Soon after the financial crisis in 2008 and immediately after the Occupy Wall Street event, the issue before us was framed as a conflict between Wall Street and Main Street. The issue before us is actually a much deeper conflict between two centers: civic centers and financial centers.
So which world do you want to change: the world of sports, or shopping, or business, or the world of work? There are lots of worlds, and many need repair. (See my son’s attempt to repair the world of higher education: Whose University.) What world would you begin with?
As members of the civic we have much in common. We live in the same time. We live on the same planet. All our grandchildren will inherit the future we leave them. Still, if we switch our view from the civic to the social, we see great differences. Some have much more than they need and others have much less. This contrast between the civic and the social raises issues of fairness or justice. So what should we have in common and when should we allow some to have more than others?
What is the meaning of civic membership? Most of us have some experience with membership. We are members of families, associations, teams, religious communities, and so on. We became members of some of these groups by birth or tradition, and some by choice. In either case, active membership entails at least three things: having a connection with the story or narrative that gives members an identity, consenting to the member’s key values, and participating in the activities of the members. These characteristics of membership, of course, do not eliminate disagreement and controversy. Just the opposite; they provide a shared platform for dealing with disagreement. So what is the civic story?
What’s the secret? The very existence of corporations depends on the government giving and protecting property rights. The bigger mistake? We have acted as though corporations belonged solely to their owners rather than to the civic systems of provision that gives them sources and resources to make provisions for all of us. It’s time to tell and secret and to correct the mistake.