Without Carlo Cipolla’s studies on The adventures of the lyre and those on the foreign exchange movement in Italy, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, we would not know how much political history and how much cultural history can be hidden in the circulation of money. Giovanni Farese, professor of economic history at the European University of Rome, found both in the events that accompanied the birth of a Milanese banking institution since the last days of the Second World War, when the country had not yet recovered from the events of a conflict that it had destroyed its cities, paralyzed its factories and overthrew the political system that was responsible for that lost war.
The institute is called Mediobanca and one of its founders in 1946 already shone a man born in 1907, Enrico Cuccia, who had first been a journalist at the Messaggero in Rome and then had many banking experiences in Italy and abroad, including a move to the Italian Ministry of Finance and a stay in the United States. This group of friends knew that economics and finance in the postwar world would be quite different from those of the years leading up to the conflict. The City of London would continue to play a leading role on the world finance stage, but the business capital would be New York; and the world had a proof of this when the advisers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States since March 1933, suggested that he entrust an international conference with the task of writing the new rules of finance and international trade. The meeting, which took place in July 1944 in Bretton Woods, in the US state of New Hampshire, was attended by 730 delegates from 44 countries; and the name of the place has since become that of an economic-financial Bible.
At a time when there was also another Bible (The capital by Karl Marx), the choice of Bretton Woods was also political and cultural. As clearly emerges from the book that Farese wrote for the Historical Archive of Mediobanca Vincenzo Maranghi, Mediobanca and Italy’s international economic relations, such a choice, in the climate of the Cold War, took on a strong anti-Communist and pro-Atlantic connotation (the Atlantic Pact was signed in April 1949). At that time there was an Atlantic Institute in Italy of which Mediobanca became a friend and supporter.
But Cuccia and his friends (including Raffaele Mattioli of the commercial bank, Alberto Beneduce Iri, Ugo La Malfa, Adolfo Tino and Quinto Quintieri) also had other characteristics. They were Democrats, Republicans, secular people, strongly attentive to the interests of their country and of companies. When, in 1948, Ugo La Malfa was the head of an Italian delegation visiting the Soviet Union, he did not hesitate to enter into economic and commercial agreements with Moscow. And when Gianni Agnelli and Vittorio Valletta’s Fiat decided to build a car factory in Stavropol-sul-Volga (today Togliatti), Mediobanca did not hesitate to finance the operation. And while Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s India aroused strong disappointment in Washington, due to its economic relations with the USSR, Mediobanca did not hesitate to accompany its development and growth without prejudice.
A no less interesting chapter in the history of Mediobanca, its relationship with Africa. Cuccia knew it, was attracted to it and was convinced that Italy, after having lost its colonies, could make good use of its ancient experiences. Farese notes that Cuccia’s international perspective in Africa, like that of Guido Carli (a member of governments and future governor of the Bank of Italy), was that of a minister of the economy or a central bank governor, rather than that of a simple banker.
Finally, they all had another objective: the unity of Europe. For Mediobanca, in particular, Europe, at that time, was personified by Jean Monnet, inspirer of Schuman’s European declaration, brilliant creator and president of the European Coal and Steel Community, founder of an Action Committee for United States of Europe of which the men of Mediobanca became no less friends and supporters than they had been for the Atlantic Institute.
Monnet had a very varied and interesting youth. He had been the foreign representative of wines produced in Cognac by his father’s company. He had been an investment banker for the Blair and Co Society, had founded an investment bank with some partners that bore his name, among others, and had provided General de Gaulle with a plan for the modernization of French industry. It is not surprising that the men of Mediobanca, when they met him, found in him a friend and teacher; and it is not surprising that Jean Monnet felt the same feelings for Mediobanca.
January 29, 2021 (change January 29, 2021 | 19:44)