Italian economic miracle

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Downtown Milan in the 1960s. Milano, Centro Direzionale 01.jpg
Downtown Milan in the 1960s.

The Italian economic miracle or the Italian economic boom (Italian : il miracolo economico, or boom economico) is the term used by historians, economists and the mass media [1] to designate the prolonged period of strong economic growth in Italy after the Second World War from the 1950s to the late 1960s, and in particular the years from 1950 to 1963. [2] This phase of Italian history represented not only a cornerstone in the economic and social development of the country—which was transformed from a poor, mainly rural, nation into a global industrial power—but also a period of momentous change in Italian society and culture. [3] As summed up by one historian, by the end of the 1970s, "social security coverage had been made comprehensive and relatively generous. The material standard of living had vastly improved for the great majority of the population." [4]

Italian language Romance language

Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire and, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to it of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a protected language in these countries. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian and other regional languages.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps and surrounded by several islands. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and traversed along its length by the Apennines, Italy has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. The country covers a total area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi), and land area of 294,140 km2 (113,570 sq mi), and shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.



One of a number of posters created to promote the Marshall Plan in Europe. Marshall Plan poster.JPG
One of a number of posters created to promote the Marshall Plan in Europe.

After the end of World War II, Italy was in ruins and occupied by foreign armies, a condition that worsened the chronic development gap towards the more advanced European economies. However, the new geopolitical logic of the Cold War made possible that the former enemy Italy, a hinge-country between Western Europe and the Mediterranean, and now a new, fragile democracy threatened by the proximity of the Iron Curtain and the presence of a strong Communist party, [5] was considered by the USA as an important ally for the Free World, and therefore a recipient of the generous aid provided by the Marshall Plan, receiving $1.5 billion from 1948 to 1952. The end of the Plan, that could have stopped the recovery, coincided with the crucial point of the Korea War (1950–1953), whose demand for metal and other manufactured products was a further stimulus to the growth of every kind of industry in Italy. In addition, the creation in 1957 of the European Common Market, of which Italy was among the founder members, provided more investments and eased exports.

Cold War Geopolitical tension after World War II between the Eastern and Western Bloc

The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. The historiography of the conflict began between 1946 and 1947. The Cold War began to de-escalate after the Revolutions of 1989. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 was the end of the Cold War. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany and its allies, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.

Western Europe region comprising the westerly countries of Europe

Western Europe is the region comprising the western part of Europe. Though the term Western Europe is commonly used, there is no commonly agreed-upon definition of the countries that it encompasses.

Mediterranean Sea Sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean between Europe, Africa and Asia

The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Southern Europe and Anatolia, on the south by North Africa and on the east by the Levant. Although the sea is sometimes considered a part of the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually referred to as a separate body of water. Geological evidence indicates that around 5.9 million years ago, the Mediterranean was cut off from the Atlantic and was partly or completely desiccated over a period of some 600,000 years before being refilled by the Zanclean flood about 5.3 million years ago.

A Lettera 22 typewriter by Olivetti. Macchina per scrivere a martelletti portacaratteri - Museo scienza tecnologia Milano 10949 01.jpg
A Lettera 22 typewriter by Olivetti.

The above-mentioned highly favorable historical backgrounds, combined with the presence of a large and cheap stock of labour force, laid the foundations of a spectacular economic growth. The boom lasted almost uninterrupted until the "Hot Autumn's" massive strikes and social unrest of 1969–1970, that combined with the later 1973 oil crisis, gradually cooled the economy, which has never returned to its heady post-war growth rates. The Italian economy experienced an average rate of growth of GDP of 5.8% per year between 1951 and 1963, and 5.0% per year between 1964 and 1973. [6] Italian rates of growth were second only, but very close, to the German rates, in Europe, and among the OEEC countries only Japan had been doing better. [7] In 1963, US President John F. Kennedy personally praised Italy's extraordinary economic growth at an official dinner with Italian President Antonio Segni in Rome, stating that "the growth of [...] nation's economy, industry, and living standards in the postwar years has truly been phenomenal. A nation once literally in ruins, beset by heavy unemployment and inflation, has expanded its output and assets, stabilized its costs and currency, and created new jobs and new industries at a rate unmatched in the Western world". [8]

The Hot Autumn of 1969–70 is a term used for a series of large strikes in factories and industrial centers of Northern Italy, in which workers demanded better pay and better conditions. In 1969 and 1970 there were over 440 hours of strikes in the region. The decrease in the flow of labour migration from Southern Italy had resulted in nearly full employment levels in the northern part of the country, meaning that the workforce there now had the leverage to start flexing its muscles.

The 1973 oil crisis began in October 1973 when the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil embargo. The embargo was targeted at nations perceived as supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The initial nations targeted were Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States with the embargo also later extended to Portugal, Rhodesia and South Africa. By the end of the embargo in March 1974, the price of oil had risen nearly 400%, from US$3 per barrel to nearly $12 globally; US prices were significantly higher. The embargo caused an oil crisis, or "shock", with many short- and long-term effects on global politics and the global economy. It was later called the "first oil shock", followed by the 1979 oil crisis, termed the "second oil shock".

Gross domestic product market value of goods and services produced within a country

Gross domestic products (GDP) is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period, often annually. GDP (nominal) per capita does not, however, reflect differences in the cost of living and the inflation rates of the countries; therefore using a basis of GDP per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) is arguably more useful when comparing differences in living standards between nations.

Society and culture

The Fiat 500, launched in 1957, is considered a symbol of Italy's economic miracle. 1962 Fiat 500 -- 2012 DC 2.JPG
The Fiat 500, launched in 1957, is considered a symbol of Italy's economic miracle.

The impact of the economic miracle on Italian society was huge. Fast economic expansion induced massive inflows of migrants from rural Southern Italy to the industrial cities of the North. Emigration was especially directed to the factories of the so-called "industrial triangle", the region placed between the major manufacturing centres of Milan and Turin and the seaport of Genoa. Between 1955 and 1971, around 9 million people are estimated to have been involved in inter-regional migrations in Italy, uprooting entire communities and creating large metropolitan areas. [10]

Milan Italian city

Milan is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the second-most populous city in Italy after Rome, with the city proper having a population of 1,395,274 while its metropolitan city has a population of 3,255,773. Its continuously built-up urban area has a population estimated to be about 5,270,000 over 1,891 square kilometres. The wider Milan metropolitan area, known as Greater Milan, is a polycentric metropolitan region that extends over central Lombardy and eastern Piedmont and which counts an estimated total population of 7.5 million, making it by far the largest metropolitan area in Italy and the 54th largest in the world. Milan served as capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 402 and the Duchy of Milan during the medieval period and early modern age.

Turin Comune in Piedmont, Italy

Turin is a city and an important business and cultural centre in northern Italy. It is the capital city of Piedmont and of the Metropolitan City of Turin, and was the first Italian capital from 1861 to 1865. The city is located mainly on the western bank of the Po River, in front of Susa Valley, and is surrounded by the western Alpine arch and Superga Hill. The population of the city proper is 875,698 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat to be 1.7 million inhabitants. The Turin metropolitan area is estimated by the OECD to have a population of 2.2 million.

Genoa Comune in Liguria, Italy

Genoa is the capital of the Italian region of Liguria and the sixth-largest city in Italy. In 2015, 594,733 people lived within the city's administrative limits. As of the 2011 Italian census, the Province of Genoa, which in 2015 became the Metropolitan City of Genoa, counted 855,834 resident persons. Over 1.5 million people live in the wider metropolitan area stretching along the Italian Riviera.

The needs of a modernizing economy and society created a great demand for new transport and energy infrastructures. Thousands of miles of railways and highways were completed in record times to connect the main urban areas, while dams and power plants were built all over Italy, often without regard for geological and environmental conditions. A concomitant boom of the real estate market, increasingly under pressure by strong demographic growth and internal migrations, led to the explosion of urban areas. Vast neighborhoods of low-income apartments and social housing were built in the outskirts of many cities, leading over the years to severe problems of congestion, urban decay and street violence. The natural environment was constantly under strain by unregulated industrial expansion, leading to widespread air and water pollution and ecological disasters like the Vajont Dam disaster and the Seveso chemical accident, until a green consciousness developed starting from the 1980s.

Urban decay Sociological process affecting cities

Urban decay is the sociological process by which a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude. It may feature deindustrialization, depopulation or deurbanization, economic restructuring, abandoned buildings and infrastructure, high local unemployment, fragmented families, political disenfranchisement, crime, and a desolate cityscape, known as greyfield or urban prairie. Since the 1970s and 1980s, urban decay has been associated with Western cities, especially in North America and parts of Europe. Since then, major structural changes in global economies, transportation, and government policy created the economic and then the social conditions resulting in urban decay.

Vajont Dam dam in Italy

The Vajont Dam is a disused dam, completed in 1959 in the valley of the Vajont River under Monte Toc, in the municipality of Erto and Casso, 100 km north of Venice, Italy. One of the tallest dams in the world, it is 262 metres (860 ft) high, 27 metres (89 ft) wide and 22.11 metres thick at the base and 191 metres (627 ft) wide and 3.4 metres thick at the top.

The Seveso disaster was an industrial accident that occurred around 12:37 pm on July 10, 1976, in a small chemical manufacturing plant approximately 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Milan in the Lombardy region of Italy. It resulted in the highest known exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in residential populations, which gave rise to numerous scientific studies and standardized industrial safety regulations. The EU industrial safety regulations are known as the Seveso II Directive.

At the same time, the doubling of Italian GDP between 1950 and 1962 [11] had a massive impact on society and culture. Italian society, largely rural and excluded from the benefits of modern economy during the first half of the century, was suddenly flooded with a huge variety of cheap consumer goods, such as automobiles, televisions and washing machines. From 1951 to 1971, average per capita income in real terms trebled, a trend accompanied by significant improvements in consumption patterns and living conditions. In 1955, for instance, only 3% of households owned refrigerators and 1% washing machines, while by 1975 the respective figures were 94% and 76%. In addition, 66% of all homes had come to possess cars. [12] In 1954 the national public broadcasting RAI began a regular television service.


The pervasive influence of the mass media and consumerism on society in Italy has often been fiercely criticized by intellectuals like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luciano Bianciardi, who denounced it as a sneaky form of homologation and cultural decay. Popular movies like The Easy Life (1962) and I Mostri (1963) by Dino Risi, Il Boom (1963) by Vittorio De Sica and We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974) by Ettore Scola all stigmatized selfishness and immorality that characterized the miracle's roaring years.

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  1. Life, November 24, 1967 (p.48)
  2. Nicholas Crafts, Gianni Toniolo (1996). Economic growth in Europe since 1945. Cambridge University Press. p. 441. ISBN   0-521-49627-6.
  3. David Forgacs, Stephen Gundle (2007). Mass culture and Italian society from fascism to the Cold War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN   978-0-253-21948-0.
  4. Italy, a difficult democracy: a survey of Italian politics by Frederic Spotts and Theodor Wieser
  5. Michael J. Hogan (1987). The Marshall Plan: America, Britain, and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947–1952. Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN   0-521-37840-0.
  6. Nicholas Crafts, Gianni Toniolo (1996). Economic growth in Europe since 1945. Cambridge University Press. p. 428. ISBN   0-521-49627-6.
  7. Ennio Di Nolfo (1992). Power in Europe? II: Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, and the Origins of the EEC 1952–57. Berlin: de Gruyter. p. 198. ISBN   3-11-012158-1.
  8. Kennedy, John F. (July 1, 1963). Peters, Gerhard; Woolley, John T. (eds.). "290 - Remarks at a Dinner Given in His Honor by President Segni". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  9. Tagliabue, John (11 August 2007). "Italian Pride Is Revived in a Tiny Fiat". The New York Times . Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  10. Paul Ginsborg (2003). A history of contemporary Italy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 219. ISBN   1-4039-6153-0.
  11. Kitty Calavita (2005). Immigrants at the margins. Law, race and exclusion in Southern Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 53. ISBN   0521846633.
  12. Poverty and Inequality in Common Market Countries edited by Victor George and Roger Lawson

Further reading