Eighteenth Century Economics: Turgot, Beccaria and Smith and Their Contemporaries

By Peter Groenewegen | Go to book overview

15

Reflections on Pietro Verri’s political economy1

This paper offers observations on Verri’s Meditazioni sull’economia politica, derived from my recent experience as its editor and co-translator into English, and that gained as a student of eighteenth-century economic thought in England, France and Italy for over a quarter century. In addition, Verri’s Meditazioni have much to offer to the student of public finance, my other major research interest, because a substantial part of this work was devoted to that scienze della finanza to which Italian economists have so extensively contributed over the centuries (see Buchanan, 1960).

This paper draws largely on the English edition of Verri’s Meditazioni I helped to prepare 2 and offers brief observations on the following matters. First, Verri’s work on economics following his introduction to the subject is briefly examined to illuminate the extent of his preliminary studies. Second, the major sources of Verri’s economics are identified and some comment is presented on the similarity between these sources and those available to some of the other major economic thinkers of the late eighteenth century. Third, some theoretical highlights of Verri’s mature work are considered before looking by way of conclusion at a number of historical issues in relation to Verri as an important eighteenth-century economist. These address in particular eighteenth-century reactions to Verri’s work, posing some problems on which Italian scholars may be able to shed further light; his lack of recognition in the nineteenth century in England, and finally, whether, as some have argued, it is appropriate to describe Verri as the Italian Turgot or Smith.

It may be noted at the outset that I regard Verri’s work as a great and very important contribution to the classical political economy tradition, though his Meditazioni also exhibit what might be called neo-classical traits, on which I comment only briefly. In any case, his work is clearly one of the many examples in the economic literature which during the quarter century after 1750 marks the emergence of political economy as a separate science.


I

Verri was introduced to the study of economics by the enigmatic General Henry Lloyd, whose career has been examined in detail by Venturi (1979). Lloyd’s

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