Cattaneo’s view of the economy and society is based on the joint action of innate human faculties (Vico’s nativo), local variety, and outside influences (Romagnosi’s dativo), which produce as many historical combinations as there are peoples on the earth. Economic activity is promoted by free trade, which epitomizes the positive role of conflict and maintains each social system open, while at the same time remaining positively embedded in local ways of life, tacit traditions anchored to historical and territorial specificity. In this perspective Cattaneo analyzes economic institutions, economic policy proposals, and the unplanned, spontaneously arisen Lombard irrigation system, underlining the impediments to its application to Ireland. He sees intelligence as the key factor of production, since economic progress depends on knowledge, both codified and uncodified. His approach foreshadows intuitions that have been developed by contemporary heterodox economists.

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