the term ‘civil economy’

two ways of reading, broadly, a useful term known better in Europe than in N. America

Bruni & Zamagni’s short 2015 work in translation from Agenda

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From the preface to Civil Economy by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni, translation publ. 2016 by Agenda.

As well as witnessing the grave crisis of debt-based financial capitalism (private debt in the United States and public debt in Europe), the past ten years have been an important time for the civil economy. An unintended consequence of the crisis was to create cultural conditions suitable for understanding the economic, social and ethical relevance of a different, sustainable vision of the economy and finance. The “civil economy” is a tradition of thought that, in order to save the market economy, recalls it to its ancient, original vocation as an ally of the common good, representing a space for liberty, sociality, and the expression of our capabilities and “vocations” as persons, particularly the vocation of work.

We will not exit this serious crisis, which goes much deeper than just the economic dimension, by eliminating finance and markets (assuming that someone were even able to do so), but only with civil and civilizing finance and markets. Indeed, we should recall one of the lessons of the civil economy tradition: actual markets, different from those described in most textbooks, are never ethically neutral; they are either civil or uncivil (tertium non datur, i.e. “no middle ground”). If finance and markets do not create value and values, if they do not create work, if they do not respect and care for the environment, they are simply uncivil; they destroy the economy and civilizations, as we continue to see in this time of crisis. The market economy will survive only if it is able to move beyond this form of individualistic, financial capitalism, towards a civil and civilizing economy.

It is useful to recall at this point that the civil economy has two main meanings. The “Civil Economy,” written with initial capitals, is a tradition of thought and a perspective for studying the economy that understands the entire economy differently from the dominant Anglo-American capitalist tradition. This first meaning is not directly related to the third sector [as opposed to the public and private sectors, … including voluntary groups, foundations, social cooperatives, social enterprises and NGOs], much less the non-profit sector (a concept and expression originating, not by chance, in the United States, which does not understand the specific nature of the Civil Economy). The Civil Economy speaks to the whole of the economy and to society, offering a standard of judgment for choices and action by governments, multinationals, consumers (ethical consumption) and socially responsible savers.

There is also the “civil economy,” not capitalized, that can be synonymous — without completely overlapping them — with expressions such as social economy, private-social organizations, value-based organizations, solidarity economy, popular economy, and so forth. This second meaning of the civil economy has its own specific characteristics and originality, as it includes actors who remain outside other conceptions and definitions. Among these are traditional forms of co-operation — such as credit, production, use, and consumption — as well as new projects like the Economy of Communion, which due to their legal forms or traditions are not part of the non-profit sector, nor of certain more anti-market definitions of social economy.