Economy, work, production and wealth.
The 20th century was when Italians took a “giant leap forward”, leaving behind the poverty that had marked the lives of the overwhelming majority of the population in previous centuries. In the space of one hundred years, the goods and services available to the average Italian grew more than eightfold. This increase revolutionised every aspect of our private and social lives, something that had been unthinkable in 1900.
Factories were literally and figuratively the driving force behind growth and economic transformation in the 20th century. This section narrates how large companies were set up, the part the Italian State played in the industrialisation of the country and how industry was run: from the first factories where hundreds of men, women and children were needed to work the machinery, to today’s automated plants where technical staff and robots have replaced much of the traditional work force.
In 1861, the year of the Unification of Italy, 70% of Italians worked in farming. In the first eighty years after unification, the shift from an agricultural economy to an economy with industries and services was slow but steady. In the mid-1950s, the percentage of people employed in industry exceeded that of farming. Industry and services grew at the same pace until the Seventies and the advent of the “third industrial revolution”. All the economically advanced countries restructured their manufacturing systems. There was a boom in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the service industry took off: in 2011 almost 70% of the work force was employed in this sector. Industry, which had reached its zenith in 1970, accounting for 44% of the working population, fell to 27%.
In the 20th century, Italians gradually achieved a high standard of living: current lifestyles and levels of consumption are higher than those of the richest Italians one hundred years ago. This section highlights the impact the great changes in the economy and production had on everyday life and asks us to reflect on whether the level of prosperity we have achieved can be sustained in the future.
GDP, inflation, currency, welfare state, pensions… these are all words we use on a daily basis but which, in actual fact, we don’t know a lot about. This area explains the meaning of these words, and how the economic and welfare institutions we depend on were founded. It examines the language we hear on the news, explaining it in such a way that everyone, even children, can understand it. Then it retraces the various stages of the long journey that secured us safer lives and reliable networks to protect us.