Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 20: Jean-Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (1773–1842)
Jean-Charles Léonard Sismondi was born in Geneva (1773) into an upper-class Calvinist family. Like many Swiss intellectuals, Sismondi was forced to emigrate, first to England during the Swiss revolutionary episode (1792–94), and then to Italy (Tuscany) in the last years of the eighteenth century, before eventually returning to his native Geneva in 1800. He continued to visit Italy regularly where he collected material relevant for the composition of his History of Italian Republics (1808–17). He also claimed to find in Italy the so-called origin of his family, the Sismondi of Pisa, and, subsequent to this discovery, changed his name from “Simonde” to “Simonde de Sismondi”. His own personal experience of an era saddled between revolution and reaction and his familiarity with different political traditions (both republican and liberal) encouraged him to elaborate an idiosyncratic interpretation of the economic and social context in which he lived. His different positions on various issues were shaped by his lifelong preoccupation with finding the moral and cultural means necessary to ensure political liberty and economic development while qualitatively improving social well-being (measured not as an abstraction but concretely in terms of the genuine bonheur of all members of society). Within the much larger framework of his collected works, Sismondi’s economic writings represent quantitatively only a minor share (albeit one which is undeniably central) of a much larger intellectual project. Actually, Sismondi’s contemporaries were more familiar with his work as an historian than as an economist. For example, the Edinburgh Review called...
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