Abstract: Business Attitudes toward Official Statistical Investigation: An Italian Wool Industrialist from Reticence to Influence, 1861-1895

Giovanni Favero


This paper examines the shifting attitudes of wool industrialists toward official statistical investigation in Italy during the last three decades of the nineteenth century, focusing on the relationship established between Luigi Bodio and Alessandro Rossi. In unified Italy there was an evident shift from widespread laissez-faire views in the 1860s to prevailing protectionist positions in the 1880s. In this context, the statistical representations of the conditions of national industries could be a powerful argument to push political authorities to take the desired measures. The correspondence between Alessandro Rossi (the main wool industrialist in nineteenth-century Italy) and Luigi Bodio (the director of Italian official statistics from 1872 to 1898) clearly shows a change in the relationship between the statistician and the industrialist. Starting from his virtual role of privileged source for industrial statistics, Rossi became in the 1890s sort of an unofficial expert and consultant for the editing of the first statistical survey of the wool industry in Italy (Dirstat, 1895). A detailed cross-comparison of the published text with Rossi's comments on proofs allows then a philological assessment of the reliability of available official data on the Italian wool industry at the very moment it was exiting the first 1890s recession.