Vilfredo Pareto, Sociologist and Economist | Giovanni Gentile and Italian Fascism | Max von Scheubner-Richter and Alfred Rosenberg | Nazis and Nietzsche | Japan's Kita Ikki and Nakano Seigo | Triumphant Philosophies against Fascism
Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was a little older than Durkheim and Weber and eight years younger than Carl Menger, founder of the Austrian school of economics. Pareto was Italian and would be 74 in 1922 when the fascist Benito Mussolini would become Italy's prime minister.
Pareto grew up in a middle-class environment and received a quality education in France and Italy. He earned a PhD in engineering and graduated at the top of his class. He worked as a civil engineer. His brain took him to a position running a manufacturing firm, and as an industrialist he was interested in economics.
With the death of his parents in 1889, Pareto inherited the title of marchese ( a rank above count), but he never used it. He quit his job and married a penniless Russian girl from Venice, Alessandrina Bakunin, and began writing articles against the government. He gave public lectures at a working man's institute. From hero industrialist he had fallen to the view among authorities that he was a troublemaker. He was trailed by police and he endured failed attempts at intimidation. There were forced closures of his lectures and rejection of his application for teaching positions. Meanwhile, he had the habit of offering money, shelter and counsel to political exiles.
Vilfredo Pareto. He made "preferences" a part of economic theory as opposed to choice based on logic. And he saw Marx's promise of a "classless" society as an illusion.
Pareto returned to his work as an economist and sociologist. He was disturbed by how wealth was distributed. He made waves in 1906 with his announcement that in Italy 20 percent of the population owned 80 percent of the wealth. He measured the gap between the rich and poor in Europe going back to the 1400s, and a connection between political power and wealth distribution was obvious. Pareto found the numerous poor hungry and their children dying young. In the middle spectrum of wealth he saw people rising in wealth as a result of talent and luck or falling by tuberculosis, alcoholism or some other foolishness. At the very top he saw an elite that controls wealth and power for a time – until they are unseated through revolution or some other kind of political disruption.
Pareto believed in freedom. He complained about what he thought were unnecessary abuses against the powerless, and he complained about corruption in high places. For Pareto the ideologies of liberals and socialists were just smoke screens for leaders who were as inclined to enjoy the privileges and powers of the governing elite that they replaced. He viewed democracy as of no help to the poor, and in a 1900 article Pareto declared democracy a sham.
In a book published in 1902, Pareto condemned socialists of all kinds and took aim at the "new gospel" of Marxian economics, including Marx's Labor Theory of Value. He applauded Marxism's recognition of class struggle and wrote of validity in historical materialism, but he deplored what he saw as Marx's utopianism. Pareto saw class struggle as eternal and the promise of a "classless" society as an illusion. He viewed Marxism as aiming to supplant one ruling elite with another.
In 1906 Pareto labored at economic theory. Like his contemporary, Carl Menger, founder of the Austrian School of Economics, Pareto worked with the idea that people made choices other than with pure reason. Pareto discarded the old idea of economic behavior based on "utility" and replaced it with "preferences."
Pareto said that the goal was to make some people better off without making others worse off. He was interested in improving economic efficiency without exacerbating social conflict – something that reasonable people across the class spectrum could agree on.
Pareto is described as having inaugurated modern microeconomics. It is said that he helped move economics from the social philosophy of Adam Smith to a study with data, mathematics, tables, statistics and research.
After the Great War, Pareto's views appealed to the fascists. Fascists wanted to fix the system while appealing to those who opposed the socialists and communist revolution. Mussolini claimed to have attended Pareto's lectures at Lausanne, and he claimed to champion Pareto's ideas.
Pareto was sympathetic to Mussolini largely because Mussolini claimed to be championing ideas compatible with his views, but there was little consistency in this. Pareto had been largely disdainful of the Fascist movement. He favored a reduction in state power. He was interested in specifics and had little patience for ideologues and found them amusing. The fascist march on Rome in 1922 and the crumbling of the Italian government did not strike Pareto as a move toward justice and reason.
Seeking intellectual veneer to their movement, the Fascists portrayed themselves as close to the prestigious Pareto and made him a Senator. They invited him to join the Italian delegation to the Geneva Disarmament Conference and to contribute articles to Fascist party periodicals. Pareto was ill. He declined most of the honors, but spoke favorably of certain early reforms undertaken by Mussolini. He looked forward to Mussolini minimizing the state in economic matters in order to let "purely" economic forces reign. He warned the Fascists to avoid despotism, censorship and economic corporatism. When the Fascists clamped down on freedom of expression in Italian universities, Pareto wrote a protest. Then Pareto died – a mere ten months after Mussolini had taken office as prime minister.
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