On the irrelevance of theory: the analysis ofwages in italy, 1890-1900 - The essay deals with the Italian economists’ debate on wages at the time of the advent of trade unions. This new fact altered the wage level and prompted Italian economists’ to reconsider the principles and circumstances shaping wages. It is argued that abstract economic theory such as Pareto’s and Pantaleoni’s exerted little influence over the ongoing public debate. Yet economists of less abstract leanings that is, inspired by Marshall or Schmöller rather than Walras played a crucial role by disseminating among the public the ideas and experiences current in more developed countries and in Britain in particular. As usual in second comer countries, economists came to embody ‘modernity’, although the relatively backward social and political situation of Italy made imitation impossible in practice (e.g. paying the high wages recommended by Brassey, Brentano, and others). JEL classification: B13, B15, J58. Keywords: wage; trade unions; Pareto; historical school.