Civilizing the Economy: A New Economics of Provision

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When a handful of people thrive while whole industries implode and millions suffer, it is clear that something is wrong with our economy. The wealth of the few is disconnected from the misery of the many. In Civilizing the Economy, Marvin Brown traces the origin of this economics of dissociation to early capitalism, showing how this is illustrated in Adam Smith's denial of the central role of slavery in wealth creation. In place of the Smithian economics of property, Brown proposes that we turn to the original meaning of economics as household management. He presents a new framework for the global economy that reframes its purpose as the making of provisions instead of the accumulation of property. This bold new vision establishes the civic sphere as the platform for organizing an inclusive economy and as a way to move toward a more just and sustainable world.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“As we humans puzzle our way to an understanding of how to live sustainably within Earth’s carrying capacity, Marvin Brown has provided a crucial piece of the puzzle. Civilizing the Economy is an important book because it expresses a keystone idea of the new economic system that must evolve if our species is to survive and live up to its potential.”
Ray Anderson, Founder and Chairman, Interface, Inc.

“Marvin Brown’s intriguing argument sets out a compelling roadmap for directing the World’s economy at this critical stage of human history. Instead of turning toward disparate, atomic strategies (such as property maximization at any cost), Brown steers us toward a holistic strategy that combines environmental sustainability, corporate responsibility (broadly conceived to include ethical and humanitarian concerns), and real economic development that will provide for all the peoples of the world. The property v. provision paradigm is a foundational discussion that will both stimulate scholars as well as prompt constructive classroom debate.”
Michael Boylan, Professor of Philosophy, Marymount University

“In the current debate about the future of capitalism, Marvin Brown provides essential benchmarks to separate the wheat from the chaff in moving toward a civilized economy. His provocative and well-argued vision not only criticizes the dominant role of property in capitalism but also ventures into a novel design of economics, ‘the economics of provision,’ which values economic activity over economic possessions. Moreover, against the ‘economization’ of society, he vigorously places economic activity within the frame of a civic agenda, giving a balanced account of both economic and civic demands and limitations. This book is a must-read in redefining capitalism.”
Georges Enderle, John T. Ryan, Jr. Professor of International Business Ethics, Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame

“This book is a must-read for all of us who believe we must change our operating economic paradigms, and a foreshadowing of the dire consequences for all of us if we don’t. Marvin Brown offers us a new economic path – a theory of provisions morally trumping property – which if followed might just lead us to the true meaning of civilization.”
W. Michael Hoffman, PhD., Executive Director, Center for Business Ethics, and Hieken Professor of Business and Professional Ethics, Bentley University

“In this profound and courageous book, Marvin Brown asks the question that moral philosophers and political economists have pondered since Socrates: What is a just society? In a spirit similar to E.F. Schumacher’s ‘economics as if people mattered,’ he limns a bold, fresh, and scholarly vision of a new, ‘civilized’ economic order with a fairer distribution of income, wealth, and goods.”
James O’Toole, Daniels Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics, University of Denver

“Marvin Brown offers a creative new perspective on the economy, much needed in the face of two global crises – climate change and the economic collapse of 2008 – that highlights the flaws of current economic thinking. This creative approach will stimulate, provoke, and, hopefully, move the conversation about what economy should look like in the future forward.”
Sandra Waddock, Galligan Chair of Strategy, Boston College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521152464
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Marvin T. Brown teaches business and organizational ethics in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco and in the Organizational Systems program at Saybrook University in San Francisco. His previous books include Working Ethics (1990), The Ethical Process (2003), and Corporate Integrity (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
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Table of Contents

List of figures

List of tables


1 Introduction: creating a just and sustainable economy 1

Part I: Creating a new economic framework 15

2 Adam Smith's silence and an economics of property 17

3 Reclaiming the notions of provision and family 34

4 Making provisions in a dangerous world 45

Part II: The civic option 57

5 From property relations to civic relations 59

6 Society, civil society, and the market 69

7 Restoring reciprocity 83

8 Civic norms and market competition 96

Part III: A civic view of labor, land, and money 107

9 Labor: employment as engagement 109

10 Land: ownership as a concession 121

11 Money: commodity or credit 130

Part IV: Civilizing economic systems 143

12 A world of systems 145

13 Imagining a stakeholder economy 159

14 The ethics of economic systems 178

15 Changing systems of provision 193

Part V: A civic agenda 207

16 The civic obligations of corporations 209

17 Creating circumstances for civic conversations 222

Appendix: Free enterprise and the economics of slavery 235

Bibliography 254

Index 262

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