Economist and historian who aroused men´s consciences to what he saw as the perils and pitfalls of runaway industrialism.
A pioneer theorist on the nature of economic crises and the risks of limitless competition, overproduction and underconsumption he was warmly regarded by such later economists as Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.
Son of a Protestant clergyman and a woman of means Sismondi became a clerk at the age of 16 in a Lyon bank and saw the French Revolution unfold. To escape the Revolution´s spreading effects he and his family went in 1794 to Tuscany where they farmed.
Sismondi´s experiences and observations there resulted in Tableau de l´agriculture toscane (1801, Picture of Tuscan Agriculture).
Living in his native Geneva from 1800 on he became so successful as an author of books and essays that he could decline offers of professorships.
Welcome in the best circles he accompanied Madame de Stäel the salon leader to Italy in 1805. He conferred with Napoleon whose liberal 1815 constitution he defended.
Sismondi´s monumental Histoire des républiques italiennes du moyen âge (16 vol., 1809-18 History of the Italian Republics in the Middle Ages) which regarded medieval Italy as the origin of modern Europe inspired the leaders of that country´s Risorgimento (unification movement).
As an economist Sismondi was at first a loyal follower of Adam Smith proponent of laissez faire. His Nouveaux Principes d´economie politique (1819) represents a break with the Englishmen.
Sismondi argued for a regulation of economic competition and for a balance between production and consumption.
He foresaw a growing rift between the bourgeoisie and the working class.
He called for social reform but stopped short of condemning private property which he regarded as necessary for revenue.
A pioneer in the historical schoool of economists he held that the facts underlying economic theories must be judged in their full historical context.