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New York Times: In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment

... these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself. The word here is "malessere," or "malaise"; it implies a collective funk -- economic, political and social -- summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.

"It's a country that has lost a little of its will for the future," said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister. "There is more fear than hope." <...>

The latest numbers show a nation older and poorer -- to the point that Italy's top bishop has proposed a major expansion of food packages for the poor.

Worse, worry is growing that Italy's strengths are degrading into weaknesses. Small and medium-size businesses, long the nation's family-run backbone, are struggling in a globalized economy, particularly with low-wage competition from China. <...>

There is a link between the nation's errant political system and its worsening mood. Luisa Corrado, an Italian economist, led the research behind the study at the University of Cambridge that found Italians to be the least happy of 15 Western European nations. The researchers linked differences in reported happiness across countries with several socio-demographic and political factors, including trust in the world around them, not least in government.

In Denmark, the happiest nation, 64 percent trusted their Parliament. For Italians, the number was 36 percent. "Unfortunately we found this issue of social trust was a bit missing" in Italy, Ms. Corrado said. <...>

These [Italy's "privileged and unaccountable" political class, and the camorra, i.e. organized crime, especially in the south] are Italy's age-old problems, but Alexander Stille, a Columbia University professor and an expert on Italy, argues that this moment is different. While the economy expanded, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Italians would tolerate bad behavior from their leaders.

But growth has been slow for years, and the quality of life is declining. Statistics now show that 11 percent of Italian families live under the poverty line, and that 15 percent have trouble spreading their salary over the month.

I was going to post this yesterday, then refrained, as the article seemed like the type that gets shot up to pieces on this forum for facile/sloppy presentation of facts, analysis, etc. (For example, one sentence: 70 percent of Italians between 20 and 30 still live at home, condemning the young to an extended and underproductive adolescence.  Is Italy actually exceptional in this respect?  I know there are many, many Japanese -- although I am not sure what percentage -- in their 20's, and even 30's, who still live at home.  Of course, Japan is going through it's own national crisis about the future, also involving a very low birthrate and an aging population.  also, regarding poverty rate, well, we have discussed here the issues regarding measuring poverty.  [nevertheless, startling to me, Italy ranks at the bottom among rich countries on the UN's Human Poverty Index, whatever worth that has.]) And yet, this article was written as an introduction to what it claims to be a general problem about Italy, designed, so to speak, for U.S. readers (like me) with very little knowledge of Italy beyond food, designer goods, romantic scenery, fine art, etc.  It is currently the number 2 most emailed article on the New York Times website, and it does quote several Italians asserting that something is not right in their country of late.  (Some can always be found to be negative about their own country, even if things are not that bad, but from just this article, we cannot know if they speak for the majority, or just a disgruntled minority.)

I would be very curious to get a reality check from people here as to whether there is any real fire behind the smoke here.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 04:27:38 AM EST
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My response would be anecdotal and in a rush as I am under heavy deadlines at the moment. There have been surveys recently in Italy that point to a general disaffection. It appears that the only revolutionary left in Italy is the head of Italian fed reserve, Mario Draghi who insists that workers be paid more. Bank of Italy stats indicate a 30% fall in buying power in the past decade. But a 30% wage hike is beyond any government's wildest hopes.

President Napolitano was in the States yesterday and was received by Bush. It would appear that the article came out together with that event. As far as "national mood" analyses go, Cambridge or what not, I usually don't bother reading them.

There are far more interesting events going on in Italy at the moment, especially on politics. Berlusconi is under investigation for attempted corruption of centerleft Senators. The journalist, Giuseppe D'Avanzo, who made the scoop was subject to a search warrant on his private premises.

Berlusconi made the mistake to attempt to bribe an Italian Australian Senator, not realizing that Australians have a different concept of governance.

Berlusconi's brutal attack against the judges warranted an official reprimand by the magistrates' governing body.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 05:57:07 AM EST
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I have recnetly been reading the author Tim Parks experiences in Italy, Italian Neighbours. Across several chapters he details the cloying protectionism and petty corruptions that paralyse italian transactions.

He finds it amusing in the small scale, but I couldn't help but wonder how all of these little impediments add up to a society that is completely gummed up.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 07:22:19 AM EST
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My impression is that Italy is gravely hampered not only by big-time corruption with its trickle down effects but the utter lack of responsability. I say responsability in its narrow meaning of being held to account for one's actions. The political class is largely immune from any sort of judiciary action thanks to their own laws. The consequences one must face for corruption in Italy are ridiculous. There would never be a Bernard Tapie in jail or Visco case in Italy.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Dec 14th, 2007 at 08:58:33 AM EST
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