Ferdinando Galiani

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Ferdinando Galiani

Ferdinando Galiani (2 December 1728 – 30 October 1787) was an Italian economist, a leading Italian figure of the Enlightenment. Friedrich Nietzsche referred to him as "a most fastidious and refined intelligence"[1] as well as "... the most profound, sharp-sighted and perhaps also the foulest man of his century."[2]


Della moneta, 1780

Born at Chieti, Kingdom of Naples, he was carefully educated by his uncle, Monsignor Celestino Galiani,[3] at Naples and Rome with a view to entering the church. Galiani showed early promise as an economist, and even more as a wit. By the age of twenty-two, after he took orders,[4] he had produced two works by which his name became widely known far beyond the bounds of his own Naples. The one, his Della Moneta, a disquisition on coinage in which he shows himself a strong supporter of mercantilism, deals with many aspects of the question of exchange, but always with a special reference to the state of confusion then presented by the whole monetary system of the Neapolitan government.

The other, Raccolta in Morte del Boia, established his fame as a humorist, and was highly popular in Italian literary circles at the end of the 18th century. In this volume Galiani parodied, in a series of discourses on the death of the public hangman, the styles of Neapolitan writers of the day.[5] Galiani's political knowledge and social qualities brought him to the attention of King Charles of Naples and Sicily (afterwards Charles III of Spain) and his liberal minister Bernardo Tanucci, and in 1759 Galiani was appointed secretary to the Neapolitan embassy at Paris. This post he held for ten years, when he returned to Naples and was made a councillor of the tribunal of commerce, and in 1777 administrator of the royal domains.

His economic reputation was made by a book written in the French language and published 1769 in Paris, namely, his Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds, "Dialogues on the commerce in wheat". This work, by its light and pleasing style, and its vivacious wit, delighted Voltaire, who described it as a cross between Plato and Molière. The author, says Giuseppe Pecchio,[6] treated his arid subject as Fontenelle did the vortices of Descartes, or Algarotti the Newtonian system of the world. The question at issue was that of the freedom of the corn trade, then much agitated, and, in particular, the policy of the royal edict of 1764, which permitted the exportation of grain so long as the price had not arrived at a certain height. The general principle he maintains is that the best system in regard to this trade is to have no system — countries of different circumstances requiring, according to him, different modes of treatment. He fell, however, into some of the most serious errors of the mercantilists — holding, as indeed did also Voltaire and even Pietro Verri, that one country cannot gain without another losing, and in his earlier treatise going so far as to defend the action of governments in debasing the currency. Until his death at Naples, Galiani kept up a correspondence with his old Parisian friends, notably Louise d'Épinay;[7] this was published in 1818.

See L'abate Galiani, by Alberto Marghieri (1878), and his correspondence with Tanucci in Giampietro Vieusseux's L'Archivio storico (Florence, 1878).


  • Della moneta (1750)
  • Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds (1770)
  • Socrate immaginario (1775)
  • Del Dialetto napoletano (1779)
  • Doveri dei prìncipi neutrali (1782)
Translated into English
  • On Money (1977; translated by Peter R. Toscano)


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  3. See Fausto Nicolini, Un grande educatore italiano, Celestino Galiani (Naples, 1951)
  4. He is usually referred to, in French contexts, as the "abbé Galiani".
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  6. Pecchio, Storia della economia pubblica in Italia: ossia epilogo critico 1829.
  7. This correspondence furnished the material for Francis Steegmuller, A Woman, A Man and Two Kingdoms: The story of Mme d'Épinay and the Abbé Galiani, 1991.


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Further reading

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External links