The Common Good in the 21st Century

The Convoco! Edition is an annual book series that collects contributions from our thinkers on Convoco’s annual topics. The edition is published in both German and English.

The Common Good in the 21st Century

Series: Convoco! Edition

Contributors: Roland Berger, Bazon Brock, Udo Di Fabio, Carl Benedikt Frey, Clemens Fuest, Kai A. Konrad, Stefan Korioth, Rudolf Mellinghoff, Timo Meynhardt, Hans Ulrich Obrist with Hito Steyerl and Matteo Pasquinelli, Stefan Oschmann, Christoph G. Paulus, Jörg Rocholl, Wolfgang Schön, Jens Spahn

Pages: 272

ISBN 978-0-9931953-6-5

Paperback: £8.99

Available here

Price EPUB: £3,99

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In the recent past, the common good has seemingly disappeared as the leitmotif of our society. In a world where nationalism is gaining power and society is increasingly divided into fractions, “The Common Good in the 21st Century” is a controversial topic. We need to recenter the common good in our contemplations, but also reevaluate what it means. It is more than just the sum of individual interests, the common good is a fundamental condition for individual self-expression and growth. Only by considering this, we can stop the developments that increasingly turn a “we” into an “I”.

This edition illuminates the multi-facetted nature of the common good on global and national levels. It sets the common good in relation to the state, investigates the role of business in creating the common good, and elaborates on the meaning of this politically charged term for the 21st century.


The common good is a necessary fiction—a focus, as it were, on the greater whole, which only then takes shape, and which as a result in turn creates a system. To evoke an image, the idea of the common good is like the function of a polestar that can never be reached but can always indicate a direction. In light of today’s economic and social challenges, we might even say that if complexity is the challenge, the common good is the answer.

Timo Meynhardt

In debates about the common good it is striking that almost all participants believe that it is clear what the common good is, and how one might preserve or promote it. In reality, almost everything in this context is contingent: that means we could almost always make a different choice and state the exact opposite.

Udo Di Fabio

Today, the common good is that which gives members of a community the freedom to develop their individuality, or constitutionally enables the community to live with a multiplicity of religious convictions without the competition that results in obliteration. This means that the common good applies to the development, education, and encouragement of individuality.

Bazon Brock

As unconvincing as it may be to want to realize the “global common good” on all political fronts, a general re-nationalization of interests is equally incapable of solving the world’s real problems. It seems right to focus on different political reference systems depending on the topic. The citizen will have to be prepared to think and act as a German/Frenchman/Englishman, a European, or a global citizen depending on the topic—otherwise their thinking will be too small or too big.

Wolfgang Schön

Why, even in 2017, do our notions of justice and the common good concern themselves so stubbornly (and thus perhaps also justifiably) with the system of groups living at the same time and in the same place, from the family to the nation, using the juxtapositions of inclusion and exclusion, today and tomorrow, inward-looking altruism and outward-looking egotism?

Stefan Korioth

The legislature takes account of the interests of the common good in tax law in a variety of ways. Public-benefit law is particularly significant in this respect. Beyond this, the Basic Law also permits the legislature to deviate from imposing taxation based on economic resources if the legislature wants to advance the interests of the common good by doing so. This proves that tax law is an important component of a policy that focuses on general welfare.

Rudolf Mellinghoff

The common good is expressed in nothing more than the figures and finances of a federal budget—that is as true today as it will be in 2030.

Jens Spahn

Even if everyone has a vague, rather unclear notion of what the common good means concretely—even in the 21st century—it is far easier to identify things that are detrimental to the common good and run counter to it. One of these things is the burden of debt on public finances, not only in Germany but, appallingly, almost across the entire world.

Christoph G. Paulus 

Companies can best contribute to increasing the common good if they focus on their core tasks: creating value for the individual and the community. I am convinced that in our market-based economic system rooted in the division of labor, companies fundamentally contribute most to the common good when they are fully committed to their business.

Roland Berger

The entrepreneur who wants only to maximize their profit thus contributes in the maximum way possible to the prosperity of society precisely through the one-sided focus of their activity on their own profit. If politics creates the right regulatory framework, the objectives of the entrepreneur’s one-sided focus on profit and the general prosperity of society will not be in conflict.

Kai I. Konrad

Health is part of the common good. But for innovation to thrive, we depend on health care products and services being developed by private players. And we need the private sector to lean in to work towards equitable access to health.

Stefan Oschmann

On average, automation has always benefited society, but sometimes at the expense of large parts of the workforce whose jobs have disappeared. It is up to society to make computerization a common good by making sure that its benefits are widely shared. It is not a common good per se.

Carl Benedikt Frey

The common good will not benefit if people who are not thought capable of working with new technologies are encouraged to do nothing as a result of an unconditional basic income. Extensive efforts to improve educational opportunities will be more important for the common good in the long term, and will enable participation in economic progress and social exchange.

Jörg Rocholl

Maybe future AIs will be conscious or maybe not. The point is that there are so many existing phenomena already, that we need to deal with those that are being caused by the by-products of all these technological developments. If you’re just always in awe of a coming either benevolent or obnoxious singularity, then you will fail to recognise that our societies now are already being restructured in a way that enables post-fascism, nativism, populism, unemployment, and all of these things.

Hito Steyerl

When considering the dangers of artificial intelligence, the critical thinking practiced by artists is helpful. As AI’s algorithms are made visible through artificial images in new ways, artists’ critical visual knowledge and expertise can be harnessed. Many of the key questions concerning AI are philosophical in nature, and can therefore only be answered from an holistic point of view.

Hans Ulrich Obrist

Awareness of the importance of the common good and of threats to it is a good basis on which to protect the common good in the future as well.

Clemens Fuest

It is important that society maintains its public spirit: that is, its engagement in the well-being of the community. We should give our society a direction, and take the common good as its focal point. This is of particular relevance in light of the technological developments that are approaching in this century. The ability to build communities has established the position of humankind as the “pinnacle of creation.” This ability will also continue to be the best way of protecting people from the excessive power of artificial intelligence, algorithms, and big data.

Corinne M. Flick



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