Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

What Libertarians could learn from the US Election

Posted Nov 14, 2016 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

Considering the results of this election, there is lots to learn. I think that libertarians could learn that if you don’t include the repair of the past in your plans for the future, it is likely to bite you in the pants.

The futurist Buckminster Fuller famously said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” How does that advice look now? It looks like the advice of someone who suffers from social amnesia.

Libertarians are wont to ignore how they got to where they are. They tend to ignore their social location and how their location is related to the location of others. Well, I think this election demonstrates that we pay a high price for wearing such social blinders.

There are a myriad of reasons why Trump won, but few of them have to do with the decisions of insolated, unencumbered, individuals. Most of the reasons refer us to relations among different social groups, and to the social expectations of individuals.

We all want some place—“My place”—and we know, for the most part, our place in terms of others. When all the social places are changing, we need to change as well, and we need some help in negotiating our movement from where we were to where we want to be.

Our social world (and natural world) is changing, and I think we need to work on models that move us from the past to the future, rather than pretend that the past does not exist.

Would you like to be a Civilian?

Posted Jun 21, 2016 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 1 Comment

What is a civilian?   A common idea is that a civilian is non-military. Civilians get trapped in wars, but they are not warriors. That is a common idea of what they are not, but what are they, and would you like to become one?

I don’t think it is a full-time position. There are too many other things to do—to provide for one another, to protect one another, and to create and maintain a meaningful life with others. Still, being a civilian may fit quite well with these activities.

I imagine a civilian as someone who belongs to the civic; someone who does civic work. And what is the work of the civic? In brief, civic work emerges from conversations on how we should live together; conversations based on our common humanity and that seriously explore our social differences. These conversations could result in policy proposals for various forms and levels of governance.

Our common humanity is quite empirical. We can see that all of us are contemporaries. We all participate in the biosphere, and all our grandchildren will inherit the planet we bequeath to them.   We all experience similar emotions—fear, anger, joy, disgust, surprise, and sadness—even though we may feel quite differently about them. Finally, we all seek security and freedom, but, of course, we have quite different ways of pursing them. There is a common humanity, but it has been violated and needs repair.

The violations are intertwined with our social differences.   In the West, white male power has provided unacknowledged advantages to some at the tremendous expense of others. The multiple experiences of exploitation, oppression, and aggression have created a deep chasm between our social differences. The common humanity that could serve as a basis for bridging this chasm will only become available to us when we work together to repair its violations. This work, I would like to propose, is civilian work.

To be a civilian, in a positive sense, is to engage with others in working through our social differences from the civic space between our common humanity and our social differences—the space that holds us as we learn how to live together. Would you like to be a civilian? That is enough work for everyone.

The Gates to Myopic Technological Fixes

Posted Dec 9, 2015 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

The New York Times today (12/9) reports on the role of Bill Gates in getting keys nations to commit to spending billions on research and development to limit the production of greenhouse gases. This approach has a long history. The idea is that if you don’t like the way things are going, just wait until we find some new technology to fix it. This is very convenient for the 1 percent and their fans.

On the other hand, the documentary Cowspirary, provides compelling evidence that cows and animal agriculture produce more greenhouse gases than the burning of all fossil fuels. Decreasing the environmental harms of animal agriculture, of course, would require a change in our eating habits, and in the whole system of providing food. This is something we can do now. It would not do much for global economic growth, but it might save the planet.


Trump’s “Great America”

Posted Dec 1, 2015 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, No Comments

Trump claims that he will make America great again. Have you been wondering when it was great? Here are some options

  1. It was great during the era of Jim Crow and lynching
  1. It was great in responding to the depression in the 1930’s
  1. It was great in defeating Germany and Japan
  1. It was great before the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the gay rights, movement, the Chicano movement, the Black Power movement, and the environmental movement.

Some might say America was great in responding to the devastation of the 1930’s by establishing a multitude of government programs that protected citizens from despair. The government provided jobs, built a national infrastructure, created public spaces, and gave millions of people security from destitution. My guess is that this is not Trump’s idea of greatness.

I doubt if Trump would select the movements of the 60’s and 70’s either.

So we are left with events of white economic growth in the 20’s, of winning a war (Atomic bombs are really great), and of white prosperity of the 1950’s.

These episodes might have been great for a lot of white people, but times of segregation, exclusion and misery for others. Is Trump’s promise a promise to create an America ruled by and for white people?

Trump’s racism is not so much that he despises people of color, but rather that he believes he is superior. He probably would not say that he is superior because he is white. He doesn’t have to. His followers understand him as an emblem of white superiority. They don’t have to say so either because white superiority is something that goes-without-saying.


Greece, Africa, and the Lack of Imagination

Posted Jul 1, 2015 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 1 Comment

Let’s start with this:  If you cannot understand Africa today without understanding Europe, then you cannot understand Europe without understanding Africa.  Such a principle might unlock our imagination to think about the immigrant “problem” as part of the solution for Greece, and for Europe.  This would recast the center of the conversation from Brussels or Berlin, to the Mediterranean Sea.  Europe and Africa, in other words, are best understood not as two continents, but rather as two coasts on the Mediterranean Sea.  Europe’s future, I would guess, depends much more on its relations with Africa than its relations with itself, which I suspect has always been the case.

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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