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We must quickly learn how to live well in the world as it is today, including the realm of work. We need to learn a new vocabulary of economics and markets that is more suitable to understand the present world and that is likely to offer us the tools to act, and perhaps improve it as well.




“Crisis” is no longer a proper word to describe our times. The reality is that we are living in an extended transitional period and a paradigm shift that started well before 2007, one that is very likely to last for a long time. Therefore we must quickly learn how to live well in the world as it is today, including the realm of work. We need to learn a new vocabulary of economics that is more suitable to understand the present world (not the previous one we knew) and that is likely to offer us the tools to act, and perhaps improve it as well.

Luigino Bruni


Reciprocity is the golden rule of human sociality. Only the word reciprocity can explain the basic structure of society, even if that society is characterized by indignation, revenge, and endless court cases. The DNA of the political entity is a twisting helix of giving and receiving. Even human love is essentially a matter of reciprocity from the first moment to the last. Just think how often someone departs from this earth holding the hand of their beloved or, in their absence, clasping it in their thoughts with the last strength of their mind and heart. Reciprocity is the dimension of love where we love those who love us; there have been many ways and many words to express this in different human cultures.

Luigino Bruni


“Bad” poverty is constantly growing, while “good” poverty is diminishing. We are quickly becoming poor in a bad way because the deterioration of our civil, educational, relational, spiritual, and governmental capital has passed a tipping point, triggering a chain reaction. We are living through a capital decline. The types of poverty that we can measure are manifested as the lack of flows (jobs and income), but in reality they are the much deeper and more long-term expressions of “capital account” processes that do not really depend on the financial crisis of 2007–2008 or on German politics. These in fact are our usual — and by now lame — alibis to cover the real reasons why serious things are happening to us.

Luigino Bruni


The moral and civil shortcomings of our times are among the results of the expulsion of the charisms from public life, charisms that all too quietly accepted their marginalization and retreated. When the charisms are missing, or when they are considered just some “religious thing” and thus irrelevant to civil life, the economy, politics, and society all drift because they lack the essential resource of gratuitousness. There is in fact an inseparable link between the charisms and gratuitousness.

Luigino Bruni


Commons have gradually become scarce and crucial, and they are still too absent from the culture and practice of economics and politics. Common goods made their first appearance in economics in 1911.1 After a long eclipse they again appeared at the end of the past century in the work of Elinor Ostrom, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009. In the earlier work we find three central points on commons: it was a study on water, it had a historical perspective, and it was written by a woman, Katharine Coman.

Luigino Bruni


The term “community,” one of the richest, most basic, and ambivalent words in our civil vocabulary, is undergoing radical change. A true community has always been a reality that is anything but romantic, linear, or simple, because the strongest and deepest human passions are concentrated in it, a place of life and death. Jerusalem is called the “Holy City,” but the founder of the first city was Cain, and myth has it that Rome (and many other cities) was founded following a fratricide.

Luigino Bruni


The centrality of consumption is a fact of our society that is neither new nor typical. What is rather new and important, however, is our inability to grasp the pervasiveness of the culture of consumption and income, an unfortunate common feature of many a fallen civilization. The phenomenon of consumption has very ancient roots, and in general that is a good thing because when consumption goods are denied, rights and freedoms are denied, too.

Luigino Bruni


Communities flourish when they are capable of cooperation. Had we not started to cooperate, to work together, community life would never have begun, and we would have remained stuck at a prehuman level of development. But as is often the case with humanity’s big words, cooperation is at once one and many, it is often ambivalent, and its most important forms are the less obvious ones. Every time human beings act together in a coordinated way to achieve a mutually beneficial common goal we are dealing with an instance of cooperation.

Luigino Bruni

Critical Point

There is a social and economic law which is as important as it is forgotten. Luigi Einaudi called it the “critical point theory,” which he defined as “fundamental to both economic and political science”;1 he attributed it to his fellow countryman Emanuele Sella (an Italian economist and poet who also wrote a treatise on “Trinitarian” economics2). The idea is that there exists an invisible but real threshold, a critical point, after which a positive phenomenon turns negative, changing in sign or nature. Today we could apply the law of the critical point to finance and also to taxes; if they exceed a threshold, they end up penalizing the honest people who pay them.

Luigino Bruni


Employed workers suffer from general anxiety due to high rates of unemployment. In Southern Europe employees are increasingly unsatisfied (Ipsos, TNS-sofres). Sixty-eight percent of French workers state that the quality of their working life decreased between 2008 and 2012; among those who are 35 to 49 years old, 75 percent express discontent. Middle-aged workers, usually halfway through their career, suffer from chronic dissatisfaction.

Luigino Bruni


“The crisis has given so many denials of what appear to be strictly scientific estimates advanced by economists that it is no wonder that a few laymen believed themselves authorized to proclaim the bankruptcy of political economy… Mitigating these slanderous voices would do no harm: many economists have committed the sin of immodesty.” These are the words of the political scientist Robert Michels, author of the first book titled Economics and Happiness.1 He wrote this in 1933, but it seems to have been written today. “Immodesty”, or arrogance, is not the sole prerogative of economic science, since it is a well-known universal anthropological trait. At certain times, however, the economic community is affected by a particularly stubborn and widespread form of immodesty. Faced with obvious deficiencies and errors in their discipline, instead of giving in to the force of facts and questioning their own views, humbly revising old certainties and dogmas, they stubbornly turn to criticize those who criticize them. This is one of those times, and there is an increasingly strong need for a major overhaul of many dogmas and axioms of economic theory and practice.

Luigino Bruni


While the suicides of entrepreneurs and workers continue to hit the headlines, there is no news about the excessive involuntary “death” of businesses. The signs of a “great depression” are everywhere: chronic sorrow, lack of enthusiasm, loss of desire, and hopelessness. People do not enjoy life; they wake up unprepared to face the day and meet people. They can only hope to do something worth remembering, something worth telling family members and friends.

Luigino Bruni


Our society could resolve much of its discontent by handling better its passions and feelings. Envy is one of the most devastating and dangerous of these feelings, particularly during crises. It needs to be controlled. In times gone by, people knew that unrestrained envy could produce disasters. So they developed an appropriate system of ethics to change and contain it, altering it to become good behavior.

Luigino Bruni


Esteem is an increasingly scarce good in our society, and therefore all the more valuable. Although “demand” for esteem is on the rise, the “supply” is insufficient because we are all so busy looking for it that we lack the time and resources to supply it to those who also seek it, desire and even crave it. The need for esteem is much greater than our capacity to supply it, as the economist Geoffrey Brennan and the philosopher Philip Pettit remind us in their book The Economy of Esteem.

Luigino Bruni

Experience Goods

We are witnessing the emergence of a new demand for participation in the consumption, saving, and use of goods. There is a crucial difference, for example, when considering the Internet of 10–15 years ago: now it is inhabited by websites, email, and the web of social media and apps. We inhabitants of the network are more involved and seek greater attention online. Similarly, television today not only broadcasts programs for “viewers,” but asks us to vote for the best singer or player. The interesting thing is that people participate; they invest time to give their opinion and to feel that they are an active part of a new form of communication. All this serves to create an experience.

Luigino Bruni


There are some words that have the ability to express something in its entirety. Words such as justice, beauty, and truth possess a power and completeness that prevents us from surrounding them with adjectives to make them more complete. What else is there to add to a real person, a righteous man, or a beautiful life? Faith is one of those few great and absolute types of words. You can live long, and sometimes even well, without money and goods, but you cannot live without believing. We are all capable of believing because inside each person there is a “window” open to what is “beyond,” and a slit remains there even when we, looking inward, no longer see anything or wall it up to put shelves or a television in its place. Because faith is a great word to describe what is human, it is also a word to use in the context of economics.

Luigino Bruni


If there is a virtue that is especially valuable in times of crisis, it must be fortitude. This is the capacity to go on with life and persist despite enduring hardships. It is a spiritual and moral force that was considered extremely important by past generations, so much so that it was commonly called the cardinal virtue.

Luigino Bruni


Even if our times are increasingly dominated by invisible technology and finance that have no human face, persons and goods are still the agents of the economy. Every step in the economy — from consumption to work, from saving to investing — is an intertwining of persons and goods. When people act in the framework of complex institutions, rules, and contracts, and even when the goods lose their materiality and seem to vanish, at the beginning and end of every economic move we always find goods and persons. Therefore, to be able to write a new vocabulary of economics and of the economy — in parallel with the reflections on persons as citizens, consumers, entrepreneurs, and workers — it is urgently necessary to create a new way of thinking about goods, about the objects of economics, and thus about consumption and other practices of life.

Luigino Bruni


Our civilization faces a scarcity of an important resource: hope. Hope is certainly a virtue, but behind this great word there are many concealed aspects, some greater and some lesser than the virtue itself. Like any ancient and noble word, hope is like those stratified cities that over the centuries have witnessed many lives and different civilizations. There is, in fact, a first layer of hope — which shows instantly because it is very superficial — that is not a virtue, but a vice. This first layer is the hope that Greek mythology placed in Pandora’s Box, the jar that contained all the spirits of evil, and that, mysteriously and ambiguously, did not escape from it along with the other evils to flood the world, but remained trapped in the vessel. This is what St. Paul called “vain” hope. It is often used by the powerful to invite people to hope for an imaginary economic boom and a better future while they do nothing, or too little, to improve the living conditions of the present. This is the hope of winning the lottery or scratch-off cards. It is also the attitude of those who, when faced with a problem, say: “Let’s hope for the best.”

Luigino Bruni


One of the paradoxes at the heart of our economic and social system is the peaceful coexistence between the radical rejection of masters and controls in the political sphere and the equally radical acceptance of other masters and controls in businesses and organizations. We started and still lead many fights and revolutions against tyrants and dictators, but as soon as we leave the public square and walk through the company doors we place our attire as democratic citizens on the hanger and meekly wear the habit of the regulated and controlled subject.

Luigino Bruni


Innovation is a word of botanic: it is a new sprout of a tree. Then it needs roots, the tree, and the branch. In botanic and in the economy.

Luigino Bruni


Our well-being depends greatly on the quality of institutions. Marriage and universities, banks and State, Church and trade unions are obviously quite different things, but similar, too, in that they are all institutions. Societies locked in “social traps” are characterized by inefficient and corrupt institutions and by a high percentage of people with a low or nonexistent civil or institutional understanding. It is a deadly trap, which hurts everyone and is often decisive. The cream of the youth may emigrate, attracted by better institutions in other countries. From the past and present history of various peoples we know that societies do not create widespread prosperity and social well-being without the right institutions.

Luigino Bruni


There is a strong contrast between the deep sense of justice that we all — even the wicked — have deep within, and the widespread injustice we see in the world. “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau). For many injustices courts and lawyers are not enough; for some they are useless because the legal, commutative, and compensable aspects cover only a few aspects of justice, the full extent of which actually covers the whole of our lives. There is a rapidly increasing tendency today to respond wrongly to the question of justice by “legalizing” the whole of social life, possibly even by codifying every interpersonal relationship, turning all human relationships into contracts.

Luigino Bruni


In the subsoil of our civil and economic culture two opposing tendencies are growing. The first is the gradual rapprochement between the cultures and languages of the capitalist market and the social economy. The second, opposing trend is a growing contrast between ethical evaluations of the market; some see capitalist markets as the solution to all our economic and civil ills, and others consider it instead as the fetish of all moral, social, and political evil.

Luigino Bruni


The words that do not age can die out and be revived in every era. Meekness is one such word, which was very great in the Psalms, the Gospels, and ancient oriental civilizations. It has been made even more sublime by the great meek people of history — Father Kolbe, the many martyrs of yesterday and today, Gandhi, and many others unknown to the news media who, with their humble meekness, make the earth a better place each day for all.

Luigino Bruni


Poverty is an essential dimension of the human condition; it is one of the primary words in everyone’s life. A major flaw in our civilization is to consider poverty a problem that is typical only of some social groups or peoples, those who time and again are the “monopolists” of poverty. So we would like to immunize ourselves more and more against the poor, expelling them like scapegoats to remain outside the boundaries of our civil society. We do not know poverty anymore and we do not recognize it, because we have forgotten that we are born into absolute poverty, and that we will end our lives in no less absolute poverty.

Luigino Bruni


There are many good reasons why more and more people go jogging in parks, bike through the streets, or even do calisthenics on the beach. Clearly, our bodies have yet to adapt to the fact that the world — or at least most of it — has changed. We still find greasy, high-calorie foods more attractive than vegetables and lean meals, which makes sense when we think that for roughly one hundred thousand years (the period of early homo sapiens) the necessary calories for hunting, keeping warm, escaping from predators, and surviving were scarce.

Luigino Bruni

Relational Goods

Our interpersonal relationships are the most important goods and bads in our lives; this has always been part of popular wisdom. Myths, literature, stories, and traditions have told us just this for thousands of years, recounting how richness can become a great evil in the wrong relationships, and how, in a context of material poverty, what little one possesses may be multiplied if it is shared among the community.

Luigino Bruni


Sloth is becoming a social disease. It affects people’s character, spirit, and will power. This vice, despite being pervasive in our society, is not taken seriously. It is usually considered an old, outdated word and not necessarily a negative human trait. Why would one regard discouragement, sadness, and boredom as sins?

Luigino Bruni


Temperance is a word that is fading from our civil vocabulary. It disappeared long ago from the economic vocabulary in order to leave space for its opposite. We ended up using it for pencils, the climate, musical scales, or Bach’s harpsichord pieces instead. These things are also important, but not those that are normally placed at the heart of our civil lives or social pact.

Luigino Bruni


We are living through an eclipse of time. The logic of the capitalist economy, and its culture that is undisputedly dominating much of social and political life, do not know the dimension of time. In the most generous circumstances their cost-benefit analyses cover just a few days, months, or years. A radical tendency of capitalism is in fact the progressive shortening of the time span of economic choices, and thus of the policies that are increasingly guided by the same economic culture.

Luigino Bruni


There are many types of wealth, just as there are many types of poverty. Some are good but others, even if highly relevant, are bad. The great cultures of the world knew this well; ours, which is not a great one, has forgotten it.

Luigino Bruni


We should take advantage of these difficult times to think about the nature of the fundamental human activity we call work. For this purpose, let us suppose that some of our fellow citizens decide to colonize a desert island. As soon as they arrive and settle in, it becomes clear that for their families to grow and their village to develop they must shift from a “domestic” self-sufficient economy to a “political” exchange economy, where each person must strive to make their skills useful to others and make the most of the skills others possess.

Luigino Bruni
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