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date: 16 December 2019

(p. xi) Foreword

(p. xi) Foreword

In 2011 Italy celebrated the 150th anniversary of the unification of the peninsula, previously composed of seven states, into a single Kingdom of Italy.

In 1893, after three decades marked by the coexistence of six issuing banks, the Bank of Italy was established as the country’s central bank. From its creation onwards, the Bank played a key role in promoting Italy’s economic development and, at times, its modernization. It is therefore not surprising that it chose to join in the celebrations by organizing an exhibition on the monetary unification of the country and by promoting an international research project on “Italy and the World Economy, 1861–2011”. The aim of the project was to enhance the understanding of Italy’s long-term economic growth. Contributors to the research included internationally prominent economists and economic historians, Italian scholars, and members of the Bank’s research departments. Preliminary results were discussed at a workshop held in Perugia in December 2010; revised papers were presented at a Conference held in Rome in October 2011 and, with further revisions, they are now published in the present volume, a true handbook of the quantitative economic history of Italy.

Since its unification in 1861, Italy has been one of the ten largest economies in the world. However, the features of its “modern economic growth” are less internationally known than those of other countries of similar or lesser size. We trust that this book will help to bridge the knowledge gap concerning Italy’s long-term economic development.

A latecomer to modern industrialization, in 1861 Italy was a backward country at the periphery of Europe’s industrial revolution. In the first three decades after unification the new Kingdom had to win the trust and respect of its neighbours, while at the same time creating new institutions and a single currency, and slowly unifying the domestic market. From the late nineteenth century onwards, the Italian economy largely converged on those of the most advanced European countries, with which it became increasingly integrated. There are several reasons why this process of convergence should be of interest to anyone curious about both the general pattern and the specifically Italian features of modern economic growth. Among the latter, scores of scholars have emphasized the vitality of Italy’s small and medium-sized enterprises, capitalizing on a secular tradition of widespread craftsmanship, the peculiar institution of formal and informal industrial districts, and the important role played by state-owned enterprises in promoting technical transfer, innovation, and managerial culture. On the negative side, a much studied peculiarity of the Italian economy is the (p. xii) stubborn persistence of the most pronounced case of regional income inequality in Europe, the North-South divide.

Perhaps the most important reason why Italy’s economic history since unification is of interest, both inside and outside the country, lies in the economic link between Italy and the rest of Europe, which became increasingly tight with the passing of time. Italy’s economic growth could not have been as successful as it was in the absence of the progressive integration of the country with the rest of the continent. When, in the 1930s, autarky tried to shield Italy from its natural markets and competitors, the economy suffered a serious setback. At the same time, the sheer size of the Italian economy, together with its rapid growth, had a considerable impact on the overall development of Western Europe, an impact that has often been overlooked by scholars and policy makers alike.

Immediately after the end of the Second World War, in the most desperate political, social, and economic conditions experienced in the last 150 years, Italy chose to link its future to that of its European neighbours. It was not an easy choice. It required both courage and vision on the part of the country’s leaders. The European choice strengthened the re-established democracy, which in turn fostered both economic growth and further European integration. The participation of Italy, as a founding member, in the European Economic Community (later the European Union) had a lasting influence on the culture, the society, and the political evolution of the country, an influence that went far beyond the positive impact of economic integration on Italy’s economic development. For their part Italy’s European partners benefited not only from stronger interrelations with a large growing economy but also from the contribution of Italy’s centuries’ old civilization to the building of Europe.

As in the past, the commitment to a Union of stability and growth is still the answer to the challenges of the difficult period we are currently facing.

Mario Draghi (President of the European Central Bank

and former Governor of Banca d'Italia) and

Ignazio Visco (Governor of Banca d'Italia).

Frankfurt am Main and Rome, September 2012