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The “positive economy” and “Convivialist Manifesto”, sound ideas for sustainable development

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was “the dream of consumerism” (as critically analysed by the sociologist Jean Baudrillard in his Il sogno della merce), the triumph of the value of objects as status symbols. In politics, there was the “hedonism” à la Reagan, Thatcher’s individualism (or, in Italy, the ephemeral bubble of “Milano da bere” and climbing the social ladder and the fashion frenzy of “Sotto il vestito niente”). In economics, there were the neoliberal theories of the “Chicago Boys”, rampant “turbo-capitalism” and the view that globalisation is always a good thing. Then came the crisis, which had been foreshadowed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries by the dot-com bubble and junk bonds (with practically no one, unfortunately, giving heed to critical analysts at the time) before exploding in all its dramatic glory from 2007 onward. Thus it is useful to take another look at Baudrillard, who wrote, “With modernity, in which we never stop accumulating, adding and relaunching, we have forgotten that it is subtraction that gives strength and that out of absence comes power” (prophetic words from “The Perfect Crime: Did television kill reality?”, 1996). In other words, less is more.

So stop hoarding, and take a more critical look at the culture of enterprise. Let’s seek to create the conditions for a “fair economy” (as recommended in a book by Edmondo Berselli, L’economia giusta, published by Einaudi in 2011, shortly before the author’s death) and a society-oriented market. This brings to the fore businesses, organisations, and initiatives such as the “Movement for a Positive Economy” promoted in 2012 by Jacques Attali, an influential European economist and former adviser to French President François Mitterrand, who encouraged the dissemination of sustainable responses to the economic, social and environmental challenges that our planet is facing and the creation of new systems of economic and social values that can be measured by means other than GDP and that can serve to establish long-term equilibrium. Let’s take another look at the work of Michael Porter on “shared value”, which is marked by high levels of social and relationship capital and discuss “Pikettynomics”, i.e. the critique of the inequality created by the new dimensions of financial and “patrimonial” capitalism of Thomas Piketty, an economist who was none too fond of the economic establishment, but did very much like American intellectuals such as the Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stieglitz. Let us heed the lessens of Jeremy Rifkin on the sharing and hybrid economy with a particular emphasis on the “green” (environmentalist) values and analyse the new paradigms of “good growth” and roads to a “civil future” as called for by the sociologist Francesco Morace.

We are now hearing talk about “neo-responsible” conduct (i.e. choosing less and choosing better, scaling back on hoarding and unbridled consumerism, and bringing back the values of sustainability à la Baudrillard) and seeing a rise in the number of companies engaging in the marketing of social and environmental good as an additional means of promoting their products to consumers who are more sensitive to good causes and values than they are to passing status symbols (see La Repubblica, 26 August 2014). We are witnessing the increasing popularity of the “Convivialist Manifesto” and the “Declaration of Interdependence” signed by a number of “anti-utilitarian” thinkers around the world, such as Edgar Morin, Alain Caillé, Serge Latouche, Elena Pulcini, Francesco Fistetti and others (published in Italy by ETS; see also the writings of Adriano Favole for “La Lettura” in Corriere della Sera, 29 August 2014). This new concept, “convivialism”, that of being “convivial”, of relationships and sharing with others, as opposed to the individualist exasperation of selfish irresponsibility, focused, naturally, on sustainable development and wary of concepts of “degrowth theory” (even though one of its signatories is a partisan of this trend, Serge Latouche), but not hostile towards the market, so long as it is not one of ideological absolutism, or “marketism”: “The market and the quest for monetary profits are fully legitimate so long as they respect postulates of shared utility and shared sociality and so long as they are consistent with ecological considerations” (which is a position that has also been expressed recently by Pope Francis in speaking of the need for new economic equilibrium).

The positions expressed in the Manifesto are a derivation of the Movimento Anti-Utilitarista delle Scienze Sociali (Social Sciences Anti-Utilitarian Movement), or “MAUSS”, which brings to mind Marcel Mauss, who, in the early 1900s, published “The Gift”, a short book about the existence, in Western thought, of as alternate, or at least complementary, theory of economics to that of market theory that had long influenced the culture of social economics, of cooperation, and of the “civil sector”, which is once again fully, if critically, relevant. It is centred around four principles: “mutual humanity”, which is to be respected regardless of differences in ethnicity, religious, gender, nationality, or social class; “mutual sociality”, with an emphasis on the development of social relationships and of positive “social capital”; “individuality”, allowing each individual to continue developing their own unique traits (much like the “capability approach” of Martha Nussbaum); and “controlled opposition”, which enables human beings to different while accepting and controlling conflict.

These are, of course, highly intriguing positions to be approached responsibly and to be considered as aspects of a broader debate that encompasses politics, business and society as a whole, all united by a common goal: to use the current crisis as a driver of change and to create greater and better stability in development, in the economy, and in society. A “fair economy”.