chapter  17
30 Pages

The economy and society under the Republic

As we have seen (§15.5), the Italian economy was in a dreadfulmess at the end of the war. There was only one thing to be said in its favour: things were almost bound to get better. And so they did, more rapidly than anyone expected. By the autumn of 1945 most of the main-line railway tracks and bridges were restored, and trains were moving regularly again. Moreover, it turned out that the wartime destruction could have been a lot worse. Iron, steel and shipbuilding had been badly hit, but most hydro-electric plants were intact, and so was most industrial machinery. Factories were soon able to resume production, if they could acquire fuel and raw materials, and here American aid proved invaluable. Italy received $2,200 million of aid, cheap loans, etc., between 1943 and 1948, mainly in the form of food and fuel; and Marshall Aid contributed another $1,500 million in the following four years. The State-owned banks, the State itself, and the relief organizations were all able to grant credit cheaply and readily in 1946-47, and there was no lack of borrowers. Those who owned land or machinery were anxious to expand their businesses, for they knew that there would be no problem in selling goods – any goods were better than cash, in those days of shortages, political uncertainty and high inflation. So the ‘real economy’ revived quickly. By 1948 manufacturing industry was back to pre-war levels of production. By 1950 the same was true of agriculture, and of income per head – admittedly at only $290.