Planning, Protectionism, and Politics in Liberal Italy: Economics and Politics in the Giolittian Age

By Frank J. Coppa | Go to book overview

Chapter II
INDUSTRIALIZATION AND ITS IMPACT ON ITALIAN LIFE

The neo-Marxist historical school has followed the lead of Vilfredo Pareto in stressing that the political system introduced at the turn of the century had its roots in the radical changes that were being wrought in the Italian economy. This economic transformation had created new classes and in the process had altered the nature of the contest for political power. Within this framework, Giovanni Giolitti was seen as the politician par excellence of the emerging industrial society, and it was maintained that his brand of transformism stemmed from the new exigencies of the economy.

There was some truth in these generalizations for the Italian economy did experience a profound transformation at the turn of the century. The change was in the direction of centralization, specialization, mechanization--in a word, industrialization. Slowly but surely Italy's economy began to move in the direction of the more progressive western nations. The economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron on the basis of the output of six industries has come to a number of conclusions about the industrialization of Italy. He has considered the period from 1888 to 1896, with a percentage change of .3, as one of stagnation; the period from 1896 to 1908, where the change was 6.7 percent, one of very rapid growth; and the period from 1908 to 1913, where the change was 2.4 percent, one of reduced growth. He designated the period from 1896 to 1908 as the time of Italy's great industrial push forward.1 There is sufficient evidence to corroborate this.

A good index of Italy's industrial progress was the rapid proliferation of industrial concerns during this time. Fifty years after unification provision was made for a census of factories and industrial enterprises in the peninsula.2 This report revealed a startling number of facts about Italy's economic progress. Whereas in 1861 the Kingdom had barely possessed some 9,000 industrial concerns, by 1903 this figure had risen to 117,000. The growth in the Giolittian period was even more striking, for in a short eleven years or by 1914, the number of concerns had more than doubled, reaching

____________________
1
Alexander Gerschenkron, "Notes on the Rate of Industrial Growth in Italy, 1881-1913," journal of Economic History, XV ( December, 1955), pp. 363-64.
2
This census was authorized by the law of May 8, 1910, n. 212.

-16-

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