In Memoriam of Franco Romani
FRANCO ROMANI, SCIENZIATO SOCIALE, Rubettino, 2003
4 Pages Posted: 2 May 2011
Date Written: May 1, 2003
This is an article in memoriam of Professor Franco Romani (1935-2002).
The author was among the lucky ones who had the privilege of learning from Franco Romani, a master rather than a professor who did not just teach things to his students, rather he gave them a method to approach things in life. His teaching method can be synthesised in the formula: “You tell me what you know, I will keep you in the right direction.”
While being a professor of public finance (the discipline on which he thought he had produced his most original scientific contribution) and economics, Franco Romani was a pioneer in introducing in Italy the economic analysis of law about at the same time, the mid-1970s, when it was introduced in the US universities. He explored throughout his life the newest ideas in social sciences, organizing for instance an international seminar on behavioural economics already in the 1980s. As a jurist, he wrote two articles on contract theory and property rights with which he reacted to the criticisms to freedom of contract. He was the chairman of the Parliament commission that wrote the Italian Antitrust Act and sat on the first board of the Italian antitrust authority at the beginning of the 1990s.
Franco Romani was a unique source of knowledge and guidance for any student in social science: he had read all the books and articles and had a constant appreciation about the frontiers of the various specific disciplines, from history to cognitive science to game theory.
Romani refused the excessive specialisation. Being one admirer of Friedrich Hayek (and of course among the very first to introduce Hayek’s thought in Italy) he appreciated that social science is to be considered just one discipline, and that the specific research fields contribute to each other (he liked to remind that Charles Darwin had taken inspiration from his contemporary economists for his evolution theory). Among his contemporaries, he appreciated most such thinkers as Harold Demsetz who focus on the fundamental questions of a scientific discipline.
Things that Franco Romani did not do: write long treaties with many footnotes in order to take a PhD; have his students write for years articles on not-so-important subjects before being allowed to approach the important ones; have his students repeat his opinion on any subject (he used to say jokingly that he mostly did not have an opinion himself). Romani very much complained the modern drive in academia and professional life for requesting from students many diplomas before being admitted to do proper work; the excessive reliance on econometrics in social sciences when there are not enough observations to produce robust results; the obsessive drive for specialisation. He used to observe that the result of current teaching methodologies is often to form students who spend too much time studying the same subject while largely ignorant of related ones.
In his last years he was most interested in political science, that is in the study of why people and nations behave as they do, that is often rather erratically, and in the moral foundations of human action. Among the last books he advised to read in 2002 (he read a new book every two days) I remember Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb. I imagine he would have been satisfied with his singling out immediately the importance of such book had he lived enough to witness the implosion of the credit derivatives market at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. I am now on his behalf.
Note: Downloadable document is in Italian.
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