Bank Nationalizations of the 1930s in Italy: The IRI Formula

Costanza A. Russo


This Article draws lessons from Italian history as to how the state may possibly intervene in economic crises without jeopardizing the economy or affecting competition. It first describes how and why Italy got to the point in the 1930s where the government had to save the financial system. That was accomplished by setting up a public financial holding company (IRI), which became the majority shareholder of banks and companies in the telecommunications, steel, shipping, engineering, and energy industries, among others. The so-called IRI formula has long been considered a model both in the European Union and outside it, with many countries setting up similar companies. Initially, the IRI performed well in Italy and acted as a market player. In the 1960s, however, its performance deteriorated under pressure from political parties. This degeneration combined with pressure from the European Union prompted Italy to gradually (or partially) privatize the state-owned companies, a process that ended only recently. Ironically, the pendulum is now swinging back. In preparation for the next crisis, Italy is currently planning to go “back to the state.” The Article presents different ways of public intervention in the economy and offers suggestions for future reforms.

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