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‘Civil’ – the new buzzword to discuss economy and business

Fortunately, despite our current, difficult and controversial times, in the thick of a ‘risk society’, amongst wars being fought and pandemics still looming, environmental disasters and social resentment, the frequent usage of a particularly significant term – ‘civil’ – in public debates is nonetheless on the rise.

Milan is getting ready for a “Civil Week” (an initiative by Buone Notizie (Good news), the Corriere della Sera’s weekly publication) and, indeed, the relaunch documents issued by the Touring Club – the Italian national tourist organisation – emphasise the crucial role that territories and their inhabitants – that is, citizens – can play in “taking care of Italy as a common good”, in keeping with “civil values”. Further, many WhatsApp groups are busy discussing how consequential it would be to introduce the teaching of ‘civic education’ in schools. Civic is also the title of the magazine published by the Fondazione Italia Sociale, a foundation created four years ago by a group of enterprises and influential figures from the economic and cultural spheres to raise funds for initiatives of common interest (its president is philanthropic entrepreneur Enzo Manes): in collaboration with LUISS, it also offers a number of well attended courses on ‘civic culture’. Moreover, from CENSIS reports to reputable books on politics, the term ‘civil’ has now acquired positive connotations that suggest a desire to counteract the deterioration of social relationships and public debate, eroded by those blaring opinionists and the bigoted vulgarity so widespread on social media and TV talk shows.

Words exist for a reason, they embody a certain perspective. ‘Civil‘ means being aware, responsible, competent, able to listen carefully and ‘take charge’ of a community’s issues. A dialogue should be ‘civil’. Positive values should be ‘civil’. And – why not? – ‘civil’ should also stand for ‘kind’, as in such an uncertain and sorrowful period ‘kindness’ is essential, an ethical dimension for relationships and behaviours, a lifestyle.

How do we translate ‘civil’ into corporate culture terms? Lezioni di commercio o sia di economia civile (Lectures on civil economy) was the title of the treatise written in 1765 by Antonio Genovesi, the Neapolitan Enlightenment thinker considered by Adam Smith as the masterful inspiration for his own economic theory. And recent reflections by Stefano Zamagni, a brilliant economist and president of the Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze Sociali (the Pontifical academy of social sciences) has brought back to the forefront precisely that ‘civil economy’ rooted in ancient Italian history – “Since the Middle Ages, Italian people have been accustomed to make, under the shade of a bell tower, beautiful objects cherished by the world” (a concise description by economic historian Carlo Maria Cipolla).

Civil economy and circular economy are both at the heart of Pope Francis’s notion of a “just economy” and they’re also key reference points in widespread economic literature, which counts amongst their best representatives Joseph Stiglitz, Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Paul Krugman and, coming back to Italy, Franco Modigliani and Federico Caffè – the teachers of a younger generation of economists who, for some time now, have been reinterpreting and reviving John Maynard Keynes’s liberal thinking, marked by overt social purposes.

Civil economy and social and environmental sustainability, then. Civil economy as the context for a transition from shareholder values, obsessed with growth (of stock profits and prices) to the predominance of stakeholders values (comprising values and interests concerning workers, suppliers, customers, consumers, i.e. the people who make up the communities on which enterprises are built) – thus, we’re back to the relationship existing between ‘civil’ and cives, the citizens.

Going back to the notion that enterprises, too, are responsible for generating value (wealth) – and as such are active agents within a “social capital” founded on the concepts of widespread well-being, culture, social inclusion, solidarity, the promotion of community values. Indeed, other words and experiences related to civil economy and entrepreneurship come to mind: the “beautiful factory”, for instance, a well-designed, bright, transparent, sustainable factory immersed in nature, welcoming and safe, as, indeed, occupational safety should not be neglected. To this, we can add corporate libraries, which promote good reading – with plenty of children’s books – designed as spaces dedicated to reading and discussions, amongst subscribing employees, on literature, history, science or economics. And further, well-cared-for cafeterias, as per the criteria defined overtime through various pilot schemes (by Olivetti, Pirelli, Dalmine, etc.). Dispensaries and medical centres serving individual companies or industrial districts. Museums and corporate archives preserving the legacy encapsulated by the phrase “Do, do well and do good” and, as such, providing constant stimuli for innovation. Broader industrial relationships that, precisely because they are part of the ‘civil’ dialogue between companies and trade unions, can create new and better production environments. And so on, adding to that list of “good practices” leading the best Italian capitalism towards a “paradigm shift”, steering it towards an economy based on “fair and sustainable well-being” and thus higher-quality production, products and services, as well as greater competitiveness.

A particular phrase encapsulates this ongoing process, which is typically Italian: “industrial humanism”. Its origins go back to the 1950s, to the publication of Civiltà delle macchine (Civilised machinery) considered one of the greatest company magazine of the times, and today that same concept has evolved into notions entailing “civilised work”, care for people, “digital humanism” – in other words, into an attitude that conceives enterprise, society and development in a ‘civilised’ manner.

Fortunately, despite our current, difficult and controversial times, in the thick of a ‘risk society’, amongst wars being fought and pandemics still looming, environmental disasters and social resentment, the frequent usage of a particularly significant term – ‘civil’ – in public debates is nonetheless on the rise.

Milan is getting ready for a “Civil Week” (an initiative by Buone Notizie (Good news), the Corriere della Sera’s weekly publication) and, indeed, the relaunch documents issued by the Touring Club – the Italian national tourist organisation – emphasise the crucial role that territories and their inhabitants – that is, citizens – can play in “taking care of Italy as a common good”, in keeping with “civil values”. Further, many WhatsApp groups are busy discussing how consequential it would be to introduce the teaching of ‘civic education’ in schools. Civic is also the title of the magazine published by the Fondazione Italia Sociale, a foundation created four years ago by a group of enterprises and influential figures from the economic and cultural spheres to raise funds for initiatives of common interest (its president is philanthropic entrepreneur Enzo Manes): in collaboration with LUISS, it also offers a number of well attended courses on ‘civic culture’. Moreover, from CENSIS reports to reputable books on politics, the term ‘civil’ has now acquired positive connotations that suggest a desire to counteract the deterioration of social relationships and public debate, eroded by those blaring opinionists and the bigoted vulgarity so widespread on social media and TV talk shows.

Words exist for a reason, they embody a certain perspective. ‘Civil‘ means being aware, responsible, competent, able to listen carefully and ‘take charge’ of a community’s issues. A dialogue should be ‘civil’. Positive values should be ‘civil’. And – why not? – ‘civil’ should also stand for ‘kind’, as in such an uncertain and sorrowful period ‘kindness’ is essential, an ethical dimension for relationships and behaviours, a lifestyle.

How do we translate ‘civil’ into corporate culture terms? Lezioni di commercio o sia di economia civile (Lectures on civil economy) was the title of the treatise written in 1765 by Antonio Genovesi, the Neapolitan Enlightenment thinker considered by Adam Smith as the masterful inspiration for his own economic theory. And recent reflections by Stefano Zamagni, a brilliant economist and president of the Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze Sociali (the Pontifical academy of social sciences) has brought back to the forefront precisely that ‘civil economy’ rooted in ancient Italian history – “Since the Middle Ages, Italian people have been accustomed to make, under the shade of a bell tower, beautiful objects cherished by the world” (a concise description by economic historian Carlo Maria Cipolla).

Civil economy and circular economy are both at the heart of Pope Francis’s notion of a “just economy” and they’re also key reference points in widespread economic literature, which counts amongst their best representatives Joseph Stiglitz, Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Paul Krugman and, coming back to Italy, Franco Modigliani and Federico Caffè – the teachers of a younger generation of economists who, for some time now, have been reinterpreting and reviving John Maynard Keynes’s liberal thinking, marked by overt social purposes.

Civil economy and social and environmental sustainability, then. Civil economy as the context for a transition from shareholder values, obsessed with growth (of stock profits and prices) to the predominance of stakeholders values (comprising values and interests concerning workers, suppliers, customers, consumers, i.e. the people who make up the communities on which enterprises are built) – thus, we’re back to the relationship existing between ‘civil’ and cives, the citizens.

Going back to the notion that enterprises, too, are responsible for generating value (wealth) – and as such are active agents within a “social capital” founded on the concepts of widespread well-being, culture, social inclusion, solidarity, the promotion of community values. Indeed, other words and experiences related to civil economy and entrepreneurship come to mind: the “beautiful factory”, for instance, a well-designed, bright, transparent, sustainable factory immersed in nature, welcoming and safe, as, indeed, occupational safety should not be neglected. To this, we can add corporate libraries, which promote good reading – with plenty of children’s books – designed as spaces dedicated to reading and discussions, amongst subscribing employees, on literature, history, science or economics. And further, well-cared-for cafeterias, as per the criteria defined overtime through various pilot schemes (by Olivetti, Pirelli, Dalmine, etc.). Dispensaries and medical centres serving individual companies or industrial districts. Museums and corporate archives preserving the legacy encapsulated by the phrase “Do, do well and do good” and, as such, providing constant stimuli for innovation. Broader industrial relationships that, precisely because they are part of the ‘civil’ dialogue between companies and trade unions, can create new and better production environments. And so on, adding to that list of “good practices” leading the best Italian capitalism towards a “paradigm shift”, steering it towards an economy based on “fair and sustainable well-being” and thus higher-quality production, products and services, as well as greater competitiveness.

A particular phrase encapsulates this ongoing process, which is typically Italian: “industrial humanism”. Its origins go back to the 1950s, to the publication of Civiltà delle macchine (Civilised machinery) considered one of the greatest company magazine of the times, and today that same concept has evolved into notions entailing “civilised work”, care for people, “digital humanism” – in other words, into an attitude that conceives enterprise, society and development in a ‘civilised’ manner.