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

By Frank J. Coppa | Go to book overview

Chapter V
GIOLITTI'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM

As a politician par excellence, political considerations almost always played a major role in the determination of Giolitti's policy. In this respect, his opposition was quite right in observing that his emphasis on economic problems was eminently political rather than technical. This, in and of itself, was not culpable, but his critics made it appear so because they interpreted political in terms of the preservation of his own personal power.

Giolitti like every other figure in government was somewhat anxious to retain office, but it is uncertain that all his actions were geared to that end. If such were the case, if his economic program was but another means to stay in power, then Giolitti may have been an outstanding politician, but was clearly not a statesman. This matter, in fact, lies at the core of the controversy over Giolitti. Even his most bitter enemies admitted that he was an eminent politician and gauged his success by the length of his term in office. Giolitti's friends insisted that he was a statesman as well as a politician.

In light of this conflict, it is not surprising that some interpreted Giolitti's concessions to industry, his program of public works and vast government spending, and practically his entire economic program in terms of a desire to purchase support and retain power. This viewpoint was in line with the fulminations of the theorists and provided ammunition for the free-trade and southern schools. Still, the validity of this approach is questionable.

There are numerous indications that Giolitti's economic policies were determined by the same sense of state that governed much of his other action. An examination of his economic thought illustrates its striking similarity to that of certain figures of the old right, who had to a very high degree, a sense of the importance of the state. In particular, Giolitti's economic program like his commercial policy bears a great resemblance to the position assumed by Sella.

It is usually recalled that Quintino Sella was the Finance Minister who was determined to balance the budget and introduced a series of stringent taxes to do so. What is oftentimes forgotten is that this same figure did not begrudge increasing expenses for public works, and the formation of the infrastructure of the State. He was pro

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