced them 'talk'; maybe to exchange a few words about our capitalism or meet some other clients who share in our experience there and then. The value of this consumption is not contained in the goods only (and in the relations of production which they embody), but also in the interpersonal experience we get when we go to a store, a branch of a bank or to a market. Ethics without experience is just ideology.

Finally, we must be aware that all market goods are becoming instances of real experience.
This is a crucial paradox of contemporary market economy. On the one hand, the market needs to produce a growing mass of goods without too many variations, because the economies of scale and cost requirements lead to mass consumption of goods that are similar to each other for easy reproducing with few variants and low cost in all the world. And this is the direction taken by the companies of the twentieth century. But these companies are now also faced with the opposite trend. Democracy and freedom generate millions of people with different tastes and values, where everyone can be unique and non-assimilable. This is why the big companies that grew big with the mentality of mass consumption must rethink themselves completely. On the one hand we are also attracted by getting exactly that type of computer or mobile phone which is the status symbol; at the same time, however, we would like our PC to have something unique designed personally for me; which means that I would like that the experience that I have with that PC should be unique and only mine, because I am the only me. It is here that intriguing perspectives open up for the industrial and economic near future. Successful businesses, even on a global scale, will be those that are able to put together products that can be sold in increasingly global markets (and today the network makes it possible for small businesses to operate in Madras, Lanciano and Lisbon, too). Above all, however, these products should be able to involve the 'consumer' in an experience in which you do not feel that you are just one of the many anonymous, clone owners and users, but a unique piece. So we understand that we expect a large development of 'DIY' that are more sophisticated than the current ones, made of a blend of standardized goods, technical assistance and our creativity in customizing houses, gardens, websites, and the neighbourhoods and cities of tomorrow. If we look into the ambivalent television market of the latest generation, for example, we can already find something like this, or at least more or less successful attempts in this direction.

When we leave the house to go down into the market places, we seek greater experiences than the things we buy may offer in themselves. Too often, however, the goods do not keep their promises, because the experiences they offer are too poor when compared to our seeking of the infinite. And so, disappointed but able to forget the disappointment of yesterday, we start our economic liturgies every morning, looking for goods, dreams, human relationships and life.

 

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

Translated by Eszter Kató

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Experience Goods - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/8

by Luigino Bruni 

Published in Avvenire on November 17, 2013

logo_avvenire

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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Something Unique

Experience Goods - The Vocabulary of Good Social Life/8 by Luigino Bruni  Published in Avvenire on November 17, 2013 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...