Luigi Federico Signorini: Conversing about Dante - civic passion, public life, economic reasoning

Speech by Mr Luigi Federico Signorini, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Italy and President of the Insurance Supervisory Authority (IVASS), at the Bank of Italy, Florence, 3 December 2021.

The views expressed in this speech are those of the speaker and not the view of the BIS.

Central bank speech  | 
21 January 2022

Dante and the economy

For this speech, I intend to draw inspiration from several passages of the Commedia to formulate some arguments as an economist, which I will use towards the end to make a couple of free observations about one of today's great problems. I hope that you will forgive me my unavoidable incursions into a field that is not mine and I shall try not to go beyond the bounds of this task. I leave discourses on literature to others. At best, I can invoke my passion for the subject, certainly not my competence.

It is clear that the science of economics in the modern sense did not exist in Dante's day, although of course the economy as a fact did exist. It was not that economic reasoning was entirely lacking, at least from Aristotle onwards, rather that the analytical tools potentially available to observers at that time were very different from those of today. Today, through the lens of a subject that came into being several centuries later, we see it in a different way.

If we look through this lens, one fact stands out. Dante seems not to have noticed the impressive acceleration that society was experiencing at that time. Or better, to the extent that he did notice, he only saw the negative aspects. "La gente nòva e i subiti guadagni" ("The new people [newly rich] and the rapid gains") aroused his indignation. Fiorenza (the poetic name for Florence) "dentro della cerchia antica" ("within the ancient circle", that is to say of the golden days of Cacciaguida, Dante's forefather) "si stava in pace" ("dwelt in peace"), because it was "sobria" ("sober" i.e. content with a modest way of life); the problems all begin when people start to desire more material goods.