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A Dantean economy

Ignazio Visco’s reading of Dante Alighieri enhances corporate culture for all

Classics and the economy, or, rather, companies and classics. Not two separate worlds disconnected from each other, but two strictly interrelated ways of living in society, illustrating how ephemeral any boundary meant to rigidly compartmentalise human activity is. An aspect that is often missed through a quicker, more superficial reading, but fully grasped by Ignazio Visco, Governor of the Bank of Italy, in his speech “Note sull’economia di Dante e su vicende dei nostri tempi” (“Notes on Dantean economy and vicissitudes of our times”), delivered at the Dante2021 Festival in Ravenna.

Dante, therefore, and economy, production, exchange, finance, exploitation, doing business. Visco offers an unusual take on the poet’s brilliance, based on observing what Dante Alighieri might have lived through in his time. The Governor’s way of reading classics is nonetheless a cautious one (we should never read history purely through our modern eyes), and as such takes the cue from Dante’s life and civic commitment.

Taking The Divine Comedy and Convivio (as well as other texts) as his starting point, Visco runs through some of the major themes concerning the economy (both past and current), such as finance, profits, production, exploitation, imbalances, economics and ethics. Dante, therefore, is seen as a figure foreseeing many of the issues that, still today, are central to our economy and politics. “The innovative power in Dante’s analysis,” writes, for instance, Visco, “lies in identifying the global nature of instability, which he directly observed and masterly described in The Divine Comedy, and as such the need for institutions to change in order to handle it. Nowadays, the financial crisis that occurred in the first decade of this century, the sovereign debt crisis linked to the euro in the second decade, the crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic that we are still dealing with, all share the same characteristic: the need for a supranational response.”

“Dante,” adds Visco, “reminds us that ‘the individual’s need for human society … is established for a single end: namely, a life of happiness, which no one is able to attain by themselves without the aid of someone else, since one has need of many things which no single individual is able to provide. Therefore the Philosopher says that human being is by nature a social animal.’ (Convivio, IV, 1). How happiness can be reached is not really apparent, but the imperfections and limits deriving from greed threaten to compromise, as we would say today, an efficient allocation of resources and the stability of the monetary balance, with undeserved effects on equitable distribution, too. Hence, there is a need for an external intervention that could re-establish and preserve balance, and whose scope extends beyond national boundaries.”

Be mindful of efficiency, we would say nowadays, but also of humankind, and of the environment.

Ignazio Visco’s reading of Dante Alighieri is certainly very different from all others. And it is a good reading for those, too, who wish to enhance a careful corporate culture, nourished by calculations and logic but also by knowledge refined by history and human actions that go well beyond today’s balance sheets and digitalisation.

Note sull’economia di Dante e su vicende dei nostri tempi (Notes on Dantean economy and vicissitudes of our times)

Intervention of Ignazio Visco, Governor of the Bank of Italy

Dante2021 Festival, Ravenna, 11 September 2021