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THE gigantic strides towards autarchy taken by Italy in the last few years have aroused widespread interest, but also many misapprehensions both as to general objectives and as to practical achievements thus far.
The meaning of the word "autarchy" is evident enough from its etymology. Yet it would be a mistake to describe Italian autarchy as an attempt to achieve a condition of totalitarian economic independence in which no goods whatsoever are imported from other countries. The best definition of autarchy is the one given by the Duce in his historic speech delivered on the Capitol, March 23, 1936: "The dominating problem in this new phase of Italian history will be that of securing, in the shortest possible time, the maximum degree of economic independence for the nation. No nation can secure on its own territory the ideal of complete, one hundred percent economic self-sufficiency, and even if this were possible it would probably not be desirable. But all nations strive to free themselves as far as possible from economic dependence on foreign countries." The Duce pointed out that there was only one field in which autonomy should be striven for in the most absolute sense -- national defense. In other fields, he declared, autarchy should not mean the abolition of all importations or the suppression of all commercial relations with other countries, but rather a systematic and careful organization of those relations. In fact, it is even possible that under an autarchic régime existing relations might be extended and improved or new ones might be created. There is only one basic criterion -- attainment of the greatest possible general economic advantage.
In some cases Italy may wish to balance her trade with specified countries by buying from them the raw materials which she needs in her economic life. In some cases her exports may serve merely to create credits or foreign currency reserves which will enable her to purchase on the world market the consumption goods which she needs but cannot herself produce. There is also the case where Italy imports raw materials for use in the manufacture of products designed exclusively for export. Italian autarchy does not preclude such imports. In fact, we encourage them, especially if labor costs represent a considerable fraction of the total value of the finished Italian product. We also favor the import of materials used to improve and enlarge our plants so as to permit us to enter new fields of production and thus eventually reduce the total of supposedly indispensable imports.
In order to apply these general principles, commercial activity with foreign countries has to be a function, direct or indirect, of the state, and it has to be exercised not just in emergencies but continuously. This rational organization, however, does not imply the "statification" of economic life. As the Duce declared in his speech on the Capitol: "The Fascist Government does not intend to 'statify,' much less to bureaucratize, the whole economy of the nation. It is content merely to control and discipline that economy through the Corporations. The activity of the Corporations has proved to be of the greatest profit and is clearing the ground for further systematic developments. The Corporations are organs of the state, but not mere bureaucratic organs."
Autarchy, in a word, is not being applied according to a fixed scheme. That would be absolutely out of keeping with the dynamic character of present-day world economy. Today, more than ever before, economic life is at the mercy of unforeseeable factors originating in a great variety of causes -- historical, political, social. An attempt to force the whole activity of a nation within the limits of a rigid and over-particularized program would be a dangerous experiment and might lead both to bitter disappointments and to a serious wastage of national resources. If Italy is to face facts in the economic sphere with the same realism that the Duce has exhibited in other fields, she should follow a few very broad lines of policy rather than make herself the prisoner of abstract formulae.
The dynamic character of economic life today is due in part to the fact that science is continuously making improvements in technical equipment. In the past, international commercial relations were controlled by considerations of raw materials and so-called "natural industries," i.e. those which are suited, under conditions of laissez-faire, to a country's resources. These considerations inspired the classic economic theories long regarded as unassailable. Today they have lost much of their importance. The achievements of science and engineering every day open new horizons to human activity and increase human capacities for production and exchange. The miracles of chemistry and the new applications of electricity have wrought profound changes in the world's economic set-up and promise ones greater still. They furnish the best justification for the autarchic readjustment which Italy is working out, since they destroy the postulates on which free-trade economics based its theoretical distinction between "natural" and "artificial" industries.
The general guiding principles of Italian autarchy were laid down at the time when Italy was taking its first steps along the untrodden and rugged but sure road to economic revival. Today their soundness has been demonstrated by the severe test of three years of hard work. We find this demonstration in all branches of economic activity from foodstuffs to textiles, from mining to steel making, from power-production to transport. The recent meetings of the Supreme Commission on Autarchy provided most significant information on this point, supplementing the large number of specific reports published during the brief period of intense activity following the Ethiopian War.
In the field of communications, with which I am personally connected, a whole program on behalf of autarchy has been successfully executed. The transportation industry is, of course, intimately bound up with the economic development of a country as a whole, for not only does it carry the products of agriculture and of manufacturing but it is itself a consumer of such products. Consequently, the means of transportation can, and should, facilitate the proper utilization of the nation's resources.
I need not enumerate here the many ways in which the Italian State Railways have helped in this direction through the liberal application of so-called "concessional" freight rates, and through various special arrangements reached as a result of close and continuous contact between producers and carriers. In both maritime and land transportation there has been a special effort to favor, first, goods designed for export, and second, tourist travel -- each of them an important source of foreign currency.
There are some industries which have a direct bearing on national economic independence but which can live only with special freight privileges or with the support of special railroad facilities, in return for which they are able to guarantee a considerable volume of business. It has been our experience, and very recently too, that in such cases agreements are easily arrived at. The problem is to find the common denominator of interests which usually are divergent but never contradictory. There are, for example, factories that specialize in different phases of the manufacture of a product indispensable to our economic autarchy. Such factories can be made parts of a single diagram of production if they are brought together by transport facilities and rates providing a minimum cost for moving partly-worked goods from one plant to another. Here, too, the interests of the carrier are affected by rate adjustments guaranteeing him increased business.
Italy is now making all her own rolling stock and other railroad equipment. In the automobile field we are also manufacturing all our vehicles, from the humblest commercial wagon to the most luxurious limousine; in fact, the Italian automobile industry has lately improved its plant so markedly that it not only meets all domestic requirements but also exports many cars. In the railroad field we are bending our efforts to find substitutes for imported metals: steel is being tried in place of copper in locomotive fireboxes; new anti-friction alloys are being used in wheel bearings; light alloys and synthetic compositions are replacing bronze in passengar car furnishings; foreign velvets and mohairs are giving way to Italian fabrics in the upholstery of seats; aluminum is being used in place of copper in cars and also in long distance power lines. For our locomotives, cars and signal systems we have adopted devices invented by Italian engineers, and many of these appliances have won international recognition -- the Caprotti valves for steam distribution, for instance, and the Breda automatic brake for freight trains.
If we compare the items for steam, traction, fuels and lubricants in the budget for 1922-23 and in the current budget we see the enormous progress made in the direction of autarchy. A whole series of innovations and improvements has enabled us to lower very considerably "specific consumptions" of materials imported from abroad -- by which phrase I mean consumption per unit of actual performance. I might classify the steps taken as follows: (1) the elimination of waste in fuel and lubricants by technical improvements in fire-boxes and in heat distribution and oiling systems; (2) the overhauling of steam locomotives released from service on electrified lines, so as to cut their consumption of coal per unit of performance; (3) technical improvements in the design of new locomotives; (4) partial or total replacement of imported coal by Italian fuels on certain railway lines.
Before the Fascist era the consumption of coal on steam-drawn trains was 78.6 kilograms per ton-kilometer. In 1936-37 the figure was 50.9, a saving of 54 percent amounting to 970,000 tons of coal a year. Up to October 28, 1922, the consumption of lubricants on steam-drawn trains was 82 grams per locomotive per kilometer. By 1936-37 the figure had dropped to 15.8, a saving of 419 percent, or 7,600 tons a year. At present the steam locomotive is steadily giving way to electric traction and to internal combustion motors.
The electrification of the Italian railroads is so important, both in its bearing on autarchy and because it represents progress of world-wide significance, that we must pause to note the various steps by which it was achieved.
In the decade between 1922 and 1932 Italy's electrified railway lines grew from 700 to 1,952 kilometers. In 1934 there were 2,370 electrified kilometers in operation. Today the figure almost reaches 5,000 kilometers. Plans in process of execution will bring the total up to 9,000 kilometers. Power lines of high or super-high tensions (with voltages of from 60,000 to 130,000) now total 6,750 kilometers. Most of these have been built directly by the railway administration. The latter is constructing another 1,500 kilometers of power lines which will traverse virtually the whole peninsula from north to south and east to west. Throughout this whole system the supplies of power at the various production plants are tabulated daily so that loads may be distributed most advantageously. By better organizing the distribution of power and by cutting down the loss of current on long-distance lines we have been able very considerably to reduce the electric consumption of trains. By these measures, and others such as the more general use of 130 kilovolt feed lines and the increasing extension of electric traction, the mean consumption of power per ton-kilometer has dropped by 10 percent in recent years -- from 32.5 watt hours in the period 1931-35 to 29.4 watt hours in the year 1936-37.
The railway lines already electrified include a number of sections that carry the heaviest traffic. Though the electrified lines form only a quarter of the total mileage of the State Railways, during the year 1936-37 they accounted for 25 billion kilometer-tons, or nearly half the total traffic (57 billion kilometer-tons). During the same year steam locomotives consumed 1,800,000 tons of coal, virtually all of which had to be imported. If none of the lines had been electrified there would have been needed an additional 1,300,000 tons -- which figure, therefore, represents the saving realized by electrification. If we compare this with the country's total coal consumption we discover that railway electrification has allowed us to cut our coal imports by 10 percent -- a very appreciable amount. Electrification now being installed will save another 350,000 tons. Final completion of the electrification plan will result in a total saving of 2,500,000 tons, or 20 percent of our present coal imports. In the end we shall require only 600,000 tons annually for the 8,000 kilometers of railroad left unelectrified. This residue will be further reduced as more and more motor-trains are used on lines of secondary importance. It is also possible that on certain of these minor lines service can be maintained with Italian-produced fuels, as is at present the case in Sardinia.
Considerable progress towards autarchy is also to be noted on the 6,000 kilometers of privately-owned railways: electric traction is employed on 1,830 kilometers, liquid fuels on 1,370, and steam on 2,800. Here, too, heavy-traffic lines tend to be electrified: 13 million train-kilometers are to be recorded for the electric lines against 14 millions for the other two types. On interurban lines, which in Italy are really local railroads, electric traction prevails on 1,800 out of a total of 2,700 kilometers; in the matter of train-kilometers, however, the electric lines account for 36 out of a total of 38.8 millions. The use of electricity on interurban lines represents an annual saving of about 400,000 tons of coal. The remaining types of lines consume about 146,000 tons of coal and 763 tons of liquid fuels annually. The extension of electric traction to these supplementary lines and the use of motors driven by Italian-produced fuels will result in further savings of coal. Two lines are already running on natural gas.
In the field of automotive traction the experimental phase has been definitely passed, though for the present we are confining our application of those experiments to public bus lines. These lines use a total of about 9,000 motor vehicles, representing an annual performance of better than 100 million bus-kilometers. In recent years the use of electric trolley busses has spread rapidly. On January 1, 1938, 101 of them were in service; within the following 8 months this number had risen to almost a thousand. Natural gas is abundant in the mountain districts of Tuscany and Emilia, where its use has developed rapidly. On September 1, 1938, 617 busses and 360 private cars were operating on natural gas. Thus far relatively few vehicles have been built to run on gassogeno (gas obtained from charcoal), though a number of busses and cars originally designed for gasoline have been transformed so as to consume this synthetic substance. By the end of 1938 nearly a thousand busses and about half as many private cars had been reëquipped to use "gasogene."
Plans for the use of unmixed grain alcohol as a fuel have not as yet been put into execution; but as soon as the problem of production has been adequately solved, grain alcohol will be employed, either in mixture with gasoline or by itself, along lines that have already been well developed technically as a result of numerous experiments. The use of wood alcohol is gradually increasing in rhythm with a progressive expansion in production: on September 1, 1938, 180 busses were operating on wood alcohol as compared with 25 at the beginning of that year. The use of crude oil, obtained from either Albanian or Italian sources, has been extended to virtually all the busses that are equipped to burn it. There were 2,100 such vehicles last September.
However, I need not go into greater detail to show that in the field of Italian transportation the general lines of autarchic theory are being faithfully followed. What guarantees us success is our realization that the problem of autarchy taken as a whole is extremely complicated and that all the agencies interested in seeing it achieved must work together in harmony if we are not to upset the national economy's general equilibrium. The Corporative Régime implies order, balance, conciliation of differing interests and the subordination of individual advantage to the general requirements of the nation. In that atmosphere autarchy can bear its full fruit.
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