Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

Autarky, the highest stage of protectionism? Theoretical arguments supporting Italian autarky in the 1930s

Bientinesi Fabrizio, University of Pisa

In the beginning, the fascist movement stressed its support for free-trade and for the night-watchman state. Nevertheless, during the 1920s some measures, such as the reintroduction of grain duty, marked an initial departure. With the onset of the Great Depression, the fascist regime responded, like many other countries, with a crescendo of protectionist measures. However, the hypothesis of isolating the domestic market - autarchy - was not even considered: Italy was a country that was poor in raw materials and very exposed to retaliatory measures. Exemplary in this sense were the negative considerations developed by an economist as close to the regime as Gino Arias (Arias 1932). The change came with the invasion of Ethiopia and the resulting sanctions, which showed very clearly the dependence of the Italian economic system on foreign trade. The choice of renouncing imports to the greatest possible extent thus became obligatory and was also an opportunity to fill the 'empty container' of corporatism with content (Franck 1990). After the oath imposed on academics, openly disagreeing with the regime's choices was impossible. Italian economists thus found themselves justifying the autarkic choice ex post facto. Although these were not ideal conditions for developing a scientific debate, some interesting considerations emerged. Alongside those that recalled established arguments, such as Smith's preference for defense over opulence (Mazzei 1935), new arguments were also addressed. There were in fact those who, recalling Keynes’ positions, argued the possibility of using autarkic policies to stabilize the business cycle (Fossati 1939) and to increase the share of wages, and thus consumption, in the national product (Fasiani 1938). Others argued that autarchy could be used to improve the terms of trade by reducing inelastic-demand imports and to foster development through substantial import-substitution industralization (Arena 1940). On the whole, autarky provided an opportunity, albeit within rather tight constraints, to give rise to a varied debate that anticipated in some respects the later theories à la Prebisch-Singer. References Arena. Celestino (1940), “Principio nazionale corporativo autarchico dell’economia e della distribuzione di ricchezza” in Autarchia. Atti del II° convegno nazionale di studi autarchici, Milano 1940-XVIII, Varese-Milano, Industrie grafiche A. Nicola, pp. 75-93 Arias. Gino (1932), “Cronache economico-finanziarie. La crisi e le prospettive economiche”, Gerarchia, aprile, pp. 347-353 Fasiani. Mauro (1938), «Annali di statistica e di economia», della R. Università di Genova, Padova, Cedam, 1939, pagg. 3-52 Fossati. Antonio (1940), “Carattere, oggetti e soggetti del commercio di importazione ed esportazione in regime di autarchia”, Autarchia. Atti del II° convegno nazionale di studi autarchici, Milano 1940-XVIII, Varese-Milano, Industrie grafiche A. Nicola, pp. 43-62 Franck. Louis (1990), “Ricordi”, in Id., Il corporativismo e

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Autarky, Fascism, Italia Economic Thought

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