One can never run out of books and articles to read, movies and documentaries to watch about the tragedies of the wealthy folks who live sad and lonely lives. We know by now that “love of money is the root of all evil” and that “you can’t buy happiness.”
As it is turning out—at least from the experiences of those involved in the new phenomenon in business practice called the Economy of Communion or EoC—being wealthy by itself does not cause misery. Rather, one can choose to become happy or unhappy—it all depends how one makes use of wealth.
Chiara Lubich, the founder of The Focolare Movement and one of the greatest women of our time, got her inspiration for the EoC idea as she landed in Sao Paolo, Brazil in 1991. From the airplane, she saw poor people’s hovels surrounding the plush homes and skyscrapers of the rich. The contrasting image made her wonder how a society could achieve peace and harmony when people are so polarized by their socio-economic status.
The EoC developed a formula that rectified the imbalances in a capitalist system (that gave rise to wealth disparity) by promoting a new approach that shifted priority from capital gain to sharing profit with people. EoC created a harmonious economic and business environment conducive to making and sharing wealth. The problem of the capitalist system is not in the pursuit of profit, but in how that profit is used.
EoC provides the businessman the freedom to determine the amount of profit that he wants to make, his return on his investment and the dividends that the company’s stockholders want to declare. The residual profit is then divided into three parts—not necessarily in equal amounts—which are intended for re-investment in the company (capital equipment, expansion program, and so forth), for the poor (to begin with the workers and extend to adopted communities) and for the formation of man (to expand the coverage of the EoC).
Let’s learn from the invaluable insights and experiences of two renowned economists who have been involved with the EoC, Professor Stefano Zamagni, Professor of Economics from the University of Bologna, distinguished for his contribution in the history of economics and fellow economist Jennifer Krokey.
Professor Stefano Zamagni
“Economics is a science that was developed in a period after the first Industrial Revolution on the basis of one anthropological assumption, that is, on the "economic man" (homo economicus).”
“But the economic man is a lonely individual who has only one goal: to maximize personal interest, self interest. And the old economics knowledge was created on this premise—that human beings are essentially selfish. And when they relate a relation to others it is only for instrumental reasons, in order to obtain more.”
“The problem of the present-day situation is that people who follow this anthropology, accumulate more wealth, but they become more and more unhappy. And so, nowadays, the issue of happiness is on the frontlines. What’s the point of maximizing income if the result is an increment of unhappiness?”
“The Economy of Communion is a challenge from a practical point of view. Today, in the era of so-called globalization, the situation is difficult. In the past, people allowed us to believe that it was enough to practice the paradigm of homo economicus to solve all the problems. Now we are living in a period where that is not true. We have many more problems than in the past.”
“Now a new type of conflict is emerging in our society: the "conflict of identity"—not to be confused with the conflict of interest. The conflict of identity is a conflict which is "declined" on the dimension of being, not of having—to be or not to be. And what are typical issues of the conflict of identity? These are religious identity, ethnic identity and cultural identity.”
“The novelty is that we cannot cope with the problems stirred up by the conflict of identity with the same tools used in the past in the conflict of interest where the strategy is to redistribute. If the conflict is between those who have and those who don’t have, the solution would be to take away from the rich and give to the poor. But can you do the same with the conflict of identity? Of course not. I cannot approach a Muslim and say, "How much do you want in order to give up 30% or 40% of your identity?" That question makes no sense. It creates a reaction in the other and the end result will be terrorism of various types.”
“In other words, the conflict of identity hinges on the dignity of the person. You cannot use the typical economic instruments to cope with it. You cannot buy identity. You can buy the interest. For example, you can ask workers how much they want in order to stop the strike and they will respond, "Give me 30% more of my salary and I’ll be O.K." But you cannot do the same with identity. That would be an offense to one’s dignity.”
“One can now understand why the logic of the Economy of Communion is a real challenge. This innovative economic system is an attempt to show that you can do business respecting the identity of the other. In this way the other who cooperates with you does not feel repressed or humiliated. Today humiliation is the true original sin of our society. You can humiliate someone even if you give him or her "stuff"—that is called paternalism. Paternalism is generous, in the sense of philanthropic generosity. But when people feel humiliated you can be sure they will react, and most of the time violently. The idea of the Economy of Communion is to give value to the whole of the person, including his or her religious, ethnic or cultural identity.”
“Most people believe that the basic principle of economics is the principle of profit-maximization. We do not deny that, but we show that even more fundamental is the principle of reciprocity. In other words, in those economies where you have a culture of profit-maximization without a principle of reciprocity you can maximize profits and wealth but you do not make people happy.”
“Chiara Lubich’s innovative idea of the Economy of Communion can be visualized as the last ring of a chain which started in that period. And the fact that she hardly knows anything about economics is even more relevant. Such an idea would have never occurred to an economist. It occurred to Chiara because she is interested in the happiness of the person.”
“For understandable reasons, the concept of reciprocity has been confused with the concept of exchange of equivalents. The basic difference is that the exchange of equivalents is impersonal. In the morning you go to buy a newspaper and you give one dollar. That is the price. I do not need to know you in order to get from you the newspaper. I only need my purchasing power and you need to have the property rights to sell me your newspaper. But I do not need to know who you are.”
“Relations of reciprocity presuppose the knowledge of the identity of the other. In other words, the reciprocity principle applies the principle of fraternity, brotherhood. Most people confuse the word solidarity with fraternity. Solidarity means that I should feel responsible for the well being of the others. But I do not need to know who the others are. I can apply solidarity to people I never met. Fraternity is different: it is based not only on giving, but on giving with the intention of establishing a relationship.”
“Now consider what happens in a regular business of the economy of communion, in the relationships among people living and working in the Economy of Communion. Solidarity implies trying to make different people equal. Fraternity allows equals to be diverse. Under fraternity people flourish. Under solidarity that is not guaranteed. With the principle of fraternity not only do I tolerate that you are different from me, but I want you to be different from me. I want you to flourish according to your proper dimensions. That strengthens our unity.”
“An Economy of Communion business is where people translate the principle of reciprocity into everyday life. It is as efficient as another business, and those who work there feel fulfilled and happy. We were all born for happiness.”
Sharing is the true nature of man
The EoC revolutionized the capitalist paradigm from accumulation of wealth to that of sharing wealth. What it does really is redirect the economic mindset to conform to the true nature of man—that of wanting to share just as parents would share with their children, friends with other friends.
What EoC does is to expand the circle of those with whom man can share his bounty, to now include the poor and the needy.
The failure to be happy is rooted to the mindset that focuses on accumulation of wealth. Man can never be happy when he is in conflict with his true nature.
It is easy to see why those who come across the EoC are imbued with an enormous fresh charge of hope. There are now over 750 successful and profitable companies who practice the EoC in over 30 countries in 5 continents. These are companies that enjoy industrial peace, optimum production efficiency, pay correct taxes, and protect the environment, among other good and positive things— and still make money.
(Know more about the EoC from www.edc-online.org)
You may email William M. Esposo at: email@example.com