Institutions, Technology and Development: Italian State-Owned Enterprises from the 1950s to the 1990s, a Case Study

Fabio Lavista

Quite recently, grounding on the classical work of Alexander Gerschenkron, some scholars have constructed a growth model where economic growth is explained by an equilibrium sequence that from an investment-based strategy lead to an innovation-based strategy. According to the model, a backward country should encourage long term relationships between entrepreneurs, managers, financiers and firms, in order to maximize investments and fill its technological gap. On the contrary, as the country approaches the word technology frontier, the lack of selection, implied by the investment-based strategy, should give way to a more selective strategy, otherwise the country will be obliged to abandon the convergence pattern previously followed.

The paper, analysing the Italian pattern of development in the second half of the twentieth century, aims at demonstrating that the problem should be historicised: the shift in optimal development strategies during the decades considered was related not only to technology, but also to globalisation processes and to the transformation of international markets. Secondarily, underling the role of knowledge spillovers, it suggests that pursuing an investment-based strategy does not necessarily mean to opt for lower level of R&D expenditure and high labour intensity and, moreover, it does not mean a lack of selection.