Who was Corrado Gini?

by on March 10, 2015 at 1:29 pm in Economics, History, Political Science | Permalink

Corrado Gini, he of the Gini index, was a numbers man, at a time when statistics had become a modern science. In 1925, four years after Gini wrote “Measurement of Inequality of Incomes,” he signed the “Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals” (he was the only statistician to do so) and was soon running the Presidential Commission for the Study of Constitutional Reforms. As Jean-Guy Prévost reported in “A Total Science: Statistics in Liberal and Fascist Italy” (2009), Gini’s work was so closely tied to the Fascist state that, in 1944, after the regime fell, he was tried for being an apologist for Fascism. In the shadow of his trial, he joined the Movimento Unionista Italiano, a political party whose objective was to annex Italy to the United States. “This would solve all of Italy’s problems,” the movement’s founder, Santi Paladino, told a reporter for Time. (“Paladino has never visited the U.S., though his wife Francesca lived 24 years in The Bronx,” the magazine noted.) But, for Gini, the movement’s purpose was to provide him with some anti-Fascist credentials.

There is more here at the Jill Lepore review of the new Robert Putnam book (and other books), via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  And please no, I am not trying to suggest that an interest in inequality numbers is fascist in orientation, I simply find such historical tidbits fascinating.  Here are further sources on Corrado Gini, not surprisingly he was into eugenics too.

1 John Mansfield March 10, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Should we expect some less impure inequality measure to become more popular?

2 So Much for Subtlety March 10, 2015 at 8:33 pm

They could just re-name it. The medical profession has gone about sending Nazi doctors down the memory hole by removing their name from conditions that they discovered. It is an oddity that German mathematicians were often enthusiastic Nazis – more than you would think was chance – but as far as I know, no one has decided to remove their names from their theorems. However some biographies are remarkably light on what the subject was doing in the 30s and 40s.

But this is one of those double standards. Anyone on the Left is forgiven pretty much anything. Even being a Nazi. Anyone on the Right is not. No matter how serious the moral violation on the Left is, or how trivial that on the Right is.

Gini should have endorsed Stalin. Then no one would have minded. After all J. B. S. Haldane support Lysenko even though he must have known the concept was stupid – and that his friends were being executed for disagreeing – and

He continued to admire Stalin, describing him in 1962 as “a very great man who did a very good job”.

Which is worse than anything Gini did.

3 Richard Fairgrieve March 10, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Not sure a Union with the U.S. would haves solved Italy’s problems. However, the U.S. would at least have good espressos and cappuccinos instead of that drek Starbucks sells.

4 So Much for Subtlety March 10, 2015 at 8:37 pm

What was the Italian-American population of the US in 1945? I think we can agree it was non-trivial. How many millions of Italians does the US need before Starbucks would produce good coffee? America has over 17 million people who claim Italian origin as it is.

5 Rich berger March 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I suppose we should ask all those pushing the horrors of inequality whether they repudiate Gini.

6 jonathan March 10, 2015 at 2:07 pm

This seems like a rather Straussian post.

7 prior_approval March 10, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Especially the eugenics mood affiliation.

Just because Gini had his fascist bent is no reason to disregard his interest in eugenics – all part of that small steps to a much better world. Prof. Cowen is certainly not suggesting that an interest in eugenics is fascist in orientation. Especially after eugenics finally gets past the road bumps (six million or so) that the Nazis created.

8 JLV March 10, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Tyler has noted this before, but the Gini index is not actually the preferred income inequality measure for most economists who study inequality.

9 Asher March 10, 2015 at 4:29 pm

What is? Where has Tyler noted this?

10 jimmyo March 10, 2015 at 4:37 pm

just finished the new Yorker piece: anti-intellectual drivel.

11 Dismalist March 10, 2015 at 5:09 pm

In those days, virtually anybody who was anybody was into eugenics.

12 dearieme March 10, 2015 at 5:18 pm

All the progressives were. Some deep-dyed reactionaries were against, including the Roman Catholic church. I suppose they thought they might lose a lot of members.

13 So Much for Subtlety March 10, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Or, you know, they might have had a slightly complex and thoroughly worked out set of beliefs that precluded the murder of the innocent.

The Catholic Church has been consistently reviled in the 20th century but they have also been consistently right. No one else can make that claim. They objected to Fascism, to Communism, to eugenics, to Apartheid and racism generally.

14 dearieme March 10, 2015 at 7:56 pm

They’re not too keen on democracy, free markets, or capitalism either.

Authoritarian outfit approves of its having power: hardly shock news.

15 So Much for Subtlety March 10, 2015 at 9:11 pm

They had some minor quibbles about democracy, free markets and capitalism. Quibbles that pretty much everyone accepts these days. Even the Right. We are not going to go back to the good old days of 19th century Robber Baron unfettered capitalism. Alas. So even though everyone agrees with them on this, they still get nothing but vilification.

It was also a completely different level of objection that they had to Communism. One was minor, the other was not. Correctly.

As for the authoritarian comment, come on. That is a non-response. When they attacked Communism, they were not insisting they had the right to run Hungary or Poland. They just did not like Communism. When they attack Hitler, it was not as if the alternative was an Ultra-montaine clerical-run theocracy was it?

16 Ed March 11, 2015 at 9:47 pm

They were wrong on the desirability of worldwide population growth, once world population hit about three billion, and that was an important bad call, but pretty much everyone else was also wrong about that.

17 dearieme March 10, 2015 at 5:17 pm

““Paladino has never visited the U.S., though his wife Francesca lived 24 years in The Bronx”: yeah, but had she ever visited the U.S.?

18 Millian March 10, 2015 at 6:38 pm

There are some parts of New York I wouldn’t advise you to invade.

19 Bozothegrey March 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm

De Finetti was another Italian fascist, famous for its contributions in the domain of probability and statistics. He published in the journal whose editor and owner was Gini.

20 Bjartur March 10, 2015 at 6:32 pm

Seeking to distance himself from this part of his family’s history, Corrado’s son, Corrado Jr., changed his last name a few years after WWII. Unfortunately Junior’s adopted last name, Soprano, eventually became infamous as well.

21 Barkley Rosser March 10, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Gini was a follower of Vilfrfedo Pareto, he of the optimum, who invented/discovered power law distributions when he first estimated income distributions in Italy in the 1890s (for about two decades starting then, Italy was the leading center of mathematical economics in the world). He incorrectly thought that there was a universally true coefficient giving the degree of income inequality, which fit with his theory of the “circulation of the elites,” a theory that the fascists picked up on. His relationship was rather complicated, to put it mildly.

22 Rustle March 10, 2015 at 10:49 pm

“for about two decades starting then, Italy was the leading center of mathematical economics in the world”

There’s your lede.
How about some research into how/why these “streaks” or “waves” of expertise were concentrated in certain areas at certain points. I know mingling effects have their role in it, but wouldn’t the rest of that story be a good thing to know–how gains in knowledge can best be inspired

23 Daniel Klein March 10, 2015 at 6:51 pm
24 DJohn March 11, 2015 at 12:23 am

Interesting read. For more on societies with equal incomes please support his Kickstarter project to make a film about Scandinavian settlement of the Americas. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/symbios/symbios?ref=discovery

25 Ed March 11, 2015 at 9:50 pm

There were a substantial number of genuine intellectuals (eg people who did really good work in their fields) who supported fascism. Much of this was dropped down the memory hole after World War 2. Among political scientists, people have mentioned Pareto along with Gini, plus Michels, and Hitler handed the German economy for Hjalmer Schacht (I probably mis-spelled the name) to run for awhile.

However, Gini’s method is a mediocre at best way to measure inequality.

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