The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Beccaria, Cesare Bonesana, Marchese di (1738–1794)

  • Peter Groenewegen
Reference work entry


Italian economist, philosopher and statesman, Beccaria was born in Milan in 1738, educated at Parma and in law at Pavia, appointed Professor of Political (Public) Economy or Cameral Science in Milan (1768), resigned his chair to enter public service (1772), where he encouraged and implemented monetary, general economic and penal reforms and advocated a decimal system of weights, measures and coin. He died in Milan in 1794. Beccaria’s greatest fame derives from his Essay on Crimes and Punishment (1764a), which made his European reputation almost overnight and ensured his magnificent reception when he visited Paris in 1766. Among others, it exerted considerable influence on Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy (Halévy 1928) and popularized the phrase, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ (Beccaria 1764a, Introduction). He also enjoyed considerable reputation as an economist. This was based on his work on Milanese monetary problems of 1762 and the outline of his teaching programme and inaugural lecture of 1769 (translated into French and English). His most important economic work is an unfinished treatise, Elementi di economia pubblica (written in 1771 but not published till 1804), but his mathematical contribution to the economics of taxation and smuggling (1764b) is also of considerable interest (see Theocharis 1961).


Beccaria, C. B. Bentham, J. Cantillon, R. Division of labour Genovesi, A. Hume, D. Locke, J. Montesquieu, C. de Physiocracy Population Productive vs. unproductive labour Property Public finance Quesnay, F. Smuggling Taxation Utilitarianism Wealth 

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  1. Cantillon, R. 1755. Essai sur la nature du commerce en général. Reprint with English translation edited by H. Higgs for the Royal Economic Society. London: Macmillan. 1931.Google Scholar
  2. Groenewegen, P.D. 1983. Turgot, Beccaria and Smith. In Italian economics past and present, ed. P.D. Groenewegen and J. Halevi. Sydney: Frederick May Foundation for Italian Studies.Google Scholar
  3. Halévy, E. 1928. The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism. Trans. M. Morris. Boston: Beacon Press. 1955.Google Scholar
  4. Hume, D. 1752. Of the balance of trade. Reprinted in David Hume, writings on economics, E. Rotwein. London: Nelson. 1955.Google Scholar
  5. Theocharis, R.D. 1961. Early developments in mathematical economics. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Groenewegen
    • 1
  1. 1.