Silvio Gesell: German merchant, theoretical economist, social activist, anarchist and founder of Freiwirtschaft (1862 - 1930) | Biography
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Silvio Gesell
German merchant, theoretical economist, social activist, anarchist and founder of Freiwirtschaft

Silvio Gesell

Silvio Gesell
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro German merchant, theoretical economist, social activist, anarchist and founder of Freiwirtschaft
Was Businessperson Economist Merchant Politician Entrepreneur Esperantist
From Germany
Field Business Finance Literature Politics
Gender male
Birth 17 March 1862, Sankt Vith
Death 11 March 1930, Eden Gemeinnützige Obstbau-Siedlung (aged 68 years)
Star sign Pisces
The details (from wikipedia)


Silvio Gesell (German: [ɡəˈzɛl]; March 17, 1862 – March 11, 1930) was a German merchant, theoretical economist, social activist, Georgist, anarchist/libertarian socialist and founder of Freiwirtschaft. In 1900 he initiated the magazine Geld-und Bodenreform (Monetary and Land Reform) but it soon closed for financial reasons. During one of his stays in Argentina where he lived in a vegetarian commune, Gesell initiated the magazine Der Physiokrat together with Georg Blumenthal. In 1914, he had to close it because of censorship.
The Bavarian Soviet Republic, in which he participated, had a violent end and Gesell was detained for several months on a charge of treason, but was acquitted by a Munich court after a speech he gave in his own defence.
Gesell promoted his ideas in both German and in Spanish.


Silvio Gesell's mother was Walloon and his father was German, originally from Aachen, and worked a clerk in the then-Prussian district of Malmedy, now part of Belgium. Silvio was the seventh of nine children.

After visiting the public Bürgerschule in Sankt Vith, he attended Gymnasium in Malmedy. Being forced to pay for his living expenses from an early age, he decided against attending a university and received work for the Deutsche Reichspost, the postal system of the German Empire. He did not like this profession, so he decided to start an apprenticeship to his merchant brother in Berlin. Then he lived in Málaga, Spain for two years, working as a correspondent. He then returned to Berlin involuntarily to complete his military service. After this, he worked as a merchant in Brunswick and Hamburg.

In 1887, Gesell relocated to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he initiated a franchise of his brother's business. The 1890 depression in Argentina, which hurt his business considerably, caused him to think about the structural problems caused by the monetary system. In 1891, he released his first writing on this topic: Die Reformation des Münzwesens als Brücke zum sozialen Staat (German for: The reformation of the monetary system as a bridge to a social state). He then wrote Nervus Rerum and The nationalization of money. He gave his business to his brother and returned to Europe in 1892.

After an intermediate stay in Germany, Gesell relocated to Les Hauts-Geneveys in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. He established a farm in order to finance his living expenses while continuing his economic studies. In 1900, he initiated the magazine Geld- und Bodenreform (Monetary and Land Reform), but it failed during 1903 for financial reasons.

From 1907 to 1911, he was in Argentina again, then he returned to Germany and lived in the vegetarian commune Obstbausiedlung Eden, which was founded by Franz Oppenheimer in Oranienburg, north of Berlin. Here, he initiated the magazine Der Physiokrat (The Physiocrat) together with Georg Blumenthal. It was ended during 1914 due to censorship as World War I began.

In 1915, Gesell left Germany to return to his farm in Les Hauts-Geneveys. In 1919, he was asked to participate with the Bavarian Soviet Republic by Ernst Niekisch. The republic offered him a seat in the Socialization Commission and then appointed him the People's Representative for Finances. Gesell chose the Swiss mathematician Theophil Christen and the economist Ernst Polenske as his assistants and immediately wrote a law for the creation of Freigeld, a new type of currency system he had developed. His term of office lasted only 7 days. After the violent end of the Soviet Republic, Gesell was detained for several months until being acquitted of treason by a Munich court because of the speech he gave in his own defense. Because of his participation with the Soviet Republic, Switzerland denied him the opportunity to return to his farm in Neuchâtel.

Gesell then relocated first to Nuthetal, Potsdam-Mittelmark, then back to Oranienburg. After another brief stay in Argentina during 1924, he returned to Oranienburg in 1927. Here, he died of pneumonia on March 11, 1930.

He promoted his ideas in German and in Spanish.

Villa Gesell, a seaside town in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina was founded by his son Don Carlos Idaho Gesell, who named it after his father.


He considered himself a world citizen and was inspired by Henry George to believe that the Earth should belong to all people, regardless of race, gender, class, wealth, religion and age and that borders should be made obsolete. But his land reform proposal was different from Georgism. He believed tax cannot solve the problem of rent on land. Because he discovered the possibility of transfer of land tax to tenant. He thought we must abolish the private ownership of land and put Free-Land reform into effect. It was a kind of public lease of land.

Gesell based his economic thoughts on the self-interest of people as a natural, healthy motive to act, which allows the individual to attempt the satisfaction of his needs and to be productive. The economic system must do justice to this pre-condition, otherwise this system would undoubtedly fail. This is why Gesell said his proposed economic system was "natural". This stance put him in opposition to Karl Marx, who regarded egoism as obstacle of social movement.

Taking selfishness into account, Gesell called for free, fair business competition with equal chances for all. This included the removal of all legal and inherited privileges. Everyone should rely only on his personal abilities in order to make a living. In the "natural economic order" which he recommended, the most talented people would have the greatest income, without distortion by interest and rent charges. The economic status of the less talented would also improve, because they would not be forced to pay interest and rent charges. According to Gesell, this would result in an equalization between the poor and the rich. Further, there would be more means available to help the poor because the greater average income would mean that everyone would have enough money to spare what was necessary to help.

Someone regards Silvio Gesell's idea as negative interest rate policy. But it is a wrong opinion. There is a crucial difference between them. With Free-Money Reform of Gesell, hoarding money is impossible because the face-value of money is depreciated regularly. Its result is regular circulation of money. With the negative interest, on the contrary, there is the possibility of hoarding money because the face-value of money is constant and people can use their money as the medium of saving. In fact, Japan's Negative Interest Rates Are Driving up Sales of Safes. Therefore Both are totally different.

Opinions about Gesell

Some opinions about Gesell:

Free money may turn out to be the best regulator of the velocity of circulation of money, which is the most confusing element in the stabilization of the price level. Applied correctly it could in fact haul us out of the crisis in a few weeks ... I am a humble servant of the merchant Gesell.

— Prof. Dr. Irving Fisher, economist at Yale University New Haven/USA

Gesell's chiefwork is written in cool and scientific terms, although it is run through by a more passionate and charged devotion to social justice than many think fit for a scholar. I believe that the future will learn more from Gesell’s than from Marx’s spirit.

— John Maynard Keynes, Economist, Fellow of King's College, University of Cambridge/England

Gesell's standpoint is both anticlassical and antimarxist... The uniqueness of Gesell's theory lies in his attitude to social reform. His theory can only be understood considering his general point of view as a reformer ... His analysis is not completely developed in several important points, but all in all his model shows no fault.

— Prof. Dr. Dudley Dillard, economist at the University of Maryland /USA

We would especially like to certify our great esteem for pioneers such as Proudhon, Walras, and Silvio Gesell, who accomplished the great reconciliation of individualism and collectivism that the economic order we are striving for must rest upon.

— Prof. Dr. Maurice Allais, economist at the University of Paris/France

Academic economists are ready to ignore the 'crackpots', especially the monetary reformers. Johannsen, Foster and Catchings, Hobson and Gesell all had brilliant contributions to make in our day, but could receive no audience. It is hoped, that in the future economists will give a sympathetic ear to those who possess great economic intuition.

— Prof. Dr. Lawrence Klein, economist at the University of Pennsylvania/USA

Economic science owes Silvio Gesell profound insights into the nature of money and interest, but Silvio Gesell has always been considered a queer fellow by economic circles. To be sure, he was no professor, which already raises suspicion... The decisive fact is that Silvio Gesell's fundamental ideas with regard to an economic order are correct and exemplary. Exemplary is furthermore, that in the creation of a functional monetary order he should see the 'nervus rerum' of a functional economic and social order.

— Prof. Dr. Joachim Starbatty, economist at the University of Tübingen/Germany

Silvio Gesell managed to write clearly and make himself understood, a gift that most pure theorists and reformers as well as many practical experts of today lack. The Natural Economic Order makes worthwhile reading even in our days... Gesell developed brilliant concepts and was forgotten, while his less brilliant contemporaries ... dazzled several generations before the realization of their falseness could break through.

— Prof. Dr. Oswald Hahn, economist at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg/Germany

Gesell is a smart outsider, who ... treated the subjects of money and interest, the right to full proceeds from labor and suggestions for remedies, in a very original way... The ideas he conceived regarding his problems and what he deemed appropriate for the crises of his times are worth considering with respect to a fundamental improvement of monetary conditions in general.

— Prof. Dr. Dieter Suhr, jurist at the University of Augsburg/Germany

Gesell is the founder of the free economy, an economic outsider who nevertheless was recognized by Keynes, in a certain sense, as his forerunner. He is therefore still considered to be above all a Keynesian economist, even a kind of hyper-Keynesian, that is to say, an advocate of a school that propagates the lowest (nominal) interest rate possible as a means of avoiding crises. Gesell, however, also recognized that the problem of a crisis cannot be solved solely by reducing the rates of interest... Gesell suggests, therefore, as the necessary correlative to the introduction of 'free money' ... the introduction of ‘free land’... Gesell's chief work thus carries the title ‘A Natural Economic Order Through Free Land (!) and Free Money’. It proves that the real aspects of an economy – that is to say, the claim on land or resources – must never be lost from view, even if primary importance is attached to monetary factors. This was recognized more clearly by Gesell than by Keynes.

— Prof. Dr. Hans C. Binswanger, economist at the College of Economic and Social Sciences Academy at St. Gallen/Switzerland

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