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The Economist

Italy. Public economics. The task of the extraordinary commissioner. Reduction of the duty on floor. Cost of living

«The Economist», 13 gennaio 1923, pp. 62-63

 

 

 

Turin, December 31

 

 

The Mussolini Government is working in earnest. The last meeting of the Cabinet produced a wholesale disbandment of committees and consultative councils created from time to time to give counsels to the Ministry of Agriculture; 21 committees with 332 members being abolished at one stroke. At the same meeting the Minister for Public Education reduced the total number of employees in his department from 1898 to 1159.

 

 

An experiment which will be watched with the utmost interest is the appointment of Mr. Edward Torre, M.P., to the newly created post of Extraordinary Commissioner for State Railways. A medical man and a Fascist, Mr Torre is said to possess the will and the power to restore order in the railway administration, whose official deficit in 1921-1922 was upwards of 1,200 million lire, and whose true deficit, taking into account all expenses and losses borne by other departments, may be calculated to reach 1,600 millions lire. The commissioner will have all the powers of the dissolved Executive Railway Council. It is said that Mr Torre is determined to dismiss 50,000 railwaymen, and truly nothing short of such a drastic measure can save the railway budget. The increase in the number of railwaymen was as follows after the war:

 

 

 

1913-14

1921-22

Increase %

Clerks

16,713

18,054

8

Stations

39,485

61,531

56

Trains

11,748

22,750

94

Locomotives

11,245

19,278

71

Miscellaneous

68,098

82,812

21

Total

147,289

204,425

39

 

 

While the number of men employed increased, the work done diminished. Train- kilometers diminished from 153.7 millions in 1913-14 to 129.5 in 1921-22. The average number of hours worked by a man in the year varied as follows:

 

 

 

1913-14

1921-22

Decrease %

Stations

3,423

2,192

36

Trains

3,498

2,160

38

Locomotives

3,030

2,112

30

General workshops

3,220

2,040

37

Locomotive workshops

2,790

1,992

29

 

 

An application of the policy of the eight hours’ day, and of the weekly rest, by which the hours of effective work done were sometimes reduced to two or three hours a day, is largely responsible for this lamentable state of affairs; but lack of discipline contributed no less to it.

 

 

The average number of days of sickness increased, per year and per man, as follows:

 

 

 

1913-14

1921-22

Increase %

Stations

13

19

46

Trains

14

22

57

Locomotives

20

25

25

General workshops

21

43

105

Locomotive workshops

21

43

105

 

 

Free-trade ideas are making some progress in Italy. The newly constituted group has published in the Riforma Sociale of Turin, which is its provisional organ, a long analysis of the new tariff of July 1, 1921, by Signor Repaci, who calculates the increase in the weight of general duties to be from 100 per cent. to 184 per cent. But the variations are extreme, and many examples are quoted of extraordinary and even ludicrous protection. One of the first acts of Signor De Stefani, the new Minister of Finance, has been the reduction from 11.50 to 4 gold lire per quintal of the duty on flour. The story of this duty provides an interesting example of the by-ways of protection. When foreign wheat was dutiable at 7.50 gold lire per quintal, flour was also dutiable at 11.50 gold lire. The duty on flour gave a protection to milling industry, as 10 gold lire would have sufficed to counterbalance the duty of 7.50 on wheat. During the war both duties were suspended, but it seems that, as from July 1, 1921, the duty on flour was tacitly reestablished at the old figure of 11.50, while the duty on wheat remained in suspence. From this odd mistake the protection to the milling industry was raised from 11.50 less 10 (equivalent of the 7.50 duty on wheat) to the whole amount of 11.50 gold lire. Signor De Stefani, while maintaining the free importation of wheat, reduced the duty on flour to 4 lire. It should have been reduced to 1.50, but the tentative step is a good one. Millers are clamouring that they did not avail themselves of the protection, but the possibility was there, and in some cases was exploited.

 

 

The cost of living in recent months has been slowly increasing. The index number of the cost of living for a working man’s family of five has varied thus:

 

 

 

Turin

Milan

Florence

Rome

First half of 1914

100

100

100

100

January, 1920

318.5

302.6

323.5

263.4

March, 1921

472.2

472.1

517.7

384.5

April, “

470.4

491.8

521.9

410.9

May, “

455.7

507.9

523.1

395.8

July, “

404.7

465.8

450.8

387.3

December, “

470.9

496.4

532

422.5

April, 1922

424.5

450.2

475

420.3

May, “

428.1

450.9

476

426.6

June, “

435.1

454.8

473

425.4

July, “

436.9

460.4

478

428.9

August, “

438.4

464.8

473

430.9

September, “

457.8

469.9

479

437

October, “

462.4

471.9

506

444

November, “

465.3

 

 

The maximum was reached between March and May, 1921. Some substantial declines took place in the summer of 1921 and the spring of 1922. But after the middle of the year the tide was again rising. Perhaps the improvement in the foreign exchanges will have a favorable influence on the December and January figures.

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