Roberto Ghirardelli and Marco Lussetti
Italy, with its 57 million inhabitants, is, by population, the second-largest country in the European Economic Market. From the Alps in the north to the island of Sicily in the south, the Italian peninsula forms an almost-complete bridge across the Mediterranean Sea. This central position between North and South, East and West, has favored Italy in playing a central role in the development of ancient and modern Western civilizations from the Roman Empire to the fourteenth century. This is demonstrated by its artistic works, which represent, according to UNESCO, 30 percent of the world's treasures.
Despite the more than one hundred years that have passed since the unification of the country in 1861, the differences between the rich and industrialized North and the poor and agricultural South are still marked. In 1987 the North had an income per inhabitant of 874,000 lire ( U.S. $700), versus 579,000 lire ( U.S. $463) in the South; a lower unemployment rate (6.9 versus 20.6 percent); and a lower birth rate (7.6 versus 12.6 percent) ( Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali, 1989).
The Republic, born after the defeat of fascism, succeeded only by the late 1960s in overcoming "the great social problems and social tensions of the postwar period" ( Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali, 1989, p. 209) and allowing an open society to progressively replace a relatively closed one. In that period a welfare state was developed out of the "historical compromise" between the strong Communist Party and the Catholic church, which for centuries had controlled and managed schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations.
In the 1980s Italy had reached the level of one of the most advanced countries, competing with Britain "to become the fifth largest industrial nation of the