May 7, 2018

De Viti De Marco vs. Ricardo on Public Debt

Self Extinction or Default?
  • Richard Wagner

    Distinguished Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
  • Giuseppe Eusepi

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Find the paper at SSRN

The most prominent Italian theorist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Antonio de Viti de Marco, accepted David Ricardo’s proposition that an extraordinary tax and a public loan are equivalent. Despite this common point of analytical departure, their theories of public debt diverged sharply. In this divergence, moreover, lies a fundamental gulf between two distinct analytical schemes for connecting the micro and macro levels of analysis. Ricardo treated macro aggregates as analytical primitives, with individual action being induced from those aggregates. In sharp contrast, de Viti took individual variables as primitive, with aggregate conditions being induced from interaction among those individual variables. Within de Viti’s framework of a fully cooperative state, public debt would be self-extinguishing. De Viti also recognized that democracies were never exclusively cooperative, as continuing competition among elites striving for power would enable politically dominant groups to pass cost onto the remainder of society, thereby operating as a de facto form of default.