Silvio Gesell

Silvio Gesell

Silvio Gesell (born March 17 1862 in Sankt Vith (now Belgium); died March 11 1930 in Oranienburg) was a German merchant, theoretical economist, social activist, anarchist and founder of Freiwirtschaft.


Silvio Gesell's mother was Belgian and his father came from Aachen. Silvio was the seventh of nine children.

After visiting "Bürgerschule" (the "poor man's high school", a school which low-income children could visit to receive a basic education) in Sankt Vith, he attended Gymnasium in Malmedy. Being forced to pay for his living expenses from a young age, he decided against attending a university and received work for the Reichspost, the postal system in the German Empire. He did not like this profession, so he decided to start an apprenticeship as merchant under his 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. Following this, he worked as a merchant in Braunschweig and Hamburg.

In 1887, Gesell moved to Buenos Aires, where he opened up a branch of his brother's business. The depression in Argentina, which hurt his business considerably, caused him to reflect upon 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 just 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 moved to Les Hauts-Geneveys in the Swiss canton Neuchâtel. He established a farm, in order to finance his living expenses while continuing his economic studies. In 1900, he founded the magazine "Geld- und Bodenreforn" ("Monetary and Land Reform"), but it failed as it had to be canceled in 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 founded the magazine "Der Physiokrat" ("The Physiocrat") together with Georg Blumenthal. It had to be canceled in 1914 as World War I broke because of censorship.

In 1915, Gesell left Germany to return to his farm in Les Hauts-Geneveys. In 1919, he was called to take part in the Bavarian Soviet Republic by Ernst Niekisch. The republic offered him a seat in the "Socialization Commission" and then appointed him to 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. His term of office lasted only 7 days. After the bloody end of the Soviet Republic, Gesell was held in detention for several months until being acquitted of treason by a Munich court because of the speech he held in his own defense. Because of his participation in the Soviet Republic, Switzerland denied him a return to his farm in Neuchâtel.

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

Gesell was married to Anna, née Böttger, and had 4 children with her. His relationship to Jenny Blumenthal, née Führer, bore another child. He also had relationships with Wanda Tomys and Grete Siermann. He tried to bring all of these women together on one property, but this attempt failed.

Gesell had earned quite a fortune by exploiting the Argentinian economic depressions. He also received support from private donators, for example Paul Klemm, one of the richest men in Romania at the time. This allowed him to concentrate on his economic studies in his later life, without having to worry about financial matters.

He discovered that the monetary system needed to be adapted to nature and to human being. He spread his knowledge through numerous brochures, books, essays, and speeches in German and in Spanish.

Villa Gesell, a seaside town in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina was founded by (and is named after) his son Don Carlos Idaho Gesell.


Gesell was an ethical vegetarian. He considered himself a world citizen and believed Earth should belong to all people, regardless of race, gender, class, wealth, religion and age and that borders should be made obsolete.

Gesell founded his economic thoughts on the self-interest of people as a natural, healthy motive to act, which allows the individual to follow the satisfaction of his/her 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 called his proposed economic system "natural". This stance put him in a clear opposition to Karl Marx, who called for a change in the social conditions.

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 aimed for, the most talented people would have the highest income, without forgery by interest and rent charge. The economic status of the less talented would also improve, because they wouldn't be forced to pay interest and rent charge. According to Gesell, this would lead to an equalization between the poor and the rich. Further, there would be more means available to help the poor, because the higher average income would mean that everyone would have enough money to spare what is necessary to help


* Gesell, Silvio. The Natural Economic Order Revised edition. London: Peter Owen, 1958.

External links

*Full text of [ The Natural Economic Order]
* [ Money reform] A number of online text related to money reform and interest free money, in several languages.
* [ Germans get by without the euro] The Chiemgauer, a Bavarian scrip, gains acceptance:

Austria's Tyrolean community of Wörgl launched a scheme based on [Gesell's] theories, in 1932, reputed to have slashed unemployment at the height of the Depression. It was watched by Keynes and Irving Fisher, who saw a fast-depreciating currency as a possible answer to the 1930s "liquidity trap".



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