Boundaries, Structures and Strategies
Edited by Andrea Colli and Michelangelo Vasta
Chapter 9: Industrial Policy and Artisan Firms (1930s–1970s)
* Giuseppe Maria Longoni and Alberto Rinaldi INTRODUCTION 9.1 One of the main differences between Italy and the other major industrial countries concerns the average size of firms. In the 1990s, a remarkable 58 per cent of employees in the Italian manufacturing sector worked in companies with fewer than 50 employees – and 26 per cent in micro-firms with fewer than 10 employees. In contrast, the corresponding figures were only 18 and 4 per cent in the US, 20 and 6 per cent in the UK, 12 and 5 per cent in Germany, 31 and 5 per cent in France, and 47 and 18 per cent in Japan (Giannetti & Vasta 2005). Some economists identify the reason for the prominent role played by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Italy with the events of the 1970s, when the crisis of Fordism and mass production, manufacturing decentralisation and the growth of industrial districts spread industrialisation from the north-west towards the north-eastern and central regions (NECRs) of the country (Brusco & Paba 1997; Bellandi 1999). Historical research, on the other hand, seeks the long-term roots of the predominance of SMEs in Italy. Cafagna (1989) and Federico (1994a) stress the historically dualistic nature of Italian industry, emphasising the dynamic role of SMEs in traditional sectors, and demonstrating their ability to exploit the comparative advantage of a country with very easy access to labour. These authors underscore the ability of SMEs to maintain their competitive advantage without requiring any form of state intervention, while larger companies operating in...
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