An important book, which marries economic reasoning with good social practices, has been published in Italy


A company is there to make profits and nothing else. This is a categorical statement which can be justified to a degree, but which is only partly true when viewed against the reality of life. It is certainly true to say that accounts should show profits, and that manufacturing should be carried out in an optimal and efficient manner. There are other considerations in addition to these, however. This is how it is, at least, in any well-rounded company that deserves such a description. The synthesis exists in those production cultures which keep an eye on the accounts but also on their people, on efficiency but also beyond the scope of technical prowess. A good company, to summarise, not only optimises its production cycle but also its place in the world. And it avoids falling into the traps of calculations at all costs and of optimisation taken to extremes. It is precisely on the subject of the risks of optimisation, and on how to overcome them and achieve a different sort of economy, that Julian Nida-Rümelin, professor of philosophy and political theory at the University of Munich in Bavaria, has deliberated. With his “Per un’economia umana. La trappola dell’ottimizzazione”,  (For a humane economy. The snare of optimisation), Nida-Rümelin has set down on paper a wide-ranging journey between philosophy and economy which starts from the classic canons of rationalistic economic reasoning in order to reach conclusions which are important, not to say surprising.

The book builds on the consideration of the “definitive defeat of the homo oeconomicus” interpreted as the “driving optimizer of what becomes a self-destructive economic system if it is not tempered by humane measures for contentment”. For Nida-Rümelin it is possible to attain a different and more modern type of economy by retrieving forgotten principles and ethics, which hark back to classical philosophy and to the ancient virtues, to ethics and to dialogue rather than to opposition, to calculation and to dispute. “The result is not a utopia – specifies the author -. The position at stake is not the description of a desirable state of affairs, which is neither achievable nor something for the near future, but rather the pragmatic conditions of a humane economic praxis”.

The book is therefore strictly divided into three parts. First of all a clear analysis of the concepts of economic rationality and of the idea of optimisation; then a recollection of the classical Greek philosophy of values and virtues considered as inalienable by the author: reliability, capacity for judgement, strength of decision-making, respect, loyalty and attentiveness. The book ends with a discourse about how it may be possible to reconcile economic optimisation with reasonable and acceptable good practices.

Articulated into chapters which are clearly separated by concepts, the book by Nida-Rümelin is interesting reading, and worth the effort even if at times this may prove challenging; nevertheless, the author’s writing evolves steadily, in a way which allows it to be tackled by anyone who truly wishes to understand the direction in which the economy may be going. Pure nourishment for a good company culture which needs to be a common heritage. In the final lines of the book the author writes that “ the task of moulding a humane economic praxis is such that it requires the cooperation of a great number of different parties: employers and employees, associations and trades unions, managers, corporate advisors and employee representatives, parliaments and governments, citizens and the civil society”.

The quotation from Plato which concludes Nida-Rümelin’s literary enterprise is both beautiful and important: “It will not be the demon that chooses you, but you who chooses the demon. The first one out will first of all choose the life to which necessity binds him. Virtue has no masters; the more each one of you honours it, the more of it you will have; those who honour it least will have the least of it. It is nevertheless the responsibility of the chooser. God is not to blame”.


Per un’economia umana. La trappola dell’ottimizzazione (For a humane economy. The snare of optimisation)

Julian Nida-Rümelin

Franco Angeli, 2017