A quick note on Luigi Einaudi
By Alberto Mingardi
I was recently in Portugal for the “Estoril Political Forum“, masterly organised by Joao Carlos Espada. This was an uplifting event: we listened to many interesting speeches, in a room packed with hundreds of Portuguese students in the social sciences.
I chaired an “Einaudi Lunch.” The Forum has lunches and dinners named after great figures, such as George Washington, Winston Churchill, and Konrad Adenauer. Luigi Einaudi parted company with them; he was a lesser statesman, but he was also a scholar. In a way, Einaudi was the Italian Wilhelm Roepke and the Italian Konrad Adenauer in one man.
Luigi Einaudi was born in 1874, and died in 1961. Right after WWII, Einaudi was Governor of the Bank of Italy and later Minister of Finance. In these capacities, he laid the groundwork for the so-called Italian “economic miracle” by stabilizing the Italian economy and pursuing the necessary reforms to re-establish trust in market institutions.
His experience as a practical politician was brief, though. In 1948, in recognition of his international prestige, he was elected President of the newly-born Italian Republic (though he himself was a monarchist). Many believed he was kicked upstairs. In a way, one major difference between Italy and Germany is that Einaudi was virtually alone in his efforts. In Germany, the Ordo-liberals preached to the public when Erhard was transforming their ideas into policy (see David Henderson on the German economic miracle)
Einaudi’s career as an intellectual was remarkably long and fruitful. He was Professor of public finance at the University of Turin from 1902. He was a gifted writer. He wrote in crystal-clear Italian and his writing style is still enjoyable today, showing just minor scratches of time.
He published numerous essays and monographs and had a lifelong love affair with journalism. He was for forty years the Italian correspondent for The Economist. He became kind of a household name, in a time when the newspapers were really the main arena for exchanging ideas. Between 1896 and 1925–when he stopped writing after the the fascist regime took power–Einaudi published about 400 columns in La Stampa and about 1,700 in the Corriere della Sera. On Einaudi’s journalism. see this paper by Giovanni Pavanelli.
In his columns, Einaudi preached the importance of free trade and competition, as well as the virtues of frugality in public spending and fairness in taxation to cure the evils of the Italian economy and particularly the one great evil of the Italian society: corruption and cronyism. No wonder he himself considered most of his articles “useless sermons.”
In 1922, Einaudi admonished Italians that “it is easier to hope to solve a complex problem with quick and energetic means, than to actually solve it.” His caveat against the myth of all-effective, problem-solving “strong men” fell on deaf ears.
Einaudi is not very well known outside of Italy–and in Italy is less known as a thinker than as a public figure and as the father of a successful publisher. Palgrave has published a selection of his numerous essays. I highly commend to you his 1933 critique of Keynesian recipes, “My plan is not the one of Keynes.”