Economics and gratuitousness

Excerpt from Luigino Bruni, The Wound and the Blessing. Economics, Relationships and Happiness, 2012.

From a certain point of view, there exists a close continuity between a large capitalist enterprise and the market: both see themselves as surpassing the communitas toward immunitas, because both the bureaucratic hierarchy and the spontaneous coordination of prices function without having to enter the dangerous territory of a face-to-face relationship with a personal “Thou.” The capitalist enterprise and the market are two mechanisms that aim at avoiding being wounded by the other… (p. 30).

… The thesis of this book … is to reclaim the value, including the economic value, of a more fully dimensioned relationality, open to the contract but also to the encounter with the other inspired by gift, by its blessing and by its wound; a relationality, therefore, open to gratuitousness (p.45).

… Charism comes from the Greek word Charis, or grace, which literally means “that which gives joy”; it has the same root as the word “gratuitousness.”… “Gratuitousness” signifies that inner attitude that leads one to approach every person, every being, and oneself, knowing that that person, that living being, that activity, and ourselves, are not “things” to be used, but realities to be respected and loved in themselves; they have a value to be accepted and respected because they are recognized as good… Gratuitousness is a sort of “merit good” that produces positive “externalities” in others, even unintentionally.

Having come to this point, it should come as no surprise that today the market and its logic are polar opposites of the realm of gratuitousness, since they are based on instrumental calculation. Where gratuitousness begins economics ends, and vice-versa.

I do not believe though,…that this way of understanding the economic-gratuitousness relationship, though realistic, is the correct one either historically, methodologically, or theoretically, because it sends a message that the civil dimension is laced with cynicism and gloom. Rather, the methodological question that inspired my research in recent years is different. Is it possible (how? when? and with what effects?) to hold gratuitousness together with the incentives and dynamics of the market and of the company? I believe that the great challenge of all shared human life is to not leave the territory of gratuitousness, to not lose sight of this dimension – which is foundational in what it means to be human – without however falling into the trap either of pre-modern nostalgia or post-modern communitarianism (p. 107, 108).

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