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Antonio de Viti de Marco: The Italian Economist Who Refused to Sign an Oath to Mussolini

(I would like to kindly thank Palgrave Macmillan for sending me a review copy.)

Like most discoveries of older economists, this one started with a footnote in another book, specifically Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State, where Antonio de Viti de Marco’s theory of collective wants is criticized. I had never heard the name of the author before so I started searching for more information until I stumbled upon the book Antonio de Viti de Marco: A Story Worth Remembering and the documentary that accompanies it.

The book consists of interviews by both Italian and American scholars who discuss three aspects of de Viti de Marco’s life: his personality, his political struggle, and his work in economics. One can find here multiple well known names like James Buchanan (Nobel Laureate in economics), Richard Wagner, and Steve Medema who talk about his economic legacy. There is also a woman who knew de Viti de Marco personally and her parts are the most emotional since it is a first hand account of the scholar. The documentary consists of parts of the interviews which are present in their totality only in the book.

Before moving to the review a couple of things should be said about the protagonist since I doubt most people are aware of him. Antonio de Viti de Marco was born in south Italy in a rich, landowning family. From his teenage years he had very clear political views and wanted to actively participate in the issues of his times. His political views can excellently be summed up in what an interviewee says.

“He was an active member of the Italian parliament, liberal, radical, democratic and very much in favor of free trade,” viewers are told.

His books on Public Finance were very influential to the Nobel laureate James M. Buchanan who developed the set ideas that came to be known as Public Choice Theory. When Benito Mussolini came to power and de Viti de Marco had to sign an oath to the leader he resigned his academic position because it went against all that he represented. Although forgotten nowadays, his story is worth knowing for anyone interested in liberalism, public choice, or Italian history.

The book itself gave me mixed impressions when I read it prior to watching the documentary. I was confused with what was happening since the book moves on thematic sections. First, his life, then his political involvement, and last his economics. Written this way, I could understand only parts of it while lacking the sense of de Viti de Marco as a whole. I was confused and a bit frustrated because of many things that I did not know—especially some early interviews that included references to Italian history. Despite that, I found great interest towards the end where De Viti de Marco’s influence on his Anglo Saxon contemporaries was discussed and familiar names reappeared. Particularly interesting is Buchanan’s interview, since he had lived in Italy for a year and met Einaudi, one of de Viti de Marco’s students, and explained how the Italian economists influenced his subsequent research.

After that, I watched the documentary. The documentary is slimmer than the book and omits many of the issues that the latter discusses, yet it is nevertheless a wonderful film. Many of the things that had troubled me during the book were explained more easily, since the documentary moved chronologically, examining every aspect from de Viti de Marco’s youth until his death. It was also emotional, looking back at a scholar who has been largely forgotten even though he did a great deal of work to advance his field. All so distant and finished, it felt nostalgic.

I recommend that readers watch the documentary first, and only afterwards, if they are interested, move to the book. The former stays only to the important facts of the Italian economist’s life that interest the general reader while the latter delves into details that seem confusing. The two pieces complement each other so there is no fear that the documentary will make the book boring. To the contrary, it makes reading it easier and allows you to understand the new material with greater ease and enjoyment.

Regardless of the medium, I’d encourage anyone interested in economics or history to learn about the beautiful story of Antonio de Viti de Marco, a man worth remembering.

Antonio de Viti de Marco from Manuela Mosca on Vimeo.

Content syndicated from Fee.org (FEE) under Creative Commons license.

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