Interview with Prof. Zamagni

Honored to be able to share with you the interview conducted with Stefano Zamagni, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Bologna (Faculty of Economics) and Adjunct Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University, Bologna Center. A leading expert in Civil Economics, he has written numerous books including “Responsible” – ed. Il Mulino, already reviewed by De-LAB in a previous newsletter Enjoy reading! 

We often talk about alternative economic models, but the reality is that in most Italian universities we still follow and teach an economic paradigm that underlies many of the socio-environmental problems of our century. In very few universities, for example, Civil Economics is not taught and we are faced with what you, in your book “Responsible” call adiaphorization: what do you think?  

Civil economics is a paradigm, a look, that has to do with the way you see life. It originated in Naples in the 1700s in Catholic circles and understandably disappeared for the next two centuries when, historically, other socio-cultural approaches prevailed. It is back in vogue in the Anglo-Saxon world recently and I foresee that in Italy too in the next 10 years it will become central again: in the University we are already beginning to talk about it, then I would like to mention the project “The Economy of Francis” to which hundreds of young economists have joined who will later become professors. Finally – yes – the current 50-year-old professors are tied to the old paradigm and do not have the strength to change but when they will retire things will change. I am positive, young people are in love with this paradigm and they are the future.  

We often talk about Social Innovation but few take the risk to really innovate. Even at the grant level, very few support the more experimental part of Social Innovation projects and often they are public, not private. What sustainability can a system that is afraid of the risks associated with innovation (including social innovation) provide? 

There are mappings of “enterprising communities,” that is, communities doing Social Innovation. The resources to support them are there (bank foundations, European Social Fund). Then let’s not forget the Società Benefit that must by statute support Social Innovation … we are certainly talking about recent phenomena, relative to the early 2000s, but they mark a trend. And then there is the field of Impact Finance, which links obtaining funds to demonstrating positive impacts. We are on the crest of a transformation … although it is true that the embryonic part of projects are often not funded. In any case, I point to the Social Value Exchange project, which raises funds for those who want to get started. 

The profit/non-profit distinction, from an operational point of view, is becoming increasingly subtile. Will it be possible, in your opinion, to reason in the future about an “impact vs. non-impact” world, independently from those generating the impact being NGOs operating on the market OR socially oriented for-profits? 

The for-profit/non-profit distinction was introduced in the postwar period but now it no longer makes sense. The United States in 1973 introduced the term “Third Sector,” which already surpasses the previous distinction. The fact that so many Third Sector enjoyed ad hoc calls was due to the need to support them as fragile … but in time these calls will disappear. I see the world of those who operate in the market responsibly as a lake full of fish, and it is right that they are of different kinds … the important thing is not to have sharks. 

In your book you mention a very important point, which is the paradox of Ethical Management, that is, companies that are perfectly compliant with social responsibility documents but not ethical at all…what you referred to as “cannibals with forks.” You have civilized modes of intervention but CSR does not necessarily affect the motivational substrate of agents. So what? 

So there is a need to move to civil responsibility of profit firms. The control mechanism destroys the concept of responsibility because it makes it procedural. You need corporate consciousness … you don’t need police states, you need to create bonds of trust, because reputational capital is much more expensive than a possible fine. 

Thanks for reading and see you soon with the next interview! 

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