Italy Economy and Finance – The Postwar Period Part 2

An initial start of productive recovery was observed in 1946 and was accompanied by an attempt to tackle, in a less empirical way, the vast problems of reconstruction, social assistance, the financial structure, and to give order to the state device, but the inflationary continued to manifest itself in a worrying way. This situation characterized the first post-war period, which can be said to be limited from the date of May-June 1947. In fact, in mid-1947, production had slowly risen (agricultural to 81% and industrial to 87% in 1938) ; internal traffic resumed (in the first half of 1947 the goods loaded had more than doubled compared to 1945 and reached the level of 1938); exchanges with foreign countries, driven in large part by imports made on international aid programs and, on export, by the normal post-war expansion of world demand for textiles, they began to be less modest, although far removed from pre-war ones; the material level of existence of the Italians gradually improved; but the conditions of the state budget and of the balance of payments gave rise to the most serious apprehensions, which had repercussions in an increasing level of prices and in a continuous contraction of the external value of the lira. Italy’s economic policy remained in the “day to day” empiricism and concerns about the end of UNRRA aid offered greater uncertainty to an already perplexed and occasional dirigisme.

In June 1947, two facts helped to revive confidence: H. Marshall’s speech at Harvard (SU), which heralded an aid plan for Europe, and the attribution to Luigi Einaudi of the direction of Italian economic policy. From that date, a new economic phase began which was characterized by attempts to reverse the inflationary trend underway and to start the currency and internal prices towards relative stability. In 1948 and early 1949, this stability – after a period of falling prices (last quarter 1947) – was ensured. The sacrifice and effort to which the Italians underwent were considerable, but they would have been much more serious, and perhaps unbearable, had they not coincided with the application of the ERP, the concrete realization of Marshall’s proposals (v.plan, in this Appendix).

According to TOPMBADIRECTORY.COM, the qualitative and quantitative credit restrictions of September 1947, as well as the government’s firm intention to crush the ongoing inflationary process, reversed the situation. The index number of the share price, which rose in August 1947 to a maximum of 24 times the level of 1938, collapsed in October to 16 times and continued to decrease more slowly until February 1948; and so too wholesale prices begin to decline and the deflationary process is accentuated by the forced liquidation of speculative stocks that had characterized the previous inflationary period, but not without immediate consequences on the level of production and on the propensity to invest. The wholesale price index, which had reached its maximum in September 1947 (62 times that of 1938), contracted sharply in the following quarter, then fluctuated between 52 and 58 times until March 1949, while the cost of living indices stabilized around 50 times. Real wages benefited from this, since nominal average wages in industry remained at 51-54 times during 1948 and those in agriculture at 54-57 times compared to 1938. Meanwhile, external aid of an extraordinary nature allowed to settle the balance of payments – which, due to the almost total cancellation of invisible items and the inevitable increase in the traditional trade deficit, was deeply unbalanced.

Unofficial and non-definitive valuations, carried out in dollars because the instability of the monetary situation did not allow estimates in national currency, caused the estimated total need for imports, including transport, to rise to 1.6 billion dollars for 1946 against a volume of ordinary income not exceeding 300 million. In practice, the development of imports was limited by the limited supply possibilities of international markets and by the shortage of currencies, especially dollars, while exports exceeded expectations. The balance of payments of 1946 therefore closed with expenditure of 1,097 million dollars, covered with current revenues of 422 million dollars (372 million deriving from exports and 50 million from invisible items) and with contribution of 675 million in extraordinary income (UNRRA, 380 million; troop pay fund, 150 million; residual aid from the Federal Economic Administration, FEA, 60 million; accounts released by the United States, 60 million; Export-Import Bank loan for the cotton industry, 25 million). The situation was no less serious for 1947 and in the final balance the current balance of payments for this year closed with expenditure for 1568 million dollars and revenues for 774 million dollars, with a total deficit of the order of 794 million., covered with free aid for 282 million dollars (UNRRA, 161; AUSA, 88; various donations, 33), with 220.5 million dollars in credits from the American government (pays troops and various supplies), with loans to long term from the United States for 50.

In 1948, the total current account deficit, originally projected on the order of magnitude of 1947, fell to about $ 400 million, due to the combined effect of the improved rate of exports and the lack of development of imports, linked to the slowness of the resumption and perplexity of initiatives based on political and social circumstances (in particular the expectation of the outcome of the elections). The deficit was largely offset by ERP aid in the threefold form of: grants in goods, which are part of a general program of Italian needs; loans (loans) in dollars for the purchase of goods, including those covered by the program; gifts in conditional goods (conditional grants) to equivalent exports, without counterparts, made by Italy to other countries adhering to the ERP, whose balances of payments are in debt. Imports financed by American aid – which represent a significant part of the total foreign purchases (about 40% in the financial year 1948-49) – are placed on the domestic market with systems equal to those used for normal financed imports. with monetary means earned by Italy. Only they are subjected to special checks and accounting since the private buyer pays the value in lire (corresponding to the cost in dollars plus transport) to the Italian government, which – on the basis of the economic cooperation agreement.

While as regards the internal and external value of the lira it can be considered that 1948 marked a considerable consolidation of the situation and that the danger of a collapse of the currency has been overcome, not so favorable conclusions can be drawn about the productive effort made. This effort, although growing, has not yet brought Italian production back to the pre-war level. The indices of agricultural and industrial production in fact rose to 87% and 95% respectively in 1948 compared to the levels of 1938 and the national income is estimated at between 90 and 95%.

Italy Economy and Finance - The Postwar Period 2