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The BI Business History Seminar

Understanding the historical roots of the Italian paradox. A G8 industrialized economy based on SMEs?

Understanding the historical roots of the Italian paradox.
A G8 industrialized economy based on SMEs?

Stefano Agnoletto (Visiting scholar BI)

Comments by Rolv Petter Amdam (BI) and Elisabetta Cassina Wolff (University of Oslo)


[The seminar is held in in cooperation with the Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI) and The Institute for the History of Contemporary Age (Fondazione ISEC).

Italian industry is an undoubted example of success. Italy is a leading country in world trade and exports. "Made in Italy" is a brand of enormous global success, and Italy is still today the eighth-largest national economy by nominal GDP in the world. Moreover, it enjoys a very high standard of living.

Although these achievements are generally recognised, at the same time the Italian economy is also characterised by some peculiarities, which are often described as indicators of structural weaknesses. For example, issues such as the North/South territorial dualism, widespread precariousness and undocumented jobs in the labour market, or the impact of corruption and tax evasion are critical elements of the Italian model.

One topic in particular has assumed great importance both in the public debate and in academic research: the structural weakness (absence and/or disappearance) of some strategic industrial sectors, and the predominant role played by small and medium companies and by the so-called industrial districts.

Although the downsizing of Italian industries is not always considered bad in itself (it can also mean flexibility, greater ability to react to market stimuli, fewer organisational diseconomies, etc.), and the network economy of industrial districts is also a successful model, the structural lack of a large industrial system is recognised as a peculiar fact for a founding member country of the G7 / G8 group.

This seminar proposes a path in search of the roots of Italian industrialisation, starting from the Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth / early twentieth century, and later proposing an analysis of the impact of WW1, the Fascist period, the Economic Miracle of the Fifties and Sixties, the restructuring of the last few decades, and finally the impact of COVID. Ideas and interpretations to understand the specificities of the Italian paradox will be elaborated and discussed. The lecture will be enriched with original documents, many of them from the Fondazione ISEC archive.

Practical information

  • Time:Thursday, 27 May 2021 12:00 - 15:00
  • Place:Digital on Zoom
  • Price:Free
  • Contact:Espen Ekberg (Espen.Ekberg@bi.no)