Irreversible demise. Deflation. High unemployment. Stagnation. Huge sovereign debt. High taxes. A bloated, parasitical and corrupt state sector. Zero growth. The sick man of Europe.
These are the very serious problems confronting Italy as seen in this hard hitting article in the London Spectator titled ‘Italy’s in terminal decline, and no one has the guts to stop it‘. Recently, the FT reported that, on 5 December, ‘Standard & Poor’s cut Italy’s credit rating to BBB- or one level above junk, citing a growing debt pile, low growth and lack of competitiveness. The rating agency predicted growth of 0.2 per cent in 2015, a weak exit from its third recession in six years’. Italy now ranks below Turkey, Kuwait and South Africa in the internationally accepted ranking of public sector corruption. It is hard to call the current situation a crisis, notes the historian John Foot, because crises have an end – Italy just keeps declining. Living in Italy and viewing it as an outsider, one gets a sense that, beneath the pizza/pasta/history/art/gelato stereotype beloved of foreign tourists (and many WordPress bloggers), modern Italy has lost its way. The impact is felt particular strongly in the south. Walking recently to the Garibaldi railway station to catch a super fast (privately operated) Italo train from Naples to Milan, we saw a crowd of trade unionists and motley leftists assembling to protest against the plans of Prime Minister Renzi to reform Italy’s labour market and in favour of the prevailing ‘job-for-life’ culture in the state sector, something that stifles opportunity and causes youth unemployment. This irony was lost on the protesting students. Roads are pot holed. Bureaucracy is stifling. Train windows are made opaque with graffiti. Historic buildings and sites are crumbling. Corruption eats away at public trust. The mob feeds off the state like a cancerous tumour. Industry has fled north. Many have left Italy to seek opportunity abroad. Personal living standards have plunged. Another FT article concludes about Italy’s decline:
The consequence: hopelessness…..In Tommaso Pellizzari’s latest novel, a new nihilistic leader exhorts Italians: “Ask not what your country can do for you. It can do nothing, nothing at all.” The historian Paul Ginsborg, grappling for positives in Italy’s past 20 years, says that at least democracy hasn’t collapsed.
This recent criticism may be seen as just Anglo-Saxon gloating. But if it is to be more that a museum with nice food and weather, Italy certainly needs deep reform. And it remains to be seen whether the hope invested in Renzi by the Italian people to reverse decades of political graft and economic decline will be rewarded, as he continues to face opposition from serried vested interests clinging to the unsustainable status quo. Image: Nicholas c/o The Spectator.