By Luigino Bruni
The Genesis and Ethos of the Market provides a discussion of the anthropological roots of the market, tracing its development using the history of ideas and cultures as well as simple game theory. In his analysis of market ethics Bruni calls for a reconsideration of some of the central tenets of modern political economy, and the need for a new spirit of capitalism.
About Luigino Bruni
Luigino Bruni is Associate Professor of Economics at Milano-Bicocca University, Italy. He works on ethics and economics, the history of ideas and the philosophy of economics, with a special focus on the analysis of the interpersonal dimension in economic and social theory. He has rediscovered, together with Robert Sugden and Stefano Zamagni, the tradition of Civil Economy. His other books include Reciprocity, Altruism and Civil Society and The Wound and the Blessing; Economics, Relationships and Happiness.
"Both capitalism and modern political economy rest on the separation of economics from ethics, which in turn can be traced to a number of shifts within philosophy and theology – notably the move away from practices of reciprocity and the common good towards the sole pursuit of individual freedom and self-interest. In his latest book, Luigino Bruni provides a compelling critique of capitalist markets and an alternative vision that fuses Aristotelian–Thomist virtue ethics with the Renaissance and Neapolitan Enlightenment tradition of ‘civil economy’. [...] Bruni’s book is no mere synthesis of existing positions. On the contrary, it offers considerable novelty and conceptual innovation, most notably by emphasizing, first, the sheer ambivalence and contingent nature of different market models and, second, the vulnerability involved in interpersonal relationships that underpin the economy, the polity and society. [...] Bruni’s book is a major intervention in both academic research and public debate. It should be required reading for all in positions of power and influence, including politicians, policy-makers, civil society actors and above all economists. The ‘civil economy’ tradition marks the most visionary and transformative alternative not just to the increasingly sterile debate between Keynesians and monetarists or communitarians and liberals but also to the power of both state and market capitalism that dominate the world."
Table of Contents of The Genesis and Ethos of the Market
Abstracts originating from SpringerLink
1. From the Community-Without-Individuals to Individuals-Without-Community
Any study of the market and its ethos will inevitably have to confront the notion of community and its inherent contradictions. The ethos of the market is the main response to the ambivalence of the ethos of the community.
2. The Dawn of the Tragic Community in Greece and Israel
In our search for the advent of the culture of the individuals from the sacral ancient community, let us start very far back in western history, by looking first at the Bible — possibly the greatest existing code of western culture.
3. Solutions to the Ambivalent Quality of Life in Common
In the previous chapter we have seen how the tragic character of life in common was first recognized in Greece and Israel. We are still far from the tragic dimension of the modern age, which we will discuss later, and yet we can already discern the prodromes that much later will evolve into modern humanism. In this chapter I wish to outline some of the solutions or, as we shall see, some of the escape routes that have been proposed in response to the fragility of the communitas. These solutions have in common what Esposito and others have called immunitas, albeit none of them mention that the main place of immunitas is actually the market, the economic space — which is what I try to demonstrate in the final part of this essay.
4. Dawn of the Modern Age
We may interpret the Middle Ages as a process in which individuality slowly emerged at the expenses of the communitas antiqua. This process unfolded rather harmoniously until the Tuscan civil humanism in the early fifteenth century, but later exploded in a rapid and irreversible escalation resulting in the Renaissance, the Reformation, the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment. The rise of modern political economy may be situated at some point along this lengthy cultural process.
5. Towards a Community of Individuals
The Middle Ages end in the great season of civil humanism, followed by the Renaissance. These periods are marked by a new civil sentiment, which shows, nonetheless, a radical tendency to read, imagine and represent the civitas and the market — i.e. the civil economy — as an elitist relationship among subjects considered trustworthy: almost a sort of happy and sheltered oasis of mutually advantageous and stable relations, surrounded by the “crown of thorns” of the infamous, the poor, the untrustworthy, the excluded.
6. Between Hobbes and Smith
In this chapter we push the analysis one step further by comparing the projects of Hobbes and other modern-age authors. This comparison will allow us to comprehend the cultural and anthropological meaning of the birth of modern political economy.
7. Relationships and Vaccinations
The Middle Ages were the great incubator of the market economy. Markets and merchants have always existed in the history of man (and, to some extent, even in the prehistory). In the Middle Ages, however, something new came to light: something we call today the market economy. Although the latter will only appear in the second part of the modern age, all its elements are already present in the late Middles Ages, like seeds that will later germinate.
8. The Neapolitan Tradition of Civil Economy
The “classic” tradition of sociality, here referred to as Aristotelian-Thomistic, found another significant expression in economics within the Neapolitan tradition — in a sense Italian and Latin — of civil economy (Bruni and Zamagni 2007), which represents an important attempt to keep alive within modernity the tradition of civil life based on philia.
9. Virtues and Afterwards
Central to the eighteenth century was the rich issue concerning theories of action and its motivations. Hume, Rousseau, Smith have written complex theories of action where the motivations in the social and economic arena were much more complex than just the search for self-interest. In Italy there was also lively debate, and thinkers like Pietro Verri and Antonio Genovesi made important statements on the unintended consequences of actions, imitation, emulation, desire for distinction, and so on.
10. The Ethos of Civil Economy
In this chapter we attempt to present a different idea of the market and of its ethos (as opposed to the one offered by Smith) and in doing so we take the civil economy as our starting point. The characterization of the market as “civil” and friendly shall be a preliminary point of arrival in our discussion, but we shall not stop there.
11. Evolution, Virtues, Rewards, Philia and Beyond
By way of a conclusion we shall propose an interpretation of the analytical elements that have characterized our journey and, at the same time, we shall compare the system of Civil Economy with Smith’s system of Political Economy. We have seen that Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers entertained their own anti-feudal polemic; but Smith also thought that the market mechanism would introduce a structure of incentives enabling the market to consolidate through evolution. The view held by Genovesi and Dragonetti was similar in that they did not perceive a conflict between virtue and self-interest. However, whereas Smith regarded the individual pursuit of self-interest as directly virtuous and capable of giving rise to the common good, even if unintentionally, for the authors of Civil Economy it’s the very search for common good that is virtuous — though no contradiction is assumed between private interest and the common good.
The market society is the most radical solution to the painful ambivalence of life in common. A growing part of civil society looks to the day when it will be possible to create a network of contracts that, thanks to the culture of immunity, will regulate all human relationships, from health to education, from politics to family. In this way we’ll have eradicated the interpersonal vulnerability.