Civic Economy of Provisions

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* Article: A Civic Economy of Provisions. Marvin Brown. Next Systems Project, 2016

URL = pdf


"This paper by Marvin Brown, published alongside three others, is one of many proposals for a systemic alternative we have published or will be publishing here at the Next System Project.

Marvin Brown:

"The framework of a civic economy of provision integrates the three basic practices of any human community: providing for one another, protecting one another, and creating meaning together. This idea of a civic economy of provision has both classical and modern adherents. In Aristotle, we see the origins of the idea that the economy belongs to the civic sphere. More recently, Julie A. Nelson writes in her book, Economics for Humans, that the purpose of the economy “is about the provisioning of goods and services to meet our material needs.”[3] Daniel W. Bromley, in his philosophical work on subjective pragmatism, also writes that economics should be about “how societies organize themselves for their provisioning.”[4] Although neither author uses the notion of provisioning as a major theme, they open the door to such an approach. The real economy, it seems to me, should be transformed to one where all people, organized together in many ways, are able to make provisions for their families and communities.

If we are to provide one another with the basics for a good life, we will need to also protect providers—the planet and people. We need to protect common resources and cooperative activities. Instead of focusing on property rights, we need to focus on human rights. Instead of seeing the natural world as a commodity, we need to recognize it as a living being that gives us life. If we do create this type of economy, we will also create a way of living together that gives us meaningful relationships and self-worth. In short, the civic economy of provision seeks, as a matter of priority, to return our thinking about the economy to a matter first of principles, and to our conversations about and with each other about what truly matters most deeply to us.

In the economics-of-property tradition, the focus has been on the individual or economic man, who acts in his self-interest and tries to maximize his good fortune. The economics of provision offers an alternative. It follows Virginia Held’s suggestion that the image of the mother and child more correctly represents our human nature.[5] This image highlights a relationship of attachment, instead of isolation, and allows us to acknowledge the labor of the parent in making provisions for the child. Furthermore, it imagines a relationship of mutual identity, rather than one based on each individual’s self-interest. As Nancy Folbre argues in her book The Invisible Heart, the family has been largely eliminated from economic thinking, and yet the family is the primary location where we provide and care for one another.[6] True, individuals do want to provide for themselves, but we do this in community with others. Economics, in other words, is not simply about individuals, but about individuals in communities.

In our modern economy, of course, making provisions for families and communities occurs through various systems, such as the food or the health care system. These systems can be seen as systems of provision that could be organized to make provisions for all." (