Sergio Paronetto (1911-1945), economist, industrial manager, social scientist.
1. Paronetto was born in Morbegno, in the province of Sondrio, Italy in 1911. He did all his schooling in Ivrea. He won a prize as one of the best high-school students in Italy, a trip to Hungary, where he came down with a rheumatic illness which, with cardiac damage, jeopardized his health in the long-term. He enrolled in the Faculty of Political Sciences in Rome, which was founded in 1925. He collected Camillo Manfroni’s Lezioni di Storia delle colonie e politica coloniale, which were published in Rome in 1930 (Manfroni was born in 1863 and died in 1935). Paronetto was influenced by the Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana that he frequented: this organisation was founded in 1896, and from 1925 its ecclesiastical assistant was Giovanni Battista Montini (1897-1978), who went on to become Pope Paul VI, and its president was the lawyer Igino Righetti (1904-1939). The review Studium – the vehicle of the publishing house of the same name founded in 1927 by Montini and Righetti with the aim of fostering an ethical awareness in young people in view of their future professional commitments – published Paronetto’s first articles: Ambiente e metodo nelle scienze sociali (1930), Il pensiero sociale cattolico in rapporto alla Rerum Novarum (1931) and Le celebrazioni del quarantesimo della Rerum Novarum (1931). In 1931, some Fascists attacked Paronetto, attempting to tear his FUCI badge off his jacket. This incident left him maimed for life. In 1932, he graduated with an economic history dissertation on customs and excise in the Italian states before the Unification, his supervisors being Alberto De’ Stefani (1879-1969) and Gioacchino Volpe (1876-1971). Paronetto reflected on the different forms that state intervention in the economy took in Europe and in the United States: he published Roosevelt il demiurgo in Azione Fucina in 1933. In the FUCI, Paronetto assisted Giulio Pastore (1902-1969), a Catholic trade unionist, operating after the Fascist regime had annihilated trade unions, in the years before Pastore went underground.
2. 1934 was the year when Paronetto moved from the world of science to the world of business. On
Pasquale Saraceno's (1903-1991) recommendation, who also came from Morbegno, Paronetto joined IRI, which had been founded in 1933. As head of the Institute’s technical secretarial staff, directly responsible to the Director-General Donato Menichella (1896-1984), Paronetto’s contribution to the restructuring of national interest banks (1934-1936), the drafting of the banking law (1936), the constitution of the Finmare (1936) and Finsider (1937) holdings, and the transformation of IRI into a permanent corporation (1937) was highly valued. In 1937, he wrote Note sull’attività dell’IRI nel momento attuale in rapporto alla sua struttura e alla sua organizzazione. He studied the knowledge-evaluation-diagnosis of the Italian economic system’s problems from the point of view of a national strategy. According to him, the crucial issue was the accumulation of capital: how to start, maintain and revive this process in Italy. Giving continuity to and perfecting the accumulation process was left to the institutionalised doctrine in the form of regulations, laws, institutions, programmes and economic plans. The objective, following the line taken by Nitti, Beneduce, Menichella and Carli, was to slacken external constraints, with the overall aim of making the system cohesive and efficient. Paronetto worked with IRI’s top managers: the Chairman Alberto Beneduce (1877-1944), the Vice-Chairman Francesco Giordani (1896-1961), and external consultants such as the jurist Alfredo De Gregorio (1881-1979), an expert on industry, and Ezio Vanoni (1903-1956), an economist and future cabinet minister, who was also from Morbegno. Paronetto worked mainly with Menichella and Saraceno: he "studied", Saraceno "saw" and Menichella "acted", he wrote at the time. At Montini’s insistence, he supported the young Guido Carli joining IRI (Carli was born in 1914 and died in 1993). Paronetto acted as a very useful bridge between different circles and different traditions: on the one hand, the radical, Masonic circle, linked to Nitti’s ideas;and on the other, the Roman Catholic circle. Paronetto identified with Menichella’s teachings on the economy and with Montini’s on philosophy, and he recognised that their inspiration was inexhaustible.
3. In 1940, Paronetto began to reconsider seriously the ethical foundations of human action within the world of business because of his own personal experience. He was indignant at Italy’s entering the war in 1940, and he felt the weight of freedom as a responsibility. This was all the stronger in those who, like him, felt that, perhaps through default, they were "men of action" (Ascetica dell’uomo d’azione is the title of his memoirs, published posthumously by Studium in 1948, with a preface by Montini). The change is evident in the shift in Paronetto’s articles published in Studium from 1940 onwards: a coherent group of articles, inspired by an original view on commitment in the modern world for those with Christian ethics, which include Burocrazia e personalità (1940); Profilo del banchiere e dell’uomo di finanza (1940); Profilo del capo di azienda (1941); Morale professionale del cittadino (1943); Professione e rivoluzione (1943); Lettere al direttore sulla coscienza e la tecnica (1944). Paronetto reflected on the consequences of technology parting company with morals, politics and the economy, and on its becoming a self-propelling sub-system; he grasped the advent of the managerial society, and showed interest in the nascent science of management; he saw early on the importance of competence and responsibility which those called to "act" in enterprises and institutions must have (ethical management). Paronetto was a close friend of Guido Gonella (1905-1992) who was the Vatican presses’ advisor for Italian affairs. Gonella asked Paronetto for his help in formulating the economic subject-matter in Pius XI’s speeches, and the concepts of "justice" and "just peace" in Pius XII’s broadcasts (1941, 1942).
4.The year 1943 saw Paronetto shift his attention from the world of business back to wider national issues. He addressed questions that involved reorganising Italy, not only Italy’s industry. He was primus inter pares the author and the compiler of the Codice di Camaldoli (1943), a new ethical, political and economic constitution for Italy.
The FUCI held seminars regularly in the monastery of Camaldoli in the province of Arezzo: the participants included Amintore Fanfani (1908-1999), Giorgio La Pira (1904), Aldo Moro (1916-1978), Giuseppe Spataro (1897-1979), Giuseppe Capograssi (1889-1956), Paolo Emilio Taviani (1912-2001), Giulio Andreotti (1919), Vanoni and Saraceno. The Codice was adopted by the Christian Democrats for reference during the sessions of the Constituent Assembly (1946-1947). The Camaldoli conference ended on 25 July 1943: Paronetto left immediately for Merano where he married Maria Luisa Valier. On the morning of 8 September 1943, Menichella went in secret to Paronetto’s home with a document appointing him Director-General of IRI. Paronetto refused the appointment, settling for the post of Deputy Director-General, provided this was shared with another director, and at a lower salary. On Menichellla’s explicit orders, Paronetto was at the helm of IRI, and, especially during the bitter parenthesis between 8 September 1943 and June 1944, he contributed to saving many of Italy’s industrial assets. Alberto Asquini (1889-1972), the IRI commissioner appointed by the government of the Italian Social Republic, and an eminent jurist, accepted Paronetto’s advice, and this latter became co-responsible for the Ufficio Stralcio (liquidation office) in Rome. From the IRI head office in Milan, Asquini worked in close agreement with Paronetto to save the industrial and technological assets which were under threat of both the allied bombardments and the partisan action, and of the Germans’ desire to destroy totally any production capacity that was not immediately employable to the Reich’s advantage (other industrial plants were dismantled and taken to Germany). Both Paronetto and Asquini were convinced that it was vitally important to think about "afterwards", even in a climate that was not without suspicion. At great personal risk, in his home in Via Reno in Rome, Paronetto hid several people that were wanted by the Germans and by the supporters of the fascist Social Republic; he was in contact with the head of the Resistance movement in Rome, Colonel Giuseppe Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo (1901-1944), who was shot by the Germans.
5. Paronetto began a useful work of pedagogy through which he gave ‘shape’ to the Italian economy. At his home in Rome in the 1940s, he gave private "lessons in economy" to the members of Italy’s future ruling class, in particular to Alcide De Gasperi (1881-1954). The years from 1943 to 1945 were spent persuading Italy’s entire future top management about the usefulness of keeping alive IRI and the enterprises with state holdings in view of the reconstruction programme, contrary to the opinion of Luigi Sturzo (1871-1959) at Confindustria and, at least in the early stages, contrary to the American opinion; he also tried to persuade them that specific Roosevelt-type state intervention in Southern Italy was advantageous, as was the perspective of relying on an aid programme organized by the victorious powers in order to consolidate economic freedom and democracy in Italy. These ideas were put to Palmiro Togliatti (1893-1964) by a friend of Paronetto’s, Franco Rodano (1920-1983), who was persuaded by Paronetto to change the name of the movement he led from Comunisti Cattolici to Sinistra Cristiana. Paronetto spent his last years working on the rough draft of the reform of IRI (the new statute was launched in 1948). Paronetto died in 1945, at the age of 34, when he was already considered a ‘maestro’, but had not yet been absolved from the false accusation of collaborationism, which happened in the following year. Italy was hugely indebted to Paronetto: modernity and the internationalisation of the future ruling classes’ (Andreotti, De Gasperi, Fanfani, Gronchi, Gonella, La Pira, Moro, Vanoni, Saraceno, Spataro and Taviani) approach to the economy, to industry and to finance; the presence of inspiring principles in the Constitution of the Republic of Italy which, without Paronetto, were unlikely to have been included; the importance of planning rather than public administration for direct state intervention in the economy which was necessary after IRI for inventing future special intervention in Southern Italy (1950), and Marcello Boldrini’s ENI – Boldrini (1890-1969) was explicitly inspired by the Camaldoli principles –; bodies which, like IRI, were able to promote markets, competition, economic freedom and hence democracy in Italy; the need to practise the principle of inclusiveness.

(On Paronetto, M. L. Paronetto Valier, Sergio Paronetto. Libertà di iniziativa e giustizia sociale, Edizioni Studium, Roma, 1991; S. Baietti, G. Farese, Sergio Paronetto. La forma dell’economia italiana published by Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli, 2011.)
Editor: Giovanni FARESE e Stefano BAIETTI
© 2010 ASSONEB