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Census of Population – Sulphur and Shipbuilding Questions

Tipologia: Paragrafo/Articolo – Data pubblicazione: 07/10/1922

Census of Population – Sulphur and Shipbuilding Questions

«The Economist»,7 ottobre 1922, pp. 586-587




Turin, September 30



The Central Department of Statistics publishes the final results of the Census taken on December 1, 1921. Population statistics at various dates are as follows:





Average Annual

Increase per 1,000

Inhabitants per

Square Kilometre













1862 (January 1)




1901 (February 10)




1911 (June 10)




1921 (Dec. 1), old territory



Territory with the new provinces





The war and the influenza epidemic have not left very marked traces on the Italian population; the growth between 1911 and 1921 is not appreciably lower than the average of the best periods of the past. The density of population per square kilometre is increasing fast, and is a most potent cause of emigration in an agricultural country like Italy, which is not capable of absorbing the annual surplus of births over deaths.



In the new provinces acquired from Austrian Empire the population decreased between the two last censuses from 1,592,278 to 1,559,203 (2.08 per cent.), but the decrease is very easily explained as a consequence of the war.



Two problems are being keenly discussed at present – sulphur and shipyards. Interested circles petitioned the Government with the object of obtaining Royal decrees in favour of these industries, which are said to be gravely hit by the economic crisis. Sicilian sulphur is not freely sold. All producers are obliged to consign sulphur to a compulsory Consortium, which fixes prices and advances immediately a provisional sum, settling accounts every year. At the end of 1921 the official price was 750 lire per ton, and the provisional advance 500 lire. Producers hoped that the residual 250 lire would be paid in due time, subject to a deduction of 90 lire for taxes and Consortium expenses. But for the whole of 1922 sales have been much restricted. The Louisiana producers are underselling Sicilian sulphur, and the menace is growing, thanks to better situation and better appliances of American sulphur mines. Stocks of 270,000 tons had been accumulated by the Consortium at April 30, 1922, and this stock, though now somewhat reduced, is obstructing the sale of new sulphur. The Consortium had continued up to September to accept new sulphur, making advances on it by means of funds accumulated in the past and of loans from the issue banks. But now banks have refused to go on with new loans; the Consortium in their turn had to stop advances on new sulphur, and producers, who cannot sell to the public, are obliged to stop production. To avert unemployment the Government has been persuaded to recommend to Parliament a Bill for a State guarantee of a loan of 120 millions lire, with which the Consortium would start a sort of sulphur-valorisation scheme. The old stock of 200,000 tons would be put aside and left unsold until better times and better prices.



The production would go on, and the Consortium, free from the care of the old stock, would endeavour to sell only the new production. The affair is a wild gamble on the continuance of the present high foreign exchange rate and on the probability of a pool with American producers. If the lira improves and American competition becomes keener, internal prices would tumble down and the bubble explode. The Chamber, however, has voted the Bill, which is awaiting discussion in the Senate. During the recess producers, growing impatient, have petitioned Government to sanction the State guarantee of the 120 millions loan by means of a Royal decree. Ministers and Under-Secretaries of State backed this unconstitutional request, the acceptance of which would cancel Parliamentary control of public money. In the face of a vigorous newspaper campaign started against the abuse of Royal decrees, the Government have not dared to issue the decrees.



Another decree, which is from time to time mooted in the public Press, is one which would aim at giving orders for from 35 to steamers for goods and passenger service in the State-subsidised lines. In pre-war times Italy possessed 10 private shipyards capable of turning out 80,000 gross tons annually. They should have had plenty of work, for, as the mercantile fleet was 1,500,000 tons, the demand of new ships should have been greater than the production. But shipowners did not renew the fleet in the rational proportion of 1/15 every year; moreover, they preferred to buy old ships sold in foreign markets or to order more cheaply in foreign shipyards. The normal national production was limited to a few tens of thousands of tons. Practically the only shipyards which were sometimes busy with work were the Ligurian ones.



The war changed things. In 1918, and in the two years after the Armistice, shipbuilders screamed for Government aid, obtained it, and sank in the improvement of old and the building of new yards a sum not less than 250 million lire. Today there exist in Italy 27 shipyards, with a total productivity of 250,000 gross tons. The fleet, it is true, has doubled to 3,000,000 tons, and should furnish a theoretical sum total of orders of 200,000 tons annually. But this figure is today purely theoretical, owing to the shipping crisis. Building has been begun on 74 ships for a total of 436,520 gross tons, but is proceeding only on 34 ships for 210,890 tons, mostly in an advanced state of construction. In a year the work in hand will be terminated, and no new work is forthcoming. Shipbuilders are therefore clamouring for Government orders, to be equally distributed among all shipyards, old and new. As the number of 27 shipyards is evidently excessive, only the best equipped and best managed ones should survive, and the survival of the 12 or 15 best ones would be greatly beneficial to the shipbuilding industry and the nation. But the technically or financially weak yards die hard; and as they possess influence through their banking and political connections, they hope for a new lease of life, if only the State can be persuaded to give their orders to all yards, bad and good alike. These are the circumstances under which, during parliamentary recess, the Government is asked to issue a Royal decree placing 35 or 40 thousand tons of shipbulding orders.

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