The Seventies, a contradictory decade: economy
Until the end of the Franco-Prussian War (February 1872), the pressure of defence expenditures restrains the possibility of public support to private economy, resulting in a period of economic stagnation. Only with Depretis' landslide victory and the appointment of his new government economy regains centrality in the political agenda, as stated in his inauguration speech of a furniture factory in Bozen (July 1872):
"We believe in private enterprises like this one, but at the same time we understand the State has the moral duty to protect the lower classes and provide them with work and income, in order to let them improve their financial, intellectual and living standards [...] Furthermore, Italy standing among Great Powers needs continuous maintenance and investment: railways, ships, roads and mines do not only contribute to this standing, but their completion is another effort that brings money in the pockets to a vast number of workers."
Apparently nebulous like the words of every politician, the "Bozen speech" is actually the prelude to a massive infrastructural and industrial expenditure program (the ratio of public spending to GDP for Italy is among the highest of the period), which will provide the country with an effective production based supply scheme.
Industry is the government top priority: filled with mainly traditional labour-intensive factories, Italy still lacks a sizeable heavy industry for the innumerable purposes, including warfare and influence projection, of a great power. An unexpected shortage of steel, internally produced by a single foundry in Lombardy and supplied by an overheated world market, convinces Depretis to fund the construction of an additional steel factory in Trieste; shortly after, also the thriving activity of sulphur extraction induces him to push downstream, building a new explosive factory in Sicily and expanding the ammunition facility in Naples; on the brink of the upcoming decade, also the construction of a clipper shipyard is started in Tuscany.
Specific industrial initiatives in the '70s
The opening of the 13 km long Fréjus tunnel in 1871 [RH] connecting Italy and France is a mere example of the several railroad works carried out, but can be considered more a mutual tribute between two old friends – drilling works started in 1857, two years before Italy and France signed their alliance pact that still endures at its completion – rather than a fundamental public work. In fact, favoured by a new legal and financial framework, the "Strade Ferrate Italiane" is on the way to complete a less astounding but still important series of projects aiming at bringing everywhere the benefits of early railroads networks: the investment program is divided in two chunks: the development of early railroads along the Naples-Turin and Naples-Trento lines is scheduled and realised as first in the triennial plan 1875-77, while the Naples-Palermo is programmed for the triennium 1879-81 and executed correspondently.
Opening of the Fréjus tunnel (1871)
Extension of rail network in Northern Italy (1877)
A specific area of governmental intervention is the mining and agricultural sectors, where Italy has always lagged behind other European countries: extra cash is dedicated to the expansion and improvement of iron and sulphur mines spread in Lombardy, Emilia, Sicily and Sardinia in order to increase the scale of operations and consequently efficiencies. In certain areas where unemployment is a serious social and economic issue, such extension of mining activity, combined with land reform and enlargement of farming estates and fisheries, with allows also the occupation of unskilled labour.
Use of trains in a Sardinian pit
Economic and infrastructural growth is furthermore helped by a series of innovations, particularly in the mechanical field: the first high and low pressure steam engines are introduced in early '70s and can be considered the main factor explaining the boost in mining activities, as the introduction of mechanical production (1873) and Millardet's Bordeaux mixture (1876) are for manufacturing and agribusiness.
The Seventies are a period of both organic growth in production and newborn initiatives, which increase the regional economic diversification of the peninsula according to the comparative advantages of each region: the South stands out as the granary of the nation with its estates (even if large manufacturing plants keep on their activity), North-West and Tuscany become the industrial powerhouses with their modern industries, North-East and Emilia-Romagna experiment a diffuse capitalism of mid-small enterprises and the islands specialises in the extractive industry.
As a consequence, even in presence of the troubles described here and in previous posts (large unemployment, farmers' riots and starting emigration), the Seventies still record an impressive increase in production. GDP stands at 138.000 £ in 1876 (compared to 60.000 in 1856 and 92.000 in 1866), a clear sign that the unleashed power of machines is sustaining a robust growth in productivity.