It is impossible to remember Sylos Labini the scientist without recalling Sylos Labini
the man as we knew him in daily life : cordial, modest and generous of his time and
knowledge, as well as, and above all, moved by a strong commitment to civic life, considered
as a sacred duty. His approach to the analysis of reality, in fact, was motivated by and firmly
grounded in the ethical-political persuasion that the role of an intellectual worthy of this name
is to participate in public life as an independent and consequently necessarily critical
observer, a commitment that accompanied him until the last day of life. Therefore, his could
not be an economic approach in the narrow sense of the word. Rejecting the marginalist
scheme, in fact, he lined up with the tradition of the classical political economists, of the last
of whom, Joseph Schumpter, it is no accident he was a pupil. At the root of his thinking there
was a moral urge to look for truth that made him congenial to Gaetano Salvemini, by him
considered his “spiritual father”, whose intellectual intransigence Sylos Labini embodied by
refusing to adopt prefabricated paradigms. For this reason, Sylos Labini, although sharing
with Marx an historical approach to socio-economic reality, and the concern for economic
development and its meaning for social welfare, refused to be labelled “Marxist” : not so
much because of the methodological and theoretical differences that certainly existed, but
above all because a Marxism reduced to an empty scheme for classifying facts, a theologicallike
discussion about its philosophical premises, a disquisition on the transformation of values
into prices and the like was unbearable to him.
Sylos Labini holds a place by himself in the panorama of the Social Sciences. His works
mirror his open mind and broad interests : from the first original and important work
appeared in 1956 (Oligopoly and Technical Progress) to the following ones where he deals with
the problems of development (Capitalist and Planned Economies, 1960; Problems of
Economic Development, 1970; Underdevelopment, 2000; Back to the Classics : Labour
Productivity, Technical Progress and Economic Development, 2004), of socio-economic
dynamics (Trade Unions, Inflation, Productivity, 1972) and finally of social structure (Essay on
Social Classes in Italy, 1974; Social Classes in the 80ies, 1984).
His work played from the very beginning an important role in stimulating the Italian
political and social forces in elaborating ideas about the growth of the country, unfortunately
not often appreciated to the extent that it would have been appropriate. But his lasting
impact on economists, sociologists and also political scientists in Italy and abroad has been
and is out of question.


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