Economic Miracle

   By 1963, Italy had ceased to be a primarily agricultural country and became a modern industrial state. Between 1950 and 1970, income per capita in Italy grew faster (on average over 6 percent per year) than any other major European country and had arrived at 80 percent of British levels by 1970. Between unification in 1861 and the end of the 1930s, real per capita income in Italy grew by just one-third. Between 1946 and 1963, the years of fastest growth, it doubled. Used to grinding poverty, Italians could only regard this sudden enrichment as miraculous, although, in truth, they had earned it by their own hard work.
   Industrially, Italian economic growth was guided by the big private and public corporations. FIAT established itself as a mass manufacturer of automobiles, expanding production from a prewar high of 78,000 vehicles in 1938 to more than a million in 1963. The Italian state steel company, Finsider, under the guidance of Oscar Singaglia, became one of the largest and most innovative manufacturers of finished steel products in the world. ENI, the oil and gas business headed by Enrico Mattei, gave Italian firms a cheap and plentiful source of fuel. Smaller producers of consumer goods, particularly domestic appliances and textiles, did their share; Italy became one of the world’s largest producers of so-called white goods in those years. The chief market was Europe. The creation of the European Economic Community in 1958 opened the markets of northern Europe for the nimble and relatively cheap entrepreneurs of northern Italy, and they took full advantage of the opportunity. Exports grew even faster (approximately 10 percent per year on average) than the economy as a whole, and over 90 percent of sales abroad were in industrial merchandise rather than raw materials or services. Today, more than 70 percent of Italy’s exports are to other members of the European Union (EU). Italy, in short, had become a country that made and sold goods as well as thriving on service sector activities such as tourism. By 1961, nearly 40 percent of the working population was employed in manufacturing and less than 30 percent in agriculture, a historic change from the over 60 percent who had hitherto worked the fields. Between 1958 and 1963, the peak years of the “miracle,” nearly one million southerners moved north, mostly to Turin and Milan, and many hundreds of thousands immigrated to Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United States. But the phenomenon was not limited to the South; the region that lost the largest proportion of its inhabitants to migration was Venetia, whose rural population headed in the thousands to the fatter wage packets provided by the industrial cities of Lombardy. These demographic shifts led to an unprecedented construction boom, during which the outskirts of all of Italy’s big cities became disfigured by housing projects hastily thrown up to provide the migrants with apartments. An unforeseen by-product was an upheaval in social mores. Freed from rural traditions, with money in their pockets for the first time, Italians of all classes began to experiment with more liberal sexual conduct, while church attendance declined. The diffusion of television contributed to altering the traditionally communal Italian way of life. Instead of sitting outside in the piazze, Italians—like the newly rich citizens of other European countries—became increasingly prone to entertain themselves in front of the flickering screen: More than half of all Italian families had a TV set by 1965.
   These economic and social changes left their mark on Italian culture. The disquiet felt by many intellectuals is captured in Federico Fellini’s 1957 film La Dolce Vita, while the disorientation of the southern migrants is the theme of Luchino Visconti’s moving Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers, 1960).

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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