Resources and Industry in the North

December 30, 2011

In a recent post I showed how Italian geography favors the North when it comes to farming, trade and industry. The latter is a primary source of wealth in the modern world, and even though Southern Europe's coal reserves are small and of poor quality, Northern Italy has been able to compensate with hydroelectric power because of its geographical features and natural resources.

The objective of this article is to analyse the importance of one of the new energy sources, electricity, since the end of the nineteenth century until 1945, from the point of view of natural resource endowments. Not all countries had good or equivalent endowments of coal, the energy-producing mineral of the nineteenth century, and for this reason not all of them had the same opportunities to use it, given that the transport cost was very high due to its weight in relation to its caloric power. Electricity reduced the dependence on coal resources as it could be produced not only from coal but also from water.


The accessible coal endowments available...are presented in Table 1, both in the form of total coal reserves and coal reserves per capita in each country. Well endowed in coal were Canada and the US in North America and Germany, the UK, Austria and — in an intermediate position — France in Europe. The Northern European countries Denmark and Sweden and the Southern European countries Italy, Greece and Portugal all had poor coal endowments. Looking at coal quality, Spain and especially Italy lacked good quality coal; as for the cost of extraction, this was particularly high in France and Spain, due to the characteristics of its seams.


Natural resources also had effects on the type of electricity being produced in these countries when electricity eventually arrived. [...] The situation was worst in Italy because of the scarcity of coal and its low caloric power. As a result, coal had to be imported. For that reason, electricity was generated by hydraulic power, once the problem of long distance transmission was solved by means of the alternating current. The most important hydraulic resources were concentrated in the Alps and the Po Valley, between the Alps and the Apennines in the North of the country. The regions endowed with the most important sources of waterpower were the Piedmont and Lombardy, the Po Valley (Adda, Adige, Ticino, Tevere, etc.), the Venetia region and that of Umbria.


We have calculated the proportion of hydroelectricity and thermoelectricity in the total electricity production of each country. As shown in Figure 1, at the top of the countries using hydroelectricity were Canada, Italy and Spain. Hydroelectricity accounted for over 80 per cent of their electricity production. At the bottom, using less than 60 per cent, as already commented, were the coal intensive countries, i.e. the UK, the USA, and France, although, France had a lesser proportion of thermoelectricity.


The degree of electrification advanced substantially from the end of the nineteenth century until WWII, the height of the process being 1925, after WWI, when real electricity prices fell considerably. The behaviour of the relative prices electricity-coal, coupled with the new technical opportunities for electrification in the manufacturing sector where electricity competed with steam, produced important possibilities for economic growth. There was also a relationship between the accumulation of physical capital and electrification process and the increase in labour productivity, manufacturing and income per capita, especially in the countries that were badly endowed with coal deposits, but enjoyed better opportunities for the production of electricity.

Concha Betrán. "Natural Resources, Electrification and Economic Growth from the End of the Nineteenth Century until World War II". Revista de Historia Económica, 2005.

Related: Geography and Industry

Russell Peters' Comedy Routine

December 15, 2011

I don't know how much of stand-up comedians' material is based on real experiences and how much is just made up, but in this routine Canadian Desi comic Russell Peters claims that he was mistaken for a native when he traveled to Italy. He says a guy approached him on the street and spoke to him in Italian, and then was shocked to find out that he's Indian. Based on this, he invites all "brown people" to go to Italy and be "freaked out" like he was when they're mistaken for Italians. There are several problems with his story that point to it being at least partly untrue, and to him not being very good at interpreting situations.

  • Russell Peters is of Anglo-Indian descent, but he still looks very South Asian. I'm not sure I'd even buy him as West Asian, much less Southern European. His brown skin and quasi-Australoid facial features would make for a very tanned and odd-looking Italian who, if anything, would be viewed with suspicion by locals. But the story works for American audiences because it panders to stereotypes they have about the "darkness" of Italians, and I think Peters is well aware of that.
  • When you're in a foreign country, being spoken to in the official language of that country instead of your own is totally normal and in itself not evidence of anything. What language did Peters expect the Italian guy in Italy to speak? English? Hindi? Unless you're booking a hotel room or strolling around town in khaki shorts taking pictures of the Colosseum, locals would have no reason to speak to you in any language other than Italian, and even then there's no guarantee.
  • South Asians are actually one of the largest immigrant groups in Italy, numbering in the 500,000s (not to mention the ~300,000 Gypsies, who are of Indian descent), so I doubt that any Italian would be shocked to see one, or as unacquainted with their appearance as Peters suggests. It sounds like a scenario made up by someone unfamiliar with Italy's demographics who just assumes that the country is homogenous and has no foreign population, which again plays well with equally clueless American audiences.

Regardless of whether or not that incident really happened the way Peters describes it, any "brown people" following his advice are going to be very disappointed when they're immediately recognized as foreigners in Italy (or possibly mistaken for Gypsies), since only a tiny fraction of South Asians can dream of ever convincingly passing as Italian, and even then only via cosmetic and surgical enhancement.

Here's a little test that should be nearly impossible if Peters is to be believed. Try to spot the South Asian individual in each of these photos of Italians:

Really tough, huh?

Regional Soccer Player Composites

December 3, 2011

I've been trying out this new morphing software that detects faces automatically and puts the control points in place for you. It has a few kinks but it saves a lot of time, so I made some quick regional versions of the earlier soccer player composites. They still look very similar, but breaking the samples down like this reveals minor differences not only between the North, Center and South but also within each of those areas. Many of the new samples are quite small though, and remember that some surnames may hail from neighboring regions, so these are not perfect representations.

(N = 10)
(N = 49)
(N = 95)

(N = 20)
(N = 9)
(N = 43)

(N = 44)
(N = 21)
(N = 44)

(N = 7)
(N = 58)
(N = 35)

(N = 19)
(N = 25)
(N = 11)

Software: Abrosoft FaceMixer