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Italy and its Demons

Constantin Gurdgiev makes some good points in his Tweets reported on Italy Chronicles last week.  Perhaps the Berlusconi years were better than we have come to remember.

Gurdgiev sees the problem of Italy’s future as one of high national debt levels and the problems associated with servicing and refinancing that debt.  He calculates that 3% growth would be required to stabilize the position and higher levels to improve it.

Another view has been offered by Bill Emmott a former editor of The Economist magazine in his new book, Good Italy, Bad Italy.  Emmott’s book is a search for optimism about the future of Italy.  While he may not come to a definitive conclusion, Emmott does put forward some cautionary numbers.

He points out that in the first decade of this century national income per head in Italy shrank, a situation only worse in Haiti and Zimbabwe.  He reiterates some familiar and not-so-familiar facts.

  • Italy’s debt is the third largest in the world in absolute terms.
  • Corruption costs Italy 60 billion Euros a year.
  • There are 72,000 official cars in Italy.

Emmott lists unions, reluctance to pay tax, lack of meritocracy, exclusive guilds like notaries and pharmacies and a convoluted legal system among the characteristics that make for ‘Bad Italy’.

In his search for the ‘Good Italy’ Emmot speaks with entrepreneurs, tourism operators, and anti-Mafia groups.  He finds a lack of optimism among older Italians but sees hope among the youth.

Despite analyzing ‘Bad Italy’ from an essentially statistical perspective, his attempt to discover a ‘Good Italy’ tends to be socially and culturally focused.  He outlines a catalogue of problems but does not propose macro solutions.  It may be hard to imagine Gurdgiev and Emmott agreeing on the legacy of the Berlusconi years but that is the eternal argument over the interpretation of numbers.

What neither Gurdgiev or Emmott would dispute is the need for growth, and growth above 3%.  Achieving this will require serious structural reform.

The subtitle of Emmott’s book is ‘Why Italy must conquer its demons to face the future.’   The big question is:  Who will lead that fight?

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Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future – on Amazon.com

Good Italy, Bad Italy: Why Italy Must Conquer Its Demons to Face the Future – on Amazon.co.uk

By Stephen Lusher

Stephen Lusher
Stephen Lusher

Stephen Lusher served five terms in the Australian Federal Parliament. He worked around the fringes of politics before setting up Lush on Bondi, a trendy bar on Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

Frequent trips to Italy led to an inevitable love affair with Tuscany. He and his wife Cathy sold up in Sydney and purchased Il Mulinaccio in 2008.

Within two months of moving to the Chianti Hills he was diagnosed with throat cancer. The experience led to him re-focusing his life and priorities. After a few uncomfortable years he thinks he has it beaten.

Stephen’s interests include wine, food, history, culture and travel.

He struggles with the Italian language and indulges himself in some occasional writing.

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