Who is Vilfredo Pareto?June 26, 2021
Vilfredo Frederico Damaso Pareto (July 15, 1848, Paris – died August 19, 1923, Genoa) was an Italian economist and sociologist.
After studying physics and mathematics, he received a doctorate in physics from the Technical University of Turin in 1869. He worked in the iron and steel industry and wrote articles on economic subjects. He was elected to the Academy of Geography in 1874, and from 1877 he began to publish works on economic theories, and in 1894 he began to lecture at the University of Lausanne in the chair of political economy vacated by Leon Walras.
Pareto, who wrote on economic issues until 1912, is known as the founder of the Lausanne School together with Walras. He applied mathematical analysis methods to Economic Theory. Costs brought new insights to production and value theories. He defined the Pareto Law, which states that the slope of the curves showing the income distribution in all countries, regardless of time and space, always remains the same.
Pareto belonged to an aristocratic family engaged in trade around Genoa. His great-great-great-grandfather earned the title of marquise in 1729. While the notion that the nobility preferred autocratic governments is common, it is often not true*. Genoa was actually a small city-state ruled on semi-republican principles by a commercial elite, and was in fierce conflict with expansionist monarchies such as Austria. Pareto’s grandfather and great-uncle were ardent republicans and held important administrative positions under Napoleon.
Republicanism never waned among members of the Pareto family. Pareto’s father (Marquise Raffaele Pareto) was forced to flee to France when Giuseppe Mazzini led the republican resistance against the monarchy in the 1830s. Several other members of the family were arrested or sentenced.
Raffaele Pareto was a well-known hydrological (water science) engineer and was able to find support in France. He married the French Calvinist Marie Méténier. The couple had two daughters and a son. Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was born on February 15, 1884.
Vilfredo Pareto remained true to his republican roots throughout his life. He harshly criticized the ruling class, especially in his late writings. His lifelong opposition to autocratic regimes helped him make important social scientific contributions by identifying how regimes that glorified them seized political power and subsequently lost it. This latent republicanism would greatly influence his future sociological theories. As a matter of fact, his first sociological article titled “A Sociological Theory Application”*2 is about the overthrow of a corrupt government and forms the basis of the sociological agenda that will occupy Pareto’s later life.
By the age of 10, Pareto was brought up as a fairly wealthy upper-middle class Frenchman. His father was able to return to Italy in the late 1850s and the family settled in Turin. Vilfredo graduated from the Polytechnic School of Turin in 1869 as an engineer.
What Pareto was most impressed with in this institute was the idea of ”balance”. As a matter of fact, the concept of “balance” will mark his late work in the fields of economics and sociology. In his dissertation on the fundamental principles of equilibrium in rigid bodies, Pareto explored how expansion and contraction work as counter-compensating forces to determine the volume of solid objects*3.
Many of those who are interested in sociological theories do not consider Pareto’s dissertation because they think it is only about engineering and does not say anything about society. But this thesis may be more important than any other work if we are to understand his sociological theory. Because Pareto’s scientific epistemology is included in this thesis. Much of his writing takes on new meaning when we understand how he grasps complex phenomena, how he conducts his scientific research, and what role he assigns to theory in science.
Years later, Pareto will apply the same balance strategy to sociology research and examine how counter-balancing forces, economic expansion and contraction, political centralization and decentralization, liberalization in public thoughts and conservatism interact (balance) in a way that affects the general character of society. If he had not been educated or had not used the equilibrium model in his 1869 graduation thesis, he probably would not have produced the understanding of sociological theory that made him famous. Engineering education has a significant impact on the form of explanation that Pareto will use as a sociologist.
After graduating from school, Pareto worked as an engineer in several places. He worked as a civil engineer for an Italian railway company, first in Rome and then in Florence. In 1874, he left the railway company to work as a manager in a company operating in the field of mining and industry. While working for this firm, he went to England and Scotland for business trips several times. Here, the laissez-faire doctrine and the British government’s free will.