Horse Sense

Mario Belotti says his future opened when his grandfather closed a sale.

Horse sense serves an economist well—as does the ability to crunch numbers and see the big picture. Mario Belotti has offered all that to Santa Clara students since 1959. His annual economic forecast began drawing rapt audiences a decade later. Now this revered expert in macroeconomic theory, monetary theory and policy, and economic development tells his personal story.

It Was All for the Love of a Horse (Liber Apertus Press) is the title Belotti gives his autobiography. There is the journey from poverty in rural Italy—where grape harvests were a time of great labor but great joy: “They all started to forget how hard they had to work for a meager return.” There is his arrival in America: “My first meal at Ellis Island was a total disaster.” (Bread—white sandwich stuff; coffee—undrinkable.) There is the inaugural dinner party Rose and Mario Belotti organized for graduating economics majors—“lasagna, chicken teriyaki, bean salad …” It’s a ritual that generations have now savored. And there are stints as pizza maker and cowboy. Why the title? Here’s an excerpt that explains it:

Like almost every family in the town, my family worked the land on a sharecropping contract. We also raised silkworms, and we killed the family pig, rabbits, chickens, and geese in the courtyard. Our farmhouse, like all the others in town, did not have drinking water, nor electricity, nor a heating system.

The way I escaped the sharecropping trap was all due to a horse. The town where my mother brought me to light offered only a third-grade education. At that time, the government required children to finish the third grade or be eight years of age. After that it was almost impossible for children in the town to continue their education, and so they helped the family take care of the courtyard animals or found a job helping other families who needed an extra hand.

I was very lucky. While I was in the third grade, my grandfather sold our horse. My father really loved that horse, and so he moved us out of the farmhouse to another small town that had a fourth grade. A year later, my father found a job in a steel plant, and we moved to another town that had a fifth grade. We were now close to a big city where I could attend junior high and high school.

My father did not leave the town where I was born in order to give me a higher level of education; he himself had only a second-grade education. He moved because of his love for a horse. From then on, all my education was due to that horse.


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post-image Behind the wheel: Today, Mario Belotti is W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Economics in the Leavey School of Business. In 1954, the young professor was a proud owner of a 1946 Pontiac. Photo courtesy Mario Belotti.
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