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Are Italians Really Lazy?

Recent statistics released by Europe’s statistical bureau Eurostat revealed that salaries in Italy are amongst the lowest in Europe.

Growth in salaries in Italy between 2005 and 2009 was a measly 3.3%.  By way of comparison, in the same period in Spain, salaries grew by almost 30%.  Even crisis struck Portugal managed to increase its workers pay by over 20%.

The reason for such low salaries in Italy, stated Labor Minister Elsa Fornero, is one of poor productivity.  Italians, she stated, need to become more productive.  In a round about sort of way, Fornero implied Italians are lazy.  Is this true?

Well, how about fighting a little statistical fire with some more statistical fire, fueled by the very same source as the figures on low earnings in Italy – Eurostat?

Let’s see how Italy shapes up on the productivity front.

Italians More Productive Than Germans

According to Eurostat Labor productivity per person employed figures for the period 1999 to 2010, productivity in Italy is not that bad.  Indeed, in 2010, Italians (109.6) were more productive than those masters of efficiency, or so the stereotype goes, the Germans (105.3).

Dig further back in time, to 1999, and productivity levels in Italy were much higher than in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and a good few other countries in Europe.

What is clear from the Eurostat Labor productivity statistics, is that while productivity levels in Italy have been falling, they are higher than in Portugal and in Spain and are still much higher than in Greece.

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The map below shows productivity levels in Europe.  Green countries are productive nations.  The darker the green, the greater the productivity.

Productivity in Europe - source: Eurostat
Productivity in Europe – source: Eurostat

The Most Productive Country in Europe

Luxembourg is the most productive country in Europe and has been so since 1999.

How does the USA Shape Up?

Very well.  The United States is not in the same league as Luxembourg, but at a figure of around 140 since 1999, Americans appear to be consistently more productive workers than their European counterparts.  Incidentally, in 1999, the figure for labor productivity in the USA was 144.1.  Italy was at 128.9 in 1999.

And Italy’s Problem Is?

Primarily, one suspects, Italy suffers from a lack of organization, reams of red tape, poor training and government policy which has done little or nothing to promote growth, such as forcing businesses to pay suppliers within 30 days, for a start.

Productivity levels in Italy seem to have fallen greatly in the new millennium.  For a large chunk of the period, the Prime Minister was one Silvio Berlusconi who seemed to be more concerned with things like partying, than with helping Italy’s economy maintain post 2000 levels of productivity.  A case of counter-productive politics?

What Minister Elsa Fornero needs to do is to give Italians something to produce – a rise in productivity levels, which is not as low as salary figures suggest, will most likely follow.

Upping salaries in Italy may also encourage workers to work at 1999 levels and will prevent super-productive and intelligent Italians from leaving Italy for jobs in countries where their productivity is appropriately rewarded.  Of course it is no good producing huge quantities if nobody knows about the goods being produced: they will not sell – this comes to another all Italian issue – that the Boot does not know how to market itself effectively.

The problem is not that Italians are lazy: they simply do not have enough to do.  Give them enough, Ms Fornero, and Italy could be the number one economy in Europe.

Here is a data table of Eurostat productivity figures.

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