Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

The Commercial and the Civic

Posted Aug 31, 2010 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 12 Comments

One way of seeing the choice we face in this coming election is a choice between the commercial and the civic.  The following chart highlights some of the differences.

The Commercial The Civic

Key value



The development of the civic

When our country was founded, only property owners could vote, the commercial dominated the civic In time, we changed to citizenship, not ownership, as the criterion for voting
The basis of our life together Property relations Human relations
The role of government To protect property and property owners To protect citizens and civic rights
The role of public administration The management of property; guided by the criteria of efficiency The organization of people, guided by civic norms of reciprocity and moral equality
The purpose of business To make a profit To provide goods and services

The misery of workers

Ignores them as belonging to another “world” and focuses on trading of commodities. Includes them as citizens of same generation

The environment

Treats the biosphere as property. Ignores what cannot be priced. Treats the biosphere as a living system that needs protection.

Meaning of citizenship

Increase property accumulation

A ”productive” person

Participate in civic conversations

An “engaged” person

View of elections The advertising of one’s “property” (what I can do for you.) The advertising of one’s capacity to represent the hopes of citizens (What we can do together.)
How to win elections Similar to selling products: more advertising increases sales Similar to winning debates: better reasons increase support

  • · See: Civilizing the Economy: A New Economics of Provision (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

12 Responses to “The Commercial and the Civic”

  1. Mark says:

    September 7, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Very nice! The boxes are very small, so you obviously can't fit everything, but even so, I'm not sure about defining the "role of government" in terms of "protection." That is close to what the Declaration of Independence says -- "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men" -- but some people think government should go beyond protecting rights to promoting various collective goals. For example, I'm not sure that everyone has a "right" to a college education, at least not in the same way that everyone has a right to food and shelter. But I'd probably say that government should promote college education for those who both want it and qualify for it. The bigger point is that both "the civic" and "the commercial" can be understood in various ways, and a chart like this might obscure as much as it reveals. Of course, all charts do that.
  2. Marvin Brown says:

    September 7, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Setting up choices always clarifies and simplifies. Still, when as make concrete choices (Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown for governor of California) we also make abstract choices (commercial or civic), which both clarifies and simplifies the every day reality we face. Thanks for your reflections.
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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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