Italian Balance: Development and Distribution

In the course of its history, the road for Italy’s renewal: If we read reality without ideological schemes, realistic solutions are possible
by Giorgio Vittadini

What criteria can we use to tackle the economic, political and social crisis that is gripping our country? In order to answer this question, we need to remember where the true two-fold strength of the Italian system lies.
From the economic point of view, alongside the well-known delays and shortcomings of a structural order, we still find widespread creativity and entrepreneurial initiative, thanks to which Italy is still the fifth most industrialized country in the world and is characterized by flexibility, capacity to adapt, swiftness, and propensity to innovation and change. This is affirmed by the very recent draft of the concluding report of the parliamentary inquiry into the industrial system: “The national productive model proved able to adapt itself to a whole range of changes and evolutions in the international context, in the first place to new technologies and to changes in demand, showing itself to be based on an extremely solid nucleus.” Further development must, therefore, on one hand try to obviate the long-term structural weaknesses: “The high fiscal pressure that weighs on businesses; the inadequacy of the infrastructures; the muddled public administration; the scant dynamism of the university-research sector; the rigidity of the job market; the state of the social security system, already subject to a partial reform which needs to be completed as soon as possible; and the high cost of energy (a real competitive disadvantage) represent structural weaknesses which need to be addressed with determination.” These steps are indispensable in order to follow the lead of countries like the United States where excellence is fostered and stimulated.

Unrestrained creativity
All the same, precisely because of the characteristics of our system, we need to preserve and value the creativity of our productive capacity without imposing straightjackets from above. As the parliamentary report again says, there is need to adapt various needs without unidirectional dirigisme: “The need is recognized for a new industrial policy freed from the dirigiste and interventionist approach of the past, but which puts an end to a phase of ‘no choices’ and ‘no decisions’ on some key themes that risk leading our economy slowly adrift…” If this is true, we can understand how devastating and negative has been the long wave of the culture of Tangentopolis (“Clean hands”) from which, in fact, much of today’s ruling class was born, on both the right and the left. Often, too, those who profess to be reformists are inclined to the opposite extremes of the neo-liberalist and statalist ideologies. So, instead of following reality, giving life to that flexible and multi-faceted economic policy that Parliament expects, both sides are moving according to crude schematic models. Thus, the world of business and profit is discussed in generic terms, without distinguishing between multinationals and small businesses; in public utility services like gas, water and energy, inefficient municipal or state entities are compared with hostile privatizations that do not carry out necessary plant maintenance and renewal, with the risk of higher charges for the services; profit sharks are put on the same level as inefficient fair dealing or marginal ethical banking.

For a dignified existence
Under the social profile, more than in the more developed countries like the United States, in Italy there is rooted in most people the conviction that everyone, whatever his earnings or wealth, has the right to a dignified existence, for himself and for his family; and he must therefore enjoy an adequate level of education, health and income. It doesn’t happen here, as it does in America, that 25 million people are in a state of poverty, that a slice of the population has only minimal health care, or that people often have to uproot themselves in order to find work, moving thousands of miles. This situation, however, cannot be automatically guaranteed indefinitely. Private and public profits can be invested for improving production and technology and for formation and education; they can be redistributed towards the more disadvantaged social classes, categories and territorial areas so as to reduce the socio-economic inequalities; or they can be wasted in gains and benefits for corporations. When an exasperated corporatism prevails or there are few resources for investment, education and improvement in production, there are no resources for a just redistribution.

Destructive corporatism
This is what is happening nowadays in Italy, where modern trade unions consider that a firm is simply a cow to be milked, and in an increasing lack of interest in the overall economic condition, put forward demands that make the cost of labor prohibitive in comparison with international standards; moreover, they do not condemn methods of wildcat strikes that do great damage to the workers and to Italy’s image. Corporatism, already bad under the First Republic, when the various political currents were paying off whole sectors in order to govern, finds its systematic legitimization in a political set up that for both coalitions has the interest of gaining the votes necessary to reach 51%. After all the insistence on instigating class hatred, on identifying the boss or the opposing group as the enemy, on generic accusations of immorality in the other political current, the only value left is the defense of your own right–even when it is not your own right. The picture that emerges allows us to conclude that there is something more serious than systematic theft, which was the object of the demonization of one side of the political spectrum during Tangentopolis. If Manichaeism gets the upper hand, if what dominates are schemes incapable of reading reality, then corporatism and destruction of institutions become the rule. This is the premise for the economic social decline of a country that should be facing up compactly to the grave situation and to the changes imposed by globalization, terrorism, planetary fundamentalism and uncertain institutional arrangements at the European level.

not schematic solutions

If we want to avoid being schematic, we have to rebuild, not on abstract theories, but on the experience that lies at the base of Italy’s social and economic life. It is the accord between ideal movements deeply rooted in our history that has allowed, in spite of all “patronage,” mediocrity and power-mongering, to choose realistic solutions, according to the twofold idea of development and redistribution. Nowadays, this means taking as examples the modern experimentation of regional subsidiarity in regions like Lombardy; accepting virtuous compromises that collect the best from different positions. It means, in other words, reading reality and not imposing schemes, as the parliamentary inquiry does, evidently going unheeded by the leaders of the coalitions. It is an attitude that is opposite to ideological and generalized bipolarism, which risks leading us to “Argentinian” situations, characterized by growing poverty and falling development.