Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

The Capitalist, Commoner, and Citizen

Posted Sep 27, 2012 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

As a Capitalist was driving to the supermarket to go shopping, he hit a Commoner, who was riding her bike to the same supermarket to fetch some milk.  Luckily the Commoner was not hurt, but her bike was a mess.  The Capitalist was devastated, because he knows that bikes are expensive.  The Commoner was furious because she is sick and tired of drivers not sharing the road with bikers. 

The Commoner points out that they were on a public road, and bikers have just as much a right to it as automobile drivers.  The Capitalist feigns consent, but then reminds the Commoner that the road was really build for cars, not bikes, and furthermore, it was build with his taxes.  (Since capitalists think they paid the taxes to build the road, the road actually belongs to them.  It is public property bought and paid for by Capitalists.)

The Commoner had a quite different take on all this.  She didn’t see the road as property that someone owned, but rather as a commons that had been constructed by many and owned by no one.  For her, the question was not who owned the road, but how people should share it, so she asked the Capitalist if he would like to join her in thinking about this as a Citizen.

The Capitalist was somewhat confounded, because he thought he was thinking like a citizen when he mentioned that he had paid his taxes.  So the Commoner had to give a short lesson on citizenship.

“Being a citizen is recognizing our membership in the civic, a realm between our social differences and common humanity.  This realm or space becomes alive when we engage in conversations about how we want to live together.  These conversations should be guided by such civic norms as moral equality and reciprocity.  So thinking like a citizen begins with what “we” should do to improve the common good.”

The Capitalist was quiet for a minute.  He didn’t know what to say about this idea of moving into a space created by recognizing our social differences and common humanity.  In fact, he didn’t know what he and the Commoner really had in common, except they were both going to the supermarket.  The Commoner knew more about this, of course, because she had been talking with others about the commons and how to project it and to use it wisely.  Still, for a dialogue here, the Capitalist would have to join in, because otherwise it would be her monologue.

The Capitalist looked again at the road, his car, and his whole life of having things, and then he looked at himself as an “owner.”  He just didn’t see how he could expose his social identity to this Commoner, so he offered her a ride to the supermarket in his car.

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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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