IN MEMORIAM MARTINO LO CASCIO
Martino Lo Cascio was one of my dearest friends. He died after a long series of illnesses, which he bore with great courage, in the morning of December 15, 2023. I had the good fortune to call him on the phone in the afternoon of the preceding day. Martino sounded happy that we were talking again. He told me that he could not get out of bed, or walk or read. I told him that I could still get out of bed and walk within our apartment, and that my eyesight was getting weaker and weaker. His mind was as sharp as ever. We spoke in Italian as usual.
I first met Martino in 1978 on the occasion of a three-day conference that I organized at Battelle Geneva under the title “The New Economic Nationalism”. On the side line we also discussed our FORSYS Project together with Emilio Fontela. Out of these talks emerged our participation in ENI’s INTERDEPENDENCE PROGRAM that dealt with the interdependence between oil-exporting and oil-importing countries, and the need for cooperation to help promote development and social progress in both poor and rich countries.
Martino was the Head of the ENI team, and Battelle Geneva became the principal sub-contractor of the Interdependence program. Our discussion partner was OAPEC, the Organization of Arab Oil Exporting Countries.
The Interdependence Program consisted of countless econometric models, including a set of large-scale input-output models of the 10 principal OECD economies, detailed country studies, macro-economic models and oil-price scenarios.
The high point of the Interdependence project was a three-day seminar in Rome held in Palazzo Barberini with the participation of virtually all the OAPEC Energy Ministers. The Italian Government, the principal members of which sat throughout the proceedings, hosted this unique event. The members of the Battelle and ENI teams were watching from the back of the huge festive principal room of the Palazzo, which also houses the Italian National Gallery. One of the most enjoyable sights for us was not the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance but the sight of Romano Prodi the proud future Head of IRI, future Italian Prime Minister and future President of the European Commission, who was seated near us and who was full of anger and jealousy that it was Battelle and not Prodi’s team in Bologna that was responsible with Martino’s group at ENI for the innovative work that was at the basis of this unique economics show. Prodi was also present as a special guest of ENI’s top management at a high level workshop in Kuwait organized by OAPEC several months later to discuss the follow-up to the Rome meeting. Prodi’s manners did not change between the two events.
We were not naïve. We knew that there was only a very small chance that we could have a real influence on decision makers both in OPEC/OAPEC and in the OECD countries. For all of us, however, it was a life-time experience both on the positive intellectual side and on the negative side when watching the deliberate short-sightedness of those who failed to take advantage of the opportunities that genuine cooperation represented for both sides.
Shared experiences like these are at the source of friendships that last a life time.
Martino like most of us had a complex and straightforward personality. He was both generous and modest, but he was also intellectually ambitious and demanding especially towards himself. He respected knowledge, innovation and scholarship in general, but he could not be impressed by pretentious name-dropping, which is a wide-spread moral disease in academic circles, not only among economists. Martino had a strong moral and ethical side and felt that social concerns were an essential feature of our work.
Martino and I were both generalists and specialists in different areas. Rather than being a problem, this helped us to stimulate each other’s thinking and to work together on a broad range of projects and publications over the decades.
On many issues we had different views and experiences. While on political issues we tended to disagree we tried to avoid certain subjects. We shared a strong commitment to European integration and to European culture and traditions.
Just like our common friend Emilio Fontela, Martino came rather late to recognize the importance of the model of the social market economy, but once he did this issue provided a fertile ground for our cooperation.
Among my personal memories of times passed with Martino beside economics and the social or the monetary order will always include cities, meals and new or old sights. I think of Cagliari, of the old town in Geneva, of Piazza Navona in Rome, a souk in Kuwait, fishing boats and the camel market on Kuwait, of the fountains of Aix en Provence,,,
Martino and I, like so many of our friends, belonged to a generation who were small children during the Second World War, and who have kept vivid memories of the post-war years not only in our respective countries but in the world as a whole as well.
For many of us especially in Eastern Europe this was a period of broken hopes and promises under a new dictatorship. For others it was a combination of freedom and struggle in fighting for a new world.
Our differences and close intellectual ties with Martino can be explained through our different origins and starting points. Our strong and long lasting friendship had much to do with the fact that ultimately we were citizens of the free world, of a world where it was possible and worthwhile to fight for freedom and justice, and where idealism was not a sin to be punished by the state or private powers.
Personally I felt very strongly about my multiple identities: American, Swiss, Hungarian, European and Western. But over the years I also developed a strong affinity to Italy and things Italian. Martino was not the only one to whom I owed this fortunate development. There were a few others who helped my progress in this invisible process. They were all good ambassadors of that great country that is Italy. But among all of them probably it was with Martino that I developed the deepest intellectual and professional ties.
Martino was not only an outstanding researcher but he was also a great teacher. Among the various qualities that define a good teacher I could mention: love of the material you teach, transmitting knowledge that you feel is important, dedicated curiosity and questioning, belief in students’ ability and capacity, pride in students’ progress and achievements, being demanding as well as rewarding…
Martino and I never taught together at the same university, but I had the opportunity to observe his ties with his current and former students. They will all miss him and they will remain grateful for the knowledge and the method they had received from him.
I could go on with other topics, other souvenirs, with the list of issues that I would like to discuss with Martino tomorrow or next year, the conference we ought to organize together,,,
I better stop here, I only hope that life will give me the strength and opportunity to write more about Martino and about how much we miss him,
Geneva, December 29, 2023