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RubricheWord on the street

Ulisse Gobbi: an eclectic economist

di Barbara Balcon

Ulisse Gobbi (Milan, 10/01/1859 – Genoa, 21/03/1940) was an Italian economist and Rector of Bocconi University (1930-34).

He was the chairman of the Lombard Institute of Science and Literature (1928-30) and also a Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy, a Knight and then an Officer of the Orders of Saint Maurice and Lazarus.

He founded “La Fratellanza” (“The brotherhood”), a popular culture journal and he was the managing co-editor of the “Giornale degli economisti” (“Economists’ Journal”) and of the “Annali di Economia” (“Economics Annals”).

He published over one hundred works, but the most renowned ones are “Foreign competition and the ancient Italian economists” (1884), “The insurance in general” (1898), “The monopoly of life insurance” (1912), “Economics essay” (1919), “The cooperation from capitalism to corporativism” (1932).

He was part of the “school of Pavia” and his view of economics was eclectic. He was influenced by the new subjective theory of value (that introduced personal preferences and satisfaction, deviating form the classical theories of Adam Smith and David Ricardo), but he did not completely abandon the idea of economics as an objective science.

He distinguished universal laws from historical laws, the latter being more suitable to explain economic reality.

He was in favour of a significative diffusion of cooperatives in the goods and credit market as a measure against the establishment of economic and financial monopolies – without, nonetheless, accepting a “socialist” interpretation of cooperativism.

However, he is mainly considered to be the first promoter of the theory of social insurance in Italy. He believed that the introduction of this measure was necessary in order to overcome uncertainty, as this tends to jeopardize any kind of activity, as he explains in “The insurance in general”: «[The uncertainty] determines moral prostration […] Self-confidence declines and this hinders the full utilisation of personal resources […]trust falls as well, and, thus, credit availability decreases; [insurance] is a loyalty condition in the economic fight».

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