Galiani, Fernando

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Galiani, Fernando (1728 - 1787): Italian Economist.

Galiani was an economist whose writings served as the progenitor for modern theories of value. Born on December 2, 1728 in Chieti (Abruzzi) Italy, Fernando Galiani was the second son of a royal auditor. He was the nephew of Monsignor Celestino Galiani, the first chaplain to the king of Naples, and, as such he was educated for the church. At eight years of age, he was sent to school first at the Convent of the Celestins in Rome, then to his Uncle’s palace in Naples. He proved to be somewhat of a prodigy producing a satire on the Academy of Naples.

At age sixteen, he was a student of political economy who favored the works of Vico, Giovanni Battista. He mastered English well enough to translate Locke’s treatise on finance. He also produced his first work on the subject of economics, an essay, entitled Della Moneta (On Money, published in 1750). Della Moneta attacked the prevailing mercantilist theory of the day which held that money had no intrinsic value. In 1751, he introduced a theory of value based on both the utility and scarcity of a commodity which is frequently cited as an idea serving as a seed for the Marginalist Revolution in the nineteenth century.

Without the benefit of ordination and without studying theology, Galiani was given, by papal dispensation, the title of Monsignor. Despite a large financial windfall from his uncle’s estate, he continued his studies, publishing Sulla Perfetta Conservazione del Grano (The Perfect Preservation of Grain) in 1754.

From 1759 to 1769, he served as Neopolitan secretary to the Parisian embassy. While serving at this post, he argued against the seething forces of revolt as he foresaw the economic disaster of such action. He also stood as a vocal opponent to the leading school of French economic thought of the day, the Physiocrats, rejecting their Aland theory of value as dangerous. Galiani’s works and ideas were also to serve as the foundations of the Italian utilitarian tradition. His followers focused their study on the impact of the state and fiscal policy on a nation’s economy. In 1764, the famine and food riots that followed European grain embargoes horrified him. In response, he wrote Dialogues sur le Commerce des blés (Dialogues on the Grain Trades, published in 1770) in which he argued for realistic economic policies based on local circumstances and needs. In Dialogues, he advocated the regulation of commerce; a position which dialectically opposed the free market position of the Physiocrats.

He was recalled to Naples in 1769 when he slowly withdrew from the public eye. Instead he focused on corresponding with friends, acquiring works for his museum, and supporting his fatherless nieces. He died in Naples in 1787.

Galiani’s Correspondence was first published in 1818. Including letters between Galiani and Diderot, Denis, Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet de, and Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques, the work provides insight into some of the great philosophic debates of the day as well as a look at the economic, social, and political life of 18th century Europe.

B. Keith Murphy

Fort Valley State University