Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

‘Un Amateur de Chiffres’. The Economic Contributions of the Italian-Belgian Engineer Angelo Della Riccia (1867-1938)

Erreygers Guido, University of Antwerp
Di Bartolomeo Giovanni, Università di Roma "La Sapienza"

Angelo Della Riccia, born in Florence on 26 August 1867, was an Italian engineer and mathematician who had come to Belgium for specialized studies in electrical engineering at the Montefiore Institute in Liège. In 1901 he settled in Brussels, where he began to work for various firms of the then rapidly expanding electrical sector. The Empain group sent him to Paris and Egypt to supervise the construction of electrical railway lines. During the 1920s and 1930s he was a consultant for the holding company Sofina in Brussels, which had become a major player in the electricity sector under the direction of the American engineer Dannie Heineman. Della Riccia also served as President of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in France and of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. He died in Brussels on 24 October 1938. In the 1930s Della Riccia became interested in economics. Given his background as an engineer and a mathematician he naturally turned to the more mathematical treatments of the subject, especially the work of Pareto. Over a short period of time he published about 25 essays and articles on economic problems, in journals such as the Revue Économique Internationale and the Revue Italo-Belge. Exactly what triggered his conversion to economics remains unclear, but the timing, the themes he explored and a few explicit references suggest that it was closely connected to the economic depression. The rather esoteric character of his research in economics comes out clearly in the book which he published in 1933: Recherches et Opinions Économiques et Sociales d’un Amateur de Chiffres. This was written in the form of twelve dialogues between Omicron and Omega, with Omega being the alter ego of the author. Della Riccia did not refer much to other economists or publications, and apparently he had great confidence in his own ideas and models. Although he was working in relative isolation, he did establish contacts with other mathematically oriented economists. He was a member of the Econometric Society and presented his works in two of its meetings. In our paper we explore the work of Della Riccia. We highlight the wide diversity of topics he covered (business cycle analysis, inequality, natural resources, etc.) and examine the originality of his contributions.


Keywords: Angelo Della Riccia; mathematical economics; depression; business cycle analysis

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