Laziness - Poverty, Work - Wealth


This poster, published in Italy in 1920 amid the national economic crisis that followed World War I, explains the relationship between the cost of living and the productivity of a nation. It shows two images, at the top an empty scale with a lazy worker sauntering by, and below a full scale that is being loaded by two muscular workers with bags labeled “grain,” “wool,” and other products. The left side of the image with the empty scale shows the Italian lira sinking in value against three major currencies, the United States dollar, the British pound sterling, and the Swiss franc, while the left side of the image with the full scale shows the lira rising in value against these currencies. The text explains that “the cost of living is high because the nation does not produce. The scarcity of products must be compensated by purchases from abroad… The nation must be convinced that only an increase in production will result in a lowering of the cost of living….” Known as the Red Years, 1919‒20 was a period of political unrest and economic turmoil in Italy, marked by mass unemployment, food shortages, and mass strikes initiated by socialist and anarchist unions. Posters such as the one shown here were produced by industrialists and government authorities to make the case that national prosperity depended on a hardworking population of industrial and agricultural workers. The revolutionary period in Italy was followed by the seizure of power in 1922 by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who banned all strikes.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Ozio - miseria, lavoro - ricchezza


Type of Item

Physical Description

1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 100 x 70 centimeters



  1. Andrea Baravelli, “Post-war Societies (Italy),” in 1914‒1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, edited by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson (Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin, 2014).
  2. Thomas Row, “Mobilizing the Nation: Italian Propaganda in the Great War,” Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Volume 24, Design, Culture, Identity (Miami Beach, FL: Florida International University Board of Trustees on behalf of The Wolfsonian-FIU, 2002).

Last updated: November 14, 2017